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U.S. Launches Airstrikes to Aid American-Trained Syrian Rebels

The U.S.-trained rebels came under fire from al Nusra forces in northern Syria and for the first time called in U.S. airstrikes.
Image: Members of al Qaeda's Nusra Front
Members of al Qaeda's Nusra Front gesture as they cheer in the northwestern city of Ariha, after a coalition of insurgent groups seized the area in Idlib province May 29, 2015. Khalil Ashawi / REUTERS

Syrian rebels, recently trained by the U.S. military, came under heavy fire Friday in northern Syria and for the first time called in U.S. airstrikes to repel the enemy.

U.S. military officials tell NBC News the Free Syrian forces were attacked Friday morning by about 50 al Nusra fighters. Under siege, the Syrian moderates issued a desperate plea to the U.S. military.

American warplanes quickly responded, launching airstrikes driving away the enemy forces. U.S. officials would not provide the number of U.S.-trained Syrian rebels or the location of today’s attack.

So far the U.S. has trained only 54 Syrian rebels and provided them with small arms only. According to U.S. officials, another "couple hundred" are waiting to be trained.

As part of this loose alliance, the U.S. military will provide combat support to the moderate rebels when needed and if possible.

The U.S. considers this “train and equip” mission critical to any success in defeating ISIS in Syria, but are well short of the 5,400 fighters they had hoped to train by the end of this year.

U.S. defense and military officials deny reports that al Nusra, affiliated with al Qaeda, captured or killed any U.S.-trained Syrian rebels in an assault Thursday in northern Syria.

U.S. officials do confirm however that Nadim Hassan, the leader of the 30th Division, and an unknown number of fighters had been captured by al Nusra on Thursday. The 30th Division is one of the more moderate Syrian rebel groups. The U.S. has considered training some of their forces but have not done it yet.