Coalition Drops Ammo to Anti-ISIS Syrian Rebels

United States-led coalition forces parachute ammunition to rebels fighting ISIS jihadists in northern Syria.

Ben Ariel ,

Syrian rebels battle regime forces in Damascus
Syrian rebels battle regime forces in Damascus

United States-led coalition forces have parachuted ammunition to rebels fighting Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists in northern Syria, a military spokesman said Monday, according to AFP.

The move follows the Pentagon's announcement last week that it would halt its much-criticized program to train moderate rebels, and instead focus efforts on equipping pre-screened rebel leaders from groups actively fighting ISIS.

Colonel Steve Warren, the Baghdad-based spokesman for the U.S.-led effort to strike ISIS in Iraq and Syria, said the ammunition had gone to a group called the Syrian Arab Coalition (SAC) that has for months been fighting IS across an arc of territory north of the IS stronghold of Raqqa.

The coalition, comprising several smaller Arab groups, includes between 4,000 and 5,000 fighters and US forces have carefully vetted the group's leader, Warren said.

The United States and its allies could eventually strike IS targets identified by SAC fighters on the ground, he added.

"Coalition forces conducted an airdrop Sunday in northern Syria to resupply local counter-ISIL ground forces as they conduct operations against ISIL," U.S. Central Command spokesman Colonel Patrick Ryder said in a statement, using an alternative acronym for ISIS.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an American official told AFP the drop included 50 tons of ammunition and hand grenades.

The United States is leading a coalition that has carried out more than 7,000 drone and plane strikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria since launching operations more than a year ago.

The Pentagon had to scrap a $500-million program to train thousands of Syrian rebels in Turkey and Jordan after many failed to pass the screening process and one group gave ammo and other gear to an Al-Qaeda affiliate.

Meanwhile, Russia on September 30 conducted its first airstrikes in Syria, and later ramped up its war by unleashing cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea.

Moscow claims it, too, is targeting ISIS and "terrorists" but the Pentagon says the vast majority of strikes have been against opponents of President Bashar Al-Assad.

Warren said there was little immediate risk of the SAC getting struck by Russian bombs, because Moscow is focusing elsewhere in the country.

"The Russians haven't thus far done much work in that area, because the SAC is fighting ISIL, and only a fraction of the Russian strikes have been in areas where ISIL is operating," Warren said.