Months into waging a new war in Syria and an expanded one in Iraq, the U.S. military is on the public relations defensive following a series of blows to its stated strategy to defeat ISIS.

Jabhat al Nusra, which is allied with al Qaeda, over the weekend took the town and surrounding areas of Deir Sunbul, in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib, from the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, which the United States considers a “moderate” ally key to its plan to build a proxy force to fight ISIS. SRF leader Jamal Marouf was forced to flee, and some of his fellow fighters even turned on him. McClatchy reports that the offensive was bolstered with support from ISIS, which could point to a broad coalition.

 “What we’re seeing right now in Iraq and Syria as a result of increasing military action is not a move to end the conflict but really an escalation of violence resulting in more deaths and injuries. There is no coherent strategy for supporting an end to violence.” —Mike Merryman-Lotze, AFSC

Speaking to reporters on the Tuesday following this development, Pentagon spokesperson Rear Admiral John Kirby declared, “I don’t believe that we view current events as a major setback to the goals that we’ve set with respect to training and equipping the moderate [Syrian] opposition.”

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“Obviously, these kinds of developments are certainly not helpful to the security situation writ large, but we don’t view it as a major setback or a major blow to our ultimate objectives,” he continued.

However, the Pentagon offered no evidence supporting these claims, and basic information about the U.S.-led offensive—including civilian and combatant deaths—remains largely concealed from the public.

Meanwhile, anger and opposition to the U.S. war strategy is reportedly mounting in the northern Syria areas held by opponents to President Bashar al-Assad. “We thought the Americans were going to help us,” said an SRF spokesman, quoted by the Guardian. “But not only have they abandoned us, they have been helping the tyrant Bashar instead.”

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