Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria more of a threat to America than ISIS, says government
The Al-Nusra Front and their even more violent offshoot, the Khorasan, were struck by US warplanes on Tuesday, expanding the US role in the Syrian civil war by taking on 3 of the most effective forces fighting against the Syrian government.
Russia condemned all of the attacks in Syria, saying that the US should be coordinating its missions with the Syrian government. Bottom line: the two sides don't trust each other, but Russia will likely turn a blind eye to the US bombing campaign in Syria.
As the United States launches airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria, Russia is condemning the move, and hedging support for the attacks so long as they proceed without the Syrian government’s consent.
The Kremlin has no trouble with the intended target — like the United States, Russia wants the Islamic State destroyed and thinks it must be defeated in Syria and Iraq.
But as Syria’s unofficial patron and interlocutor in international discussions about how to confront the Islamic State, Russia is insistent that U.S. measures to target militants in Syria lack authority without buy-in from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — a point Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon Tuesday.
President Obama is not directly coordinating strikes that are underway against the Islamic State with Assad, although the Syrian army is fighting the group, too.
In the past, competing allegiances in the Syrian conflict have not blocked all cooperation. Last year, Obama and Putin brokered an agreement to transfer Syria’s chemical weapons to international control, narrowly avoiding U.S. airstrikes. But the near-complete erosion of trust between the two countries since then — and pervasive suspicion about the United States’ motives — complicates the chances of a similar breakthrough.
“There’s quite widespread suspicion here that the U.S. will start to bomb the Islamic State but will end up bombing the Syrian army,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, a Moscow-based analyst and head of an advisory panel to the Kremlin on foreign and defense policy. “Russia is certainly not keen on making the situation in the Middle East more difficult for Americans than it is. But why help them? . . . It doesn’t seem to be in Russia’s interest to get directly involved.”
It would certainly be an unprecedented situation; the US would be bombing both sides of a civil war.
Meanwhile, Nusra Front and Khorasan's plans for a terrorist attack on US interests were apparently disrupted. But who are these guys?
Islamic State militants are seen as primarily focused on taking and holding territory in Iraq and Syria, with attacks on the U.S. representing a secondary goal. It severed its ties with al Qaeda's leadership in Pakistan.
Khorasan, on the other hand, has followed the direction of al Qaeda leadership and made strikes on U.S. targets its prime focus. Khorasan's plotting against airliners to target the U.S. prompted the U.S. to step up airline security over the summer, a U.S. official said.
Khorasan was one of two main groups mentioned in a Wall Street Journal article last week discussing dangers in Syria emanating from groups other than Islamic State.
In addition to attacks on airliners, U.S. officials have said that Khorasan has been setting up training camps in Syria for fighters who hold Western passports. Officials said the intent is to specifically to train militants who can avoid security checks, slip into the U.S. or Europe and mount attacks.
Khorasan's leader, Muhsin al Fadhli, is a longtime al Qaeda operative with long-running ties to the group's leadership in Pakistan. U.S. intelligence reports identify him as being involved with terrorist plotting out of Syria and Turkey that would target European countries, according to a person briefed on the matter.
Officials said that neither Mr. Fadhli nor other militants leaders were directly targeted on Tuesday in the first barrage of airstrikes.
Mr. Fadhli, believed to be in his 30s, is a senior al Qaeda facilitator and financier who has long been sought by the U.S., which in 2012 offered a $7 million reward for information leading to his capture.
According to the State Department, Mr. Fadhli spent years living in Iran, where officials said he helped moved money and operatives for al Qaeda. Mr. Fadhli also has an extensive network of Kuwaiti jihadist donors who have sent money to Syria through Turkey, the State Department says.
Khorasan works closely with al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, known as the Nusra Front, and many U.S. officials draw little distinction between the two, saying both pose a more near-term threat to the U.S. and Europe.
It is believed that Nusra has taken down Syrian aircraft with shoulder-fired SAM's. Their threat to air craft in the region is real and attacking ammunition storage facitlities is a good way to help prevent that nightmare from occurring.