GAZIANTEP, Turkey: The Turkish government Tuesday denied accusations by Syrian rebels that its intelligence service had tipped off an al Qaida-linked group that then abducted the commander and 20 members of a U.S.-trained group of Syrian fighters about to confront the Islamic State.
In a statement to McClatchy, which first reported on Monday the allegations from multiple Syrian rebel groups that the Nusra Front had been alerted by the Turkish government, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s office said it denied “the allegations in the strongest terms possible. The idea that Turkey, a key supporter of the Train and Equip Program, would seek to undermine its own interests in Syria is ludicrous.”
The statement was attributed to a senior member of the prime minister’s office.
The dispute centers around the arrival into Syria of the first 54 members of a program by a coalition of anti-Islamic State members – including the U.S., Jordan, the United Kingdom and Turkey – to train and equip carefully vetted Syrian rebels for the fight against the Islamic State in Syria. The so called “T&E” group is part of a moderate Syrian rebel group known as Division 30, which has drawn members from a variety of units that were once under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army. The FSA led the initial military uprising against the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad before being eclipsed by a number of jihadist and Islamist groups, including the Islamic State.
On July 29, the 54 fighters and their commander, Col. Nadim Hassan, arrived in Azaz, along the Turkish border, where they were immediately abducted or attacked by the Nusra Front. Hassan and about 20 of his men remain held by Nusra, which has declared the group an American front designed to target Islamists, despite the group’s repeated insistence that it would only participate in operations against the Islamic State, which Nusra, despite sharing a common ideology and origins in al Qaida in Iraq, also fights.
U.S. airstrikes have mostly concentrated on the Islamic State but at times have targeted Nusra Front facilities because of the group’s open allegiance to al Qaida.
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