The Syrian Defector Mystery Deepens
Now you see Abu Zayd, now you don’t. He may have been U.S. trained and armed before defecting to an al-Qaeda affiliate, but a U.S. Defense official says that’s just not so.
According to the Pentagon, the U.S. military did not train a key Syrian fighter suspected of defecting to an al-Qaeda affiliate, despite claims by a jihadist group and the fighter’s own faction, reported Tuesday by The Daily Beast, that he represented a key loss for the U.S. training program.
Anas Ibrahim Obaid, or Abu Zayd, a commander from the U.S.-backed Division 30, disappeared hours after 70 U.S.-trained fighters entered Syria. Abu Zayd was believed to have received U.S. training. In a Facebook message, Divison 30 said Abu Zayd’s whereabouts were unknown; al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra then claimed Abu Zayd had joined it.
The allegation suggested that the already faltering U.S. program had suffered yet another setback: a commander defecting to the group the U.S.-trained fighters were supposed to fight. And it created further uncertainty about the already opaque ground war in Syria.
But a U.S. defense officials tells The Daily Beast that despite claims by Abu Zayd he had received U.S. training, in fact he had not.
Sources closer to the action in Syria are equivocal about what happened, but not about their distaste for Abu Zayd.
Capt. Ammar al-Wawi, the official spokesperson of Division 30, told The Daily Beast: “I can neither confirm nor deny that the defection has happened. If it’s true, this defection was expected. We warned those in charge of this program. There was also a request from the overall commander of Division 30 to suspend [Abu Zayd] before he completed his training because we had information that this was going to happen, but those in charge of the program refused to suspend him.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, Abu Zayd’s whereabouts remained unclear.