Archives for September 2014

Is Khorasan’s real name Jabhat al-Nusra’s ‘Wolf Group’?

Max Fisher writes: Last week, the United States and several Arab allies began bombing ISIS targets in Syria — as well as a mysterious and little-known faction of al-Qaeda that the US says is called Khorasan.

The group’s name, like much else about it, is the subject of some uncertainty and debate. Some have suggested that the US made up the name, perhaps derived from internal al-Qaeda communication referring to the militants as something perhaps like “Our brothers from Khorasan.”

But it turns out that the group may refer to itself by a very different name: the Wolf Unit of Jabhat al-Nusra. That’s according to some apparently internal documents uncovered by Jenan Moussa, a highly respected reporter with the Dubai-based outlet Al Aan TV.

Moussa found the documents in the rubble of a house the group used in the Syrian city of Aleppo and that had been bombed in the US-led airstrikes. (She is braver than you are.) A list of names identifies 13 men, one of them identified by the US as a Khorasan member, under the heading “Wolf Unit of Jabhat al-Nusra.” Moussa says the name appears to include four Turks, two Egyptians, two Yemenis, two Tunisians, one Palestinian, one Serbian, and one from the Caucasus region.

The following video features in Moussa’s Al Aan TV report. She says: “One video of the Wolves exist online.”

The video was uploaded a week ago on an account with the name “Ribat Medya” but after having had 16,600 views, YouTube removed it: “This video has been removed because its content violated YouTube’s Terms of Service.” Obviously, Jabhat al-Nusra weren’t complaining about copyright infringement and there’s nothing offensive in the content (unless one is offended by the sight of members of al Qaeda performing conventional military exercises in a forest, presumably somewhere in Syria). Is YouTube following directions from the Pentagon to censor videos for political reasons?

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Turkey moves closer to intervention in Syria, Iraq

The Washington Post reports: Turkey’s government edged closer Tuesday to direct intervention in the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, bolstering security along its frontier with Syria and asking parliament to authorize a deployment of Turkish troops to the two war-ravaged countries.

Turkey on Tuesday dispatched hundreds of soldiers and tanks to the Syrian border to contain potential violent spillover from an Islamic State siege on the Syrian border town of Kobane.

Its cabinet also sent a motion to parliament that would potentially allow Turkish troops to enter Iraqi and Syrian territory to combat extremists. Parliament is scheduled to vote on the authorization in a closed session on Oct. 2. Proposed by Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, the motion is considered likely to pass.

In a news briefing after the cabinet meeting, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said the proposal would include a wide range of options, including opening Turkish bases to foreign troops and deploying Turkish soldiers to establish safe zones for refugees inside Syria. The government wants the motion to be broad enough to avoid needing another parliamentary mandate for military action, he said. [Continue reading…]

What Turkey is calling “safe zones” or a “buffer zone” is viewed by many Kurds as a euphemism for an occupation — designed to restrict Kurdish autonomy rather than push back ISIS.

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White House exempts Syria airstrikes from tight standards on civilian deaths

Yahoo reports: The White House has acknowledged for the first time that strict standards President Obama imposed last year to prevent civilian deaths from U.S. drone strikes will not apply to U.S. military operations in Syria and Iraq.

A White House statement to Yahoo News confirming the looser policy came in response to questions about reports that as many as a dozen civilians, including women and young children, were killed when a Tomahawk missile struck the village of Kafr Daryan in Syria’s Idlib province on the morning of Sept. 23.

The village has been described by Syrian rebel commanders as a reported stronghold of the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front where U.S officials believed members of the so-called Khorasan group were plotting attacks against international aircraft.

