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US-backed Syrian Rebels Abandon HQ After Clash With al Qaeda

Nusra Front said it attacked the base because the rebels stationed there were trained by the CIA, and vowed in a statement to cut off "the arms" of the American government in Syria.
Smoke rises near the Druze village of Hadar on the Syrian side of the border with Israel, during a fight with the Syrian Nusra Front on June 20, 2015. Atef Safadi/EPA

A group of rebels allegedly trained by the United States to fight the Nusra Front, which is al Qaeda's branch in Syria, have deserted their headquarters, according to the Associated Press.

Nusra Front said it attacked the headquarters of the group, known as Division 30, Friday night and abducted some of its members because they were trained by the CIA and vowed in a statement to cut off "the arms" of the American government in Syria. During the fighting, US-led coalition warplanes attacked the Nusra Front fighters, according to activists.

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The desertion comes just a few days after the Nusra Front reportedly kidnapped a number of the group's fighters and its commander, Nadim al-Hassan, from an area north of Aleppo on Tuesday.

A statement issued in Division 30's name confirmed the abductions, and called on Nusra to release its fighters.

Rami Abdurrahman, head of the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told the AP that members of Division 30 fled to a nearby area controlled by a Syrian Kurdish militia. Abdurrahman characterized Division 30 as a relatively small group, numbering less than 60 members.

A spokeswoman for the Pentagon contradicted the claim, telling Reuters she was aware of the reports before denying any fighters trained and equipped by the US had been kidnapped. "No New Syrian Force personnel captured or detained," she said.

Earlier this year, the US launched a program that aims to train as many as 5,400 local fighters per year to combat Islamic State. On Friday, a U.S. official again denied that any member of a US-backed rebel faction had been abducted.

According to the AP, the Nusra Front released a video on Saturday showing at least their fighters leading away five men who are seen with their hands behind their heads.

In the same video, one allegedly captured fighter confesses that he and the other members of Division 30 were trained by US forces in Turkey, then dispatched to Syria, each armed with a M-16 rifle, $400, and 400 Turkish lira.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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