The first Syrian rebel group to receive major military aid from the United States announced over the weekend that it was disbanding.
The Wall Street Journal reported that leaders of Harakat Hazm, mostly based in northern Syria, decided to dissolve the group after a series of battles against the Nusra Front, an Al Qaeda-linked group that has emerged alongside ISIS as a major force in Syria's kaleidoscopic civil war.
Hazm spokesman Ahmad al-Ataribi told the Journal on Sunday that dozens of its fighters were killed fighting against the Nusra Front, which recently seized a key base from the Free Syrian Army, another Western-backed group. Al-Ataribi said that as long as the group remained extant, it would continue to be a target for more extreme opposition groups and serve as a distraction from the organization's ultimate goal of overthrowing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The group had received American-made antitank missiles late last year as part of the Obama administration's stated goal of increasing military aid to moderate rebel groups. However, Hazm members said what military aid did arrive was never enough to sustain operations, and also made them targets of their more radical Islamist rivals, who looked at them as U.S. puppets.
"Moderate forces, backed by Western countries and moderate Arab countries, have this scarlet letter on their backs, yet they are not sufficiently resourced in terms of military aid to defeat Nusra," said Oubai Shahbandar a former spokesman for the exiled Syrian National Coalition. "So there’s a clear contradiction in terms of Western strategy in fighting extremism in Syria."