US to Defend Syria Rebels With Airstrikes

US to Defend Syria Rebels With AirstrikesUS to Defend Syria Rebels With Airstrikes

The US will use airstrikes to defend US-trained Syrian rebels from any attackers, even forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, according to US officials.

The decision, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, comes days after rebels from the Free Syrian Army's Division 30, an infantry unit, thought to be trained in a new US program, were kidnapped by the Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, the Nusra Front, Reuters reported.

A day after the kidnapping, the US reportedly launched airstrikes against Al Nusra as the group attacked Division 30's headquarters, giving cover to the FSA rebels who fled.

The US "arm and train" program in Syria, which was launched in May and has reportedly only trained about 60 candidates, aims to prepare rebels fighting the Islamic State group, but US-trained rebels say they have been instructed not to use their new weapons and expertise to fight Assad. The US has sought to avoid direct confrontation with Syria's leader.

Using airpower to protect rebels against Assad's forces and allies could, therefore, deepen the US role in the Syria conflict.