But at a briefing for members and staffers of the House Foreign Affairs Committee late last week, Syrian rebel commanders described women and children being hauled from the rubble after an errant cruise missile destroyed a home for displaced civilians. Images of badly injured children also appeared on YouTube, helping to fuel anti-U.S. protests in a number of Syrian villages last week. [Continue reading…]

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Syrian National Coalition President Hadi al-Bahra interviewed by Jon Stewart

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Europeans say U.S. never briefed them on plot by the ‘Khorasan Group’

McClatchy reports: European counterterrorism specialists say their American counterparts never mentioned an imminent plot by al Qaida operatives in Syria to attack Western targets and didn’t brief them on the group that’s supposedly behind the plan, a previously unknown terrorist unit that American officials have dubbed the Khorasan group.

The interviews with the specialists, from two European NATO allies with close intelligence ties to the United States, raise questions about why the United States used its first series of airstrikes on the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, in Syria to also attack eight installations belonging to the Nusra Front, an al Qaida affiliate that anti-government rebel groups consider an important ally in their fight to topple the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

U.S. officials didn’t use the word Nusra to identify the targets, instead saying the strikes in Idlib province, far from Islamic State-controlled territory, were aimed at the Khorasan group. But activists and other rebels in Syria identified the positions hit as belonging to Nusra and said 50 Nusra fighters were killed.

U.S. officials said the Khorasan group was composed of senior al Qaida operatives who’d been dispatched to Syria to plot attacks against the West. The officials said the strikes were intended to break up a plan for an imminent attack.

The White House declined Friday to expand on that description or say with whom the intelligence about the group had been shared.

“We, along with our foreign partners, have been watching this group over the past two years since many of its members arrived in Syria from Pakistan and Afghanistan, and we took action when their plotting reached an advanced stage,” said Caitlyn Hayden, the spokeswoman for the National Security Council. “I’m not going to be able to discuss with whom intelligence was shared in this case.”

The European specialists, who meet regularly with U.S. officials on terrorism issues – particularly air travel and potential terrorist operations involving Western passport holders – said they were never specifically warned about such a group or such a plot. Such an omission, the specialists said, seemed unlikely if the plot were truly imminent. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS closes in on Kobane

The Associated Press reports: Militants of the Islamic State group were closing in Monday on a Kurdish area of Syria on the border with Turkey — an advance unhindered so far by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, including one that struck a grain silo, killing two civilians, according to activists.

Islamic State fighters pounded the city of Kobani with mortars and artillery shells, advancing within three miles (five kilometers) of the Kurdish frontier city, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Nawaf Khalil, a Kurdish official.

The Islamic extremists intensified their shelling of the border region following U.S.-led strikes Saturday. The aerial assault appeared to have done little to thwart the militants, Kurdish officials and activists said, adding that of anything, the extremists seemed more determined to seize the area, which would deepen their control over territory stretching from the Turkish border, across Syria and to the western edge of Baghdad.

“Instead of pushing them back, now every time they hear the planes, they shell more,” Ahmad Sheikho, an activist operating along the Syria-Turkey border, said of the Islamic State fighters. He estimated he heard a rocket explosion every 15 minutes or so.

Three mortar shells landed in a field in nearby Turkey, the Turkish military said in a statement. After the strike, Turkey’s military moved tanks away from the army post in the area, positioning them on a hill overlooking the border. [Continue reading…]

Today’s Zaman reports: After a visit to the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani, a leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) called on the Turkish government to support Syrian Kurds’ fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) to defend the besieged town near the Turkish border, saying this is a chance to strengthen Turkey’s peace process with the Kurds.

Selahattin Demirtaş, co-chairman of the HDP, was speaking to reporters on the Turkish side of the border after visiting Kobani.

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Turning point as Kurds push back ISIS at Iraqi-Syrian border

Rudaw reports: In a potential turning point in the fightback against the Islamic State, Kurdish forces on Tuesday said they had retaken the strategic Iraqi town of Rabia that straddles a main road near the border with Syria.

Rabia has provided a road link for the jihadists between their strongholds in Syria and Iraq, including the country’s second largest city of Mosul which IS captured in June.

The loss of Rabia would be the most significant setback for ISIS forces in northern Iraq since the launch of U.S. and allied air strike earlier this month.

