US bombings of Nusra Front in Syria produce disastrous blowback

The U.S. has in effect opened a new front against Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria a move that has already created disastrous results for moderate rebels the US hopes to train and arm.



When the US started it first airstrikes in Syria there were two separate operations. One group of bombings involved coalition partners including some Arab states and was only directed against positions of the Islamic State. However another set of attacks were directed against the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra or at least part of that group the Khorasan. While there is such a group, it is part and parcel of the Nusra Front. Locals have not even heard of the Khorasan, and the members involved do not use the name as it is an invention of the intelligence community:The name of the group was coined by intelligence agencies as a reference to the high-ranking Khorasan Shura, a leadership council within al-Qaeda which many members of the group belong to. The Khorasan operate in Syria alongside other Al Nusra front members but the US maintains that they are busy plotting against western interests and manufacturing bombs to blow up airliners. Attacks against them are easily justified by the ongoing war on terror and by representing them as a direct threat to the US.
US policy analysts seem to wear blinkers. They cannot look left or right but only straight ahead at the war on terror to plan military action against Islamic Jihadists. As a result, they fail to see that Syrian rebels of all stripes are intent on getting rid of Assad. Radical jihadists are seen as among the most effective fighters against the regime. Naturally, other rebels will fight the Islamic State when attacked by it but not otherwise. Al Nusra front often cooperates with all the other rebel groups so attacking it means weakening the fight against Assad. Rebels of all stripes protested the attack on the Nusra Front.
The bombings also caused a reaction within the front creating a new policy that has already had the result of two important groups of vetted moderate rebels being driven out of the areas they have held and in one case their US-provided weapons falling into the hands of the Nusra Front, an event that the US was at pains to prevent. Not surprisingly the Nusra Front now regards US-backed moderate rebels as the enemy. The leader of Al Nusra Abu al-Golani accused moderate US-supplied rebels were "Western collaborators".
 US intelligence officers had warned that any bombing of the Nusra Front would drive a wedge between the group and other rebels and draw a target on the rebels' backs. For once the intelligence community appears to be right but the situation is even worse than that because those with the targets on their back are in some cases deciding to join the jihadists against Assad rather than advance US aims. Abu Abdullah a commander of a brigade allied with the moderate Syrian Revolutionaries Front said that if the US continued to attack al Nusra, he and his men would swear allegiance to Al-Golani the Front's leader. Abdullah argues that the only interest of the US is in defeating the Islamic State and that moderate rebel groups are being set up to sacrifice as proxy troops to carry out US policy. The main aim of rebels of all stripes is the defeat of Assad.
 Another immediate result of the bombing of the Nusra Front was the defeat of two main moderate rebel groups the Syrian Revolutionary Front and the Harakat Hazm group. Both have been driven out of the areas they held. As a response to these events the US is carrying out further bombing raids against the Nusra Front in an apparent attempt to prevent the loss of even more moderate-held territory close to the Turkish border. Syrian rebels do not see the US bombing of Al Nusra in terms of US policy aims but in terms of their own desire to fight Assad. The bombing of Al Nusra strengthens the position of the Assad regime. As former Navy Officer Christopher Harmer claims: “If the U.S. attacks Nusra without attacking Assad, all the average Syrian sees is that the U.S. is enabling, emboldening, and strengthening the Assad regime. It’s not that the Syrian people love Nusra; it’s that Nusra has been in the fight against Assad, and the U.S. has looked for every excuse to stay out of the fight against Assad.”
 The US denies that it is attacking al-Nusra. General Lloyd Austin the commander of US Central Command said of the widening air campaign: “There were no strikes conducted against the al Nusra front. We did conduct a number of strikes, and the strikes were focused on the Khorasan group.” However, the Khorasan insofar as they exist are simply part of the Nusra Front. The Khorasan theme is dutifully picked up by the media as with CNN which reports that David Drugeon an Al Qaeda bomb-maker was killed in the recent attacks. The report comes courtesy of an anonymous official but not to worry CNN assures us that the official has access to the latest information about the strikes: The U.S. military fired at a vehicle it believed carried David Drugeon, a skilled bomb-maker in his 20s who also has ties to core al Qaeda members in Pakistan, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
 The US policy in Syria is in disarray and any hopes of building an effective moderate force to carry out US policy of attacking the Islamic State seem to have been dashed by the recent bombing of Jabhat al-Nusra.
 Another factor in the Syrian civil strife is the relationship of the Kurds to the Assad government. From very early on Assad has left the Kurds alone except when they tried to expand their territory. Assad is not worried about Kurdish fighting the Islamic State since this does not threaten the regime's interests. Many other rebel groups are suspicious of the Kurdish position or even hostile to the Kurds since they are not confronting the Assad regime. Again in the western press they are the heroes fending off the Islamic State. While that is true enough it does not change the manner in which they relate to the Assad regime.

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