WASHINGTON, Sept. 25 (UPI) -- The U.S. Department of Defense did an about-face Friday -- admitting that a U.S.-trained rebel leader in Syria turned over several vehicles and ammunition supplied by the Pentagon to an al Qaeda operative this week.
Defense officials said a commander of the New Syria Forces faction surrendered six military trucks and a portion of the unit's ammunition to the intermediary -- apparently in exchange for protection, Fox News reported Friday.
It appears now that the commander has defected to the Nusra Front, al Qaeda's Syrian affiliate.
"Unfortunately, we learned today that the New Syrian Force unit now says it did in fact provide six pick-up trucks and a portion of their ammunition to a suspected al-Nusra Front (representative)," Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said Friday evening.
The surrender of the equipment happened earlier this week, U.S. Central Command said.
"If accurate, the report of New Syrian Force members providing equipment to al Nusra Front is very concerning and a violation of Syria train-and-equip program guidelines," said Air Force Col. Patrick Ryder, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command.
Friday's acknowledgement contradicts a staunch denial by the Pentagon on Wednesday -- when Defense officials dismissed reports that military equipment had fallen into terrorists' hands. At the time, the Pentagon said the allegations were based on a false report.
"The folks that are part of the New Syrian Force are accounted for, as are their weapons," Davis said Wednesday.
According to officials, the trucks and ammunition account for a quarter of all U.S.-supplied equipment to the rebel unit.
"We are using all means at our disposal to look into what exactly happened and determine the appropriate response," Ryder said.
Training rebels is a centerpiece of the Obama administration's strategy to fight terrorism -- particularly the Islamic State -- in Syria. In December, Congress earmarked $500 million to fund the strategy.