A Peshmerga commander, Shiekh Ahmad Mohammad, told Rudaw: “Rabia is under the control of Kurdish forces. We are leaving their bodies behind and picking up their abandoned weapons.”

The YPG, the protection force of the Kurdish-held zone in neighbouring Syria, said the capture of Rabia was a joint operation between them and the Peshmerga of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) but this was not immediately confirmed by the Peshmerga side.

The YPG has been harassing ISIS forces in the area, while further west, in Rojava, its units have been resisting the advance of ISIS forces against the Syrian-Turkish border town of Kobane.

Selahattin Demirtas, a leader of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) crossed the border into Kobane on Tuesday in a visit of solidarity. He later called on the Turkish government to support the fight of Syrian Kurds against ISIS. He said this was an opportunity to strengthen Turkey’s peace process with its own Kurdish population. [Continue reading…]

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Turkish government to ask parliament for approval to join campaign against ISIS

The Wall Street Journal reports: The Turkish government was expected to submit motions to parliament Tuesday that if approved would give it authorization to intervene in Iraq and Syria against forces of the extremist Islamic State.

The motions are to be debated in a closed or open session of parliament Thursday, with a vote immediately to follow. An affirmative vote is predicted.

“We will definitely be where we need to be,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said over the weekend. “We cannot stay out of this.”

Some opposition political parties in Turkey have staunchly opposed any Turkish military action in Syria and are expected to challenge the motions, despite government pleas. [Continue reading…]

Today’s Zaman reports: Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants are advancing on a tomb in northern Syria regarded by Turkey as sovereign territory and guarded by Turkish soldiers, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said on Tuesday.

Arınç’s remarks, made after a Cabinet meeting, confirmed a news report by pro-government Yeni Şafak daily that ISIL has been reinforcing militants around the tomb of Süleyman Şah, the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire, Osman I, for the past three days.

“It is true that ISIL militants are approaching Süleyman Şah tomb,” Arınç said, adding, however, that Turkish troops guarding the tomb have not been evacuated.

The report said there are now 1,100 ISIL militants surrounding the Süleyman Shah tomb, citing unnamed local sources. It also said an attack on the tomb is possible and that ISIL militants might take some 36 Turkish soldiers stationed there hostage.

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ISIS’s ‘medieval’ ideology owes a lot to revolutionary France

By Kevin McDonald, Middlesex University

Over recent weeks there has been a constant background noise that Islamic State and its ideology are some sort of throwback to a distant past. It is often framed in language used last week by the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, who claimed that ISIS is “medieval”. In fact, the terrorist group’s thinking is very much in a more modern western tradition.

Clegg’s intervention is not surprising. Given the extreme violence of Islamic State fighters and the frequent images of decapitated bodies, it is understandable that we attempt to make sense of this violence as somehow radically “other”.

But this does not necessarily help us understand what is at stake. Above all, this tends to accept one of the core assertions of contemporary jihadism, namely its claim that it reaches back to the origins of Islam. As one Islamic State supporter I follow on Twitter is fond of saying: “the world changes, Islam doesn’t”.

Generation gap

This is not just a question for academic debate. It has real impact. One of the attractions of jihadist ideology to many young people is that it shifts generational power in their communities. Jihadists and, more broadly, Islamists present themselves as true to their religion, while their parents, so they argue, are mired in tradition or “culture”.

It needs to be said very clearly: contemporary jihadism is not a return to the past. It is a modern, anti-traditional ideology, with a very significant debt to western political history and culture.

When he made his speech in July at Mosul’s Great Mosque, declaring the creation of an Islamic State with himself as its caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi quoted at length from the Indian/Pakistani thinker, Abul A’la Maududi, the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami party in 1941 and originator of the contemporary term “Islamic State”.

