The US Air Force confirmed Monday that it had bombed and destroyed buildings belonging to Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra front. This is at least the third time the group has been struck since air strikes by the US and other members of the coalition attacking the Islamic State started bombing the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. At first, it might not seem strange that the US should attack a group linked to Al Qaeda.
After all, the war on terror is directed to a considerable extent against Al Qaeda. However, since the rise of the Islamic State(IS) a more radical jihadist group disowned even by Al Qaeda, the US focus has been on IS, especially since they have occupied a large swathe of territory in Iraq and Syria.
When the bombing first started however, there was no mention of the Nusra front as a target. The Nusra front had been cooperating with other rebel groups, being one of the most effective groups against Assad but fighting also the Islamic State. Rebel groups were outraged by the bombing of a group who were sorely needed in the battle against Assad. The bombing was extremely unproductive for the US since the Nusra front turned against US-funded rebels.
In time, the Front defeated Harakat Hazm the favourite moderate group of the CIA. In English Harakat Hazm means Steadfastness Movement. However, the group decided to disband after their defeat, some even joining the Front. When Al Nusra seized the main base of Harakat Hazm they also came into possession of a warehouse packed with US-supplied weapons. Many rebel groups did not like Hazm believing they were given special treatment by the Americans by being provided with many weapons whereas other groups got few or none. No other rebel groups came to the defense of Harakat Hazm.
Given that groups that the US considered moderate were becoming fewer and fewer, commentators such as James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, suggested that "moderate" could come to mean any group not associated with the Islamic State. There are suggestions that the Nusra Front might become new "moderates". Apparently Qatar has been active in trying to convince the group they should drop their ties with Al Qaeda so as to facilitate the re branding of the group. In terms of improving rebels' chances of gaining ground against Assad this would be an astute move. By continued bombing of Al Nusra positions the US has made any such move impossible.
The US has attempted to distinguish the Nusra Front from what it calls the Khorasan. This group is said to be devoted to plotting attacks on the US and other western targets. However, the group is part and parcel of the Front and not separate. The first bombings killed not only some members of that group but other Nusra front members and civilians as well. Rear Admiral John Kirby a Pentagon spokesperson told reporters: Both the Islamic State and Nusra were born from Al Qaeda and from a military perspective they are very much one and the same. From the perspective of the rebels and their military objectives, bombing an ally in the military operations directed against Assad makes no sense and is counter productive even from a military point of view. The US seems to focus solely on the war on terror even if this means helping Assad in his battle with Syrian rebels.
The last "moderate" group of rebels in northern Syria Harakat Hazzm gave up their headquarters to Al Nusra including a warehouse full of US weapons. Many of these moderate rebels decided to join Al Nusra.
Given the increasing shortage of moderate rebels, the solution that the US may adopt is to simply redefine who are the "moderates". In an astonishing set of remarks in a recent interview, James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence said: "So there are some portion of our oppositions who are regarded as moderate.
Moderate these days is increasingly becoming anyone who is not affiliated with ISIL. And so, you know, we are attempting to engage with them, and that's the whole point of the train and equip proposal -- project that the Department of Defense is gearing up for, is to vet, recruit and train and equip opposition in sufficient size and capability to actually make a military difference."
The Nusra Front is not affiliated with the Islamic State and has clashed with the Islamic State. It is associated with Al Qaeda which opposes the Islamic State. Just what is needed, Al Qaeda moderates, fighters that can make a military difference.
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Ken is a retired philosophy professor living in the boondocks of Manitoba, Canada, with his Filipina wife. He enjoys reading the news and writing articles. Politically Ken is on the far left of the political spectrum on many issues.
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