Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Is al-Nusra in Syria a bigger long term threat than ISIS? CNN.

A screen cap from an al-Nusra Front video showing fighters training.

A new report from the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute of the Study of War claims that al-Qaeda affiliate, al-Nusra, is a bigger long term threat than ISIS is. CNN. The report claims that both ISIS and al-Nusra are existential threats to the United States and that any plan that leaves al-Nusra intact is going to fail to protect the United States. Though the main focus of the Obama administrations bombings in Syria have focused on ISIS, the report argues that al-Nusra has many of the same capabilities as ISIS. To date, al-Nusra has not conducted any attacks on western targets, largely out of fear of retaliation. Al-Nusra has control of territory in Syria and has a large amount of influence among other rebel groups. 

My Comment:
I haven't read the report, but I think if I did I would disagree with it. Not all of it, mind you, but the idea that al-Nusra is a bigger threat to the United States then ISIS is not something I agree with. ISIS has shown, time and again, that they are able to pull off spectacular terrorist attacks in the west or against western targets. Just off the top of my head they have pulled off the Paris attacks, the destruction of the Russian jet in Egypt, and a couple of attacks in Tunisia. They have also inspired many attacks by supporters, such as the San Bernardino shooting. They are the largest, most dangerous group in Syria by far, and their reach is global. They hold territory in multiple countries and have shown no signs of slowing down. 

And right now al-Nusra hasn't attacked anyone outside of Syria. That's despite the fact that we have bombed them a couple of times. Sure we called them the "Khorasan Group" when we did it, but we did attack them. So far they haven't done anything to us directly, and they have said they aren't interested in fighting us directly. They have attacked and destroyed our allies on the ground on multiple occasions but most of their focus is on fighting with the Syrian regime. 

That focus on the Syrian regime is probably preventing al-Nusra from targeting anything outside of Syria. They are desperately trying to hold onto what they have captured from the regime and other rebel groups and have come under heavy pressure from Russia's entry into the war. Russia has focused most of their attention on al-Nusra and their allies, and the offensives the regime is conducting right now is mostly focused on fighting the rebels, not ISIS. That leaves little room for planning and we have to remember that ISIS has a lot more assets then al-Nusra does when it comes to money and territory.

If al-Nusra has a reason to attack anyone it is probably Russia. All America has done is blow up a few of their leaders and give weapons to rebel groups who then turned their weapons over to them. If anything we are helping al-Nusra, not hurting them. Not directly, but through incompetence. Attacking Russia in revenge seems like something they would do since Russia is currently bombing the hell out of them. 

Still, al-Nusra is part of al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda certainly hates the United States. I do think that there is some real truth the idea that al-Nusra is a large threat. Though they are not interested in international terrorism right now, that could change in the future. They definately have the potential to be a major terrorist organization if their ambitions change. Not as much as ISIS, almost nothing could match them at this point, but enough that we should probably change our policy in the region. And even if al-Nusra isn't going to be attacking western targets anytime soon, they are ripe for recruitment to other groups that do participate in international terrorism. Other branches of al-Qaeda, such as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) would love to recruit battle hardened al-Nusra fighters...

I really think that if any al-Qaeda ally is going to be a threat to the United States it will be AQAP. They pulled off the Charlie Hebdo attacks and control quite a bit of territory in Yemen. And unlike al-Nusra, we have a long history of bombing them. They have a much larger reason to attack us besides ideology, Revenge. Core al-Qaeda, based in Pakistan, is probably the 2nd choice while al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, their West African affilate, is the third most dangerous. Al-Nusra is a distant fourth, and the threat they pose is not in any way immediate like the threat from those groups. But that could change. 

It is also important to remember that al-Nusra was born from ISIS. Back then ISIS, called the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) sent over seasoned fighters to form the core of what would become al-Nusra. The groups broke up after ISIS was declared, but it's very true that both groups are similar in ideology and tactics. I wouldn't be totally surprised if al-Nusra split again or took up the reigns of international terrorism if ISIS were to fall. 

I think the Obama administration is making a huge mistake in Syria by indirectly supporting al-Nusra. Though I don't think they are quite the threat that the report made them out to be, I do think that they are an extremely dangerous group, that should be taken seriously. We have let them get away with a lot in Syria because they are allies with the people we support, such as the Free Syrian Army and other, so called, secular rebels. They are also among the most effective armies fighting the Assad regime, which makes them an asset for what Obama want's to accomplish in Syria, and a hero to many other rebel groups. We know that if we bomb al-Nusra we could face a backlash from those rebel groups. So we let them take over rebel groups, hold territory and turn a blind eye when they take weapons from US trained rebels on the ground. 

I think the Russian approach is much smarter in the long run. Any group that has taken up arms with al-Nusra and isn't actively fighting them should be destroyed. Working with any kind of al-Qaeda affiliate should be enough to sign your death warrant. Though that may be politically dangerous, I would much rather have no rebel groups to work with in Syria then even indirectly support the al-Nusra front. And make no mistake, that is what we are currently doing in Syria. It is just insane to me that we are basically on the same side as these people... 

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