Maududi’s Islamic State is profoundly shaped by western ideas and concepts. He takes a belief shared between Islam and other religious traditions, namely that God alone is the ultimate judge of a person, and transforms this – reframing God’s possession of judgement into possession of, and ultimately monopoly of, “sovereignty”. Maududi also draws upon understandings of the natural world governed by laws that are expressions of the power of God – ideas at the heart of the 17th-century scientific revolution. He combines these in a vision of the sovereignty of God, then goes on to define this sovereignty in political terms, affirming that “God alone is the sovereign” (The Islamic Way of Life). The State and the divine thus fuse together, so that as God becomes political and politics becomes sacred.

[Read more…]

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Anti-Syrian sentiment in Lebanon

Mahmoud Mroueh writes: According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as of September 11, 2014 close to 9.5 million Syrians have been forced to leave their homes since the uprising began in March of 2011. Of those who were forced to move, 6.5 million are internally displaced; the remaining three million left the country as refugees.

Forty percent of those who left Syria (1.2 million people) headed into neighbouring Lebanon. In Lebanon they were met with endemic racism manifesting itself through chauvinistic rhetoric, discrimination, curfews, evacuation notices, and increasingly frequent racial attacks against their person and their livelihood. The Lebanese laud themselves for their sense of hospitality and exceptional generosity, but these claims are now being tested by what has been described as the ‘worst refugee crisis in recent history’, and Lebanon has been failing miserably.

Violence against refugees has been steadily becoming more common and more gruesome, most notably after the conflagration in Arsal. ‘Revenge’ attacks for the actions of groups like the Islamic State or Jabhat al-Nusra, or for isolated crimes by Syrian individuals, that target refugees, their homes, and their property are becoming increasingly frequent. It is worth noting that the Islamic State militant responsible for the beheadings of two Lebanese Armed Forces soldiers, an act that spurred a large part of these ‘revenge attacks’ was Lebanese, not Syrian. Reports of refugee camps being set alight, drive-by shootings, and attacks against refugees by racist mobs are now a daily feature of Lebanese news broadcasts, and some have begun to (accurately) describe these events as ‘pogroms’. [Continue reading…]

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Tom Engelhardt: Entering the intelligence labyrinth

Failure is success: How American intelligence works in the twenty-first century
By Tom Engelhardt

What are the odds? You put about $68 billion annually into a maze of 17 major intelligence outfits. You build them glorious headquarters.  You create a global surveillance state for the ages. You listen in on your citizenry and gather their communications in staggering quantities.  Your employees even morph into avatars and enter video-game landscapes, lest any Americans betray a penchant for evil deeds while in entertainment mode. You collect information on visits to porn sites just in case, one day, blackmail might be useful. You pass around naked photos of them just for… well, the salacious hell of it.  Your employees even use aspects of the system you’ve created to stalk former lovers and, within your arcane world, that act of “spycraft” gains its own name: LOVEINT.

You listen in on foreign leaders and politicians across the planet.  You bring on board hundreds of thousands of crony corporate employees, creating the sinews of an intelligence-corporate complex of the first order.  You break into the “backdoors” of the data centers of major Internet outfits to collect user accounts.  You create new outfits within outfits, including an ever-expanding secret military and intelligence crew embedded inside the military itself (and not counted among those 17 agencies).  Your leaders lie to Congress and the American people without, as far as we can tell, a flicker of self-doubt.  Your acts are subject to secret courts, which only hear your versions of events and regularly rubberstamp them — and whose judgments and substantial body of lawmaking are far too secret for Americans to know about.

You have put extraordinary effort into ensuring that information about your world and the millions of documents you produce doesn’t make it into our world.  You even have the legal ability to gag American organizations and citizens who might speak out on subjects that would displease you (and they can’t say that their mouths have been shut).  You undoubtedly spy on Congress.  You hack into congressional computer systems.  And if whistleblowers inside your world try to tell the American public anything unauthorized about what you’re doing, you prosecute them under the Espionage Act, as if they were spies for a foreign power (which, in a sense, they are, since you treat the American people as if they were a foreign population).  You do everything to wreck their lives and — should one escape your grasp — you hunt him implacably to the ends of the Earth.

As for your top officials, when their moment is past, the revolving door is theirs to spin through into a lucrative mirror life in the intelligence-corporate complex.

