U.S. airdrops ammunition to Syrian Arabs

The aid the ammunition had gone to a group called the Syrian Arab Coalition (SAC) which was fighting ISIS across an arc of territory north of Raqqa

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U.S.-led coalition forces have parachuted ammunition to rebels fighting ISIS jihadists in northern Syria, a U.S. military spokesman said Monday as al-Qaeda’s offshoot in the war-torn country say Russia is ignoring ISIS.

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 ISIS across an arc of territory north of the ISIS 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 ISIS 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, a U.S. 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.

Nusra says Russia ignoring ISIS

The head of Syria’s Nusra Front, an offshoot of al-Qaeda, urged insurgents on Monday to escalate attacks on President Bashar al-Assad’s minority Alawite sect’s strongholds in retaliation for what he said was the indiscriminate killing of Muslim Sunnis by invading Russians.

The audio message from Nusra’s Abu Mohamad al-Golani, posted on YouTube, said Russia's military intervention since last week was aimed at saving Assad's rule from collapse but was doomed to fail, as had previous Iranian and Hezbollah military support.

“There is no choice but to escalate the battle and to target Alawite towns and villages in Latakia and I call on all factions to ... daily hit their villages with hundreds of missiles as they do to Sunni cities and villages,” Golani said.

Nusra Front, a radical Muslim Sunni fundamentalist group, is one of the most powerful forces fighting the Syrian government in an increasingly complex conflict that Russia’s intervention has only worsened.


U.N. pushes Russia, U.S. on Syria

Meanwhile, the U.N. mediator trying to convene Syria peace talks said on Monday it was urgent for Russia and the United States to reach an understanding to avert a military escalation that could effectively dismember the country.

The two powers are pivotal to ushering Syria's warring sides into talks, Staffan de Mistura said, though their differences seem so deep Moscow and Washington may not be able to establish a cohesive steering group of countries with peacemaking clout.

He said he would hold talks in Russia on Tuesday and then in Washington. De Mistura said intensifying fighting coinciding with Russia’s military intervention in Syria made it more urgent to get Syrian government and opposition groups talking.

The U.N. plan is for the talks to be supported by a contact group of interested countries that de Mistura said would include the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and other regional players.

“If some countries don’t want to talk to each other, one could imagine separate contact groups that then are facilitated to discuss through the help of the U.N.,” he said.

He urged Damascus to end its barrel-bombing campaign against rebels and said its forces and the Russian military must respect a stalled, regional U.N.-brokered ceasefire deal that would allow evacuations of civilians and wounded from the town of Zabadani and villages of Kufreya and al-Foua.

(With agencies)

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