McClatchyDC, By Roy Gutman, July 19
Istanbul – They arrived in Toyota Hilux pickup trucks, the favored vehicle of Islamist fighters in the Middle East and South Asia. But these men, the first graduates in the faltering U.S. train-and-equip program, were traveling into Syria to fight against an extremist insurgency, the Islamic State.
The U.S. military calls them the “New Syrian force” and disclosed that they are to coordinate with rebel forces already on the ground who have a different objective – to fight the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The goal, a spokesman said, is to expand the effectiveness of all moderate forces.
Turkish news media said 54 fighters crossed in Sunday in a convoy of 30 vehicles, commanded by an ethnic Turkman colonel who’d defected from the Syrian army. McClatchy obtained photos from an anti-regime activist in Syria that showed the trucks were Toyota Hiluxes.
The “New Syrian Force” is the first contingent of a $500 million program Congress approved last year to train and equip 15,000 fighters.
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