[Read more…]

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William deBuys: Love affair in the back country

Without visiting it, the eighteenth-century French natural scientist Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, propounded the theory that the New World was an inferior creation, its species but degenerate versions of European ones. “There is no North American animal comparable to the elephant: no giraffes, lions, or hippopotami,” he wrote. “All animals are smaller… Everything shrinks under a ‘niggardly sky and unprolific land.’” Thomas Jefferson, then-ambassador to Paris, was so incensed that he dispatched a revolutionary war hero and 20 soldiers to New Hampshire to bag a large moose and had it shipped to Buffon. So when Charles Wilson Peale uncovered the giant bones of an antediluvian creature he called a “mammoth” (a mastodon, as it turned out), it was a patriotic moment. No traces of such a giant animal had previously been found on Earth.  Americans clearly had bigger and better to offer than anything a European naturalist could point to. And for all anyone knew, somewhere out in the territories, in that great wilderness still to be explored, such beasts perhaps still roamed.

In the same spirit, while America had no great buildings or cathedrals, the country had something so much more magnificent than the most awesome of Europe’s places of worship. It had nature’s architecture, its “cathedrals,” in a wilderness unmatched in its wonders.

That was one remarkable American tradition. I represented another. Sometime in the spring or early summer of 1962, I decided to light out for the wilderness. Keep in mind that I was a kid for whom the wilderness was New York City’s Central Park and the wilds were the suburbs.  So it was an adventurous, if not daft, thing to do. My best friend and I took our bikes, boarded a train, and headed for Bear Mountain a couple of hours away. So many years later, I have no clue how the idea lodged in our heads or why, for the first serious biking trip of our lives, we chose a place quite openly labeled a “mountain.” Did we have no concept of “uphill,” having grown up in a remarkably flat coastal city? All I remember is that it wasn’t long before we found ourselves wrung out at the side of the road, wondering how we would ever get anywhere near our prospective campground. As so often happens, however, we were saved by the kindness of strangers. Someone took pity on us, stopped his truck or van, tossed our bikes into the back, and drove us to our destination.

We were finally in the cathedral of the woods. That night, we pitched our little tent, made a fire, managed to be scared by a bobcat whose glowing eyes we caught in the beam of our flashlight, and finally retired to sleep on ground crisscrossed by roots, only to be attacked by some giant, truly fearsome bug. (Think Mothra!) Yes, it’s true: in that cathedral I was praying for deliverance as the sun came up.

And don’t even get me started on the beach in California, years later, where I woke up sopping wet from the ocean dew, or the thousands of hopping bugs that advanced on my sleeping bag on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, or that night in a ditch at the side of some road in a scruffy backland when no one would pick up two young hitchhikers. As you’ll see today, TomDispatch regular William deBuys is quite a different kind of American. In fact, at this very moment, he’s on a raft joyously heading down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

And here’s the thing: as someone who wouldn’t be caught dead sleeping one more night in the wild, I genuinely celebrate deBuys and his ilk, who have had such a hand in ensuring that the great natural cathedrals of our American world will be there (we hope) for generations yet to come. His celebration of American nature, based on his own youthful experience lighting out for the territories, ranks among the special pleasures of what I’ve published at TomDispatch. Tom Engelhardt

The Wilderness Act turns 50
Celebrating the great laws of 1964
By William deBuys

Let us now praise famous laws and the year that begat them: 1964.

The first thing to know about 1964 was that, although it occurred in the 1960s, it wasn’t part of “the Sixties.” The bellbottoms, flower power, LSD, and craziness came later, beginning about 1967 and extending into the early 1970s. Trust me: I was there, and I don’t remember much; so by the dictum variously attributed to Grace Slick, Dennis Hopper, and others (that if you can remember the Sixties, you weren’t part of them), I must really have been there.

