The attack on Friday was mounted by the Nusra Front, which is affiliated with Al Qaeda. It came a day after the Nusra Front captured two leaders and at least six fighters of Division 30, which supplied the first trainees to graduate from the Pentagon’s anti-Islamic State training program.
In Washington, several current and former senior administration officials acknowledged that the attack and the abductions by the Nusra Front took American officials by surprise and amounted to a significant intelligence failure.
While American military trainers had gone to great lengths to protect the initial group of trainees from attacks by Islamic State or Syrian Army forces, they did not anticipate an assault from the Nusra Front. In fact, officials said on Friday, they expected the Nusra Front to welcome Division 30 as an ally in its fight against the Islamic State.
...A senior Defense Department official acknowledged that the threat to the trainees and their Syrian recruiters had been misjudged, and said that officials were trying to understand why the Nusra Front had turned on the trainees.
[The U.S. trained mercenaries] will immediately be an attractive target for attacks by the Islamic State, Assad’s ground and air forces, and perhaps Nusra and other forces. Killing or taking prisoner fighters (or the families of those fighters) who were trained by the U.S. military will offer propaganda value, as well as leverage, to bargain for those prisoners’ release.
Last September, the White House and Congress agreed to authorize and fund a train-and-equip project similar to the Bay of Pigs, but this time in the Middle East, without any discussion about phase two. The Syrian project resembles 1961 in two ways: What happens when the fighting starts is undecided, and the intended strategic objective is wholly implausible.