Syrian rebels trained and armed by the United States gave at least a quarter of their weapons cache to al Qaeda affiliates in Syria earlier this week, U.S. Central Command acknowledged Friday.
Syrian fighters voluntarily handed over equipment, including six pickup trucks and ammunition, to al Qaeda’s Syria arm, Jabhat al Nursa, according to a statement.
The admission comes days after Pentagon officials dismissed such reports as propaganda and said they had no evidence that U.S.-trained rebels had defected with their weapons.
The disclosure is the latest calling into question the efficacy of a $500 million arm-and-train program to aid Syrian rebels, which head of Centcom Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III said recently had only trained “four or five” fighters in the war-torn state. The military said approximately 70 fighters have been added since the initial estimate.
Centcom spokesman Col. Patrick Ryder called the weapons handover “very concerning and a violation of the Syria train and equip program guidelines.”
Initial reports of the arms surrender came from a tweet by a Jabhat al Nursa fighter carrying what he claimed was a U.S.-made rifle that had been handed over by Syrians.
“Central Command conducted an analysis of the image… and determined the claim to be false,” the statement said.
However, “in light of this new information, we wanted to ensure the public was informed as quickly as possible about the facts as we know them at this time,” Ryder added.
“We are using all means at our disposal to look into what exactly happened and determine the appropriate response."
This story was updated at 11:33 a.m.