McCain accuses Russia of bombing CIA-backed rebels in Syria

Win McNamee, AFP/Getty | Sen. John McCain at a hearing by the Senate Armed Services Committee on counter jihadists’ strategy in July 2015

US Senator John McCain on Thursday said Russia’s air strikes in Syria the previous day targeted recruits of the Free Syrian Army, a rebel group which has been armed and trained by the United States.


“I can absolutely confirm to you that they were strikes against our Free Syrian Army recruits that have been armed and trained by the CIA because we have communications with people there,” McCain, head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in an interview on CNN.

The commander of the CIA-backed rebels – who were trained in Qatar and Saudi Arabia – made the same claim on Thursday, adding that Russian bombs struck one its camps.

Hassan Haj Ali, head of the Liwa Suqour al-Jabal rebel group, told Reuters the camp in Idlib province was struck by around 20 missiles in two separate air assaults.

Haj Ali, a Syrian army captain who defected after the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, said some of the guards of the facility were slightly wounded in the attack.

“Russia is challenging everyone and saying there is no alternative to Bashar,” Haj Ali said. He said the Russian jets had been identified by members of his group who once served as Syrian air force pilots.

His group counts itself as part of the “Free Syrian Army”, which was set up by Syrian army defectors after the eruption of the uprising. The FSA today is a loose alliance of rebel groups without a centralised command and control structure.

The US Central Intelligence Agency has run an ostensibly covert training programme for vetted Syrian rebel groups deemed moderate by Western states that have supported the uprising against Assad.


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