[Read more…]

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Music: Tigran Hamasyan — ‘A Fable’

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Glenn Greenwald’s Khorasan conspiracy theory misses the point

Washington is often — and justifiably — criticized for viewing the world through a U.S.-centric prism. But many of the U.S. government’s fiercest critics are guilty of the same narrow orientation.

A case in point is an analysis provided by Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain in The Intercept yesterday: “The Khorasan Group: Anatomy of a Fake Terror Threat to Justify Bombing Syria.”

Up until last week, hardly anyone, including seasoned Syria watchers and Syrians themselves, had heard of an outfit called the Khorasan Group and so sober warnings from high officials in the U.S. government that this group poses a greater threat to the U.S. than ISIS, were received by some observers with a measure of skepticism.

The Intercept analysis traces the recent evolution of the Khorasan narrative as presented by the servile American media and reaches this conclusion:

What happened here is all-too-familiar. The Obama administration needed propagandistic and legal rationale for bombing yet another predominantly Muslim country. While emotions over the ISIS beheading videos were high, they were not enough to sustain a lengthy new war.

So after spending weeks promoting ISIS as Worse Than Al Qaeda™, they unveiled a new, never-before-heard-of group that was Worse Than ISIS™. Overnight, as the first bombs on Syria fell, the endlessly helpful U.S. media mindlessly circulated the script they were given: this new group was composed of “hardened terrorists,” posed an “imminent” threat to the U.S. homeland, was in the “final stages” of plots to take down U.S. civilian aircraft, and could “launch more-coordinated and larger attacks on the West in the style of the 9/11 attacks from 2001.””

As usual, anonymity was granted to U.S. officials to make these claims. As usual, there was almost no evidence for any of this. Nonetheless, American media outlets – eager, as always, to justify American wars – spewed all of this with very little skepticism. Worse, they did it by pretending that the U.S. Government was trying not to talk about all of this – too secret! – but they, as intrepid, digging journalists, managed to unearth it from their courageous “sources.” Once the damage was done, the evidence quickly emerged about what a sham this all was. But, as always with these government/media propaganda campaigns, the truth emerged only when it’s impotent.

The first problem with this conspiracy theory — its claim that the Khorasan Group was invented for domestic propaganda purposes — is that such an invention would largely be redundant.

Having successfully presented ISIS as worse than al Qaeda, why muddy the narrative by introducing into the picture a previously unheard of group? If a pretext for bombing Syria was being fabricated, why not posit an “imminent” threat to the U.S. coming from ISIS itself?

The actual story here is one that is somewhat more complex than appeals to conspiracy theorists like Glenn Greenwald and Alex Jones and it requires giving as much attention to what is happening in Syria as to what is happening behind closed doors in the capital of the Evil Empire.

The invention of the Khorasan Group — which is to say, the creation of the name — seems to have been necessitated not by the desire to find a pretext for bombing another Muslim country, but instead the desire to avoid headlines which would identify the target of a cluster of airstrikes by its real name: Jabhat al-Nusra (JN).

I dare say that the average American is no more familiar with the name Jabhat al-Nusra than they are with the Khorasan Group, so why construct a distinction between the two?

This actually has little to do with how expanding the airstrike targeting beyond ISIS would be perceived in the U.S. and everything to do with how it would be seen in Syria.

As was noted in a 2013 report “Jihadist Terrorism: A Threat Assessment,” by the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Homeland Security Project chaired by Lee Hamilton and Thomas Kean, Jabhat al-Nusra is “widely acknowledged as the most effective fighting force in the war against Bashar al-Assad’s regime.”

Unlike ISIS, JN has pursued a strategy designed to avoid alienating Syrians who oppose the Assad regime yet do not support JN’s Islamist ideology. The Syrian fighters at its core, having learned from the mistake of alienating the local population while they were fighting in Iraq as members of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s Al Qaeda in Iraq (the precursor of ISIS), made some strategic adjustments for JN.

As a Quilliam Foundation report notes, JN opted for:

  • predominantly military rather than civic targets, with no bombing of shrines and careful use of suicide bombs to minimise civilian casualties,
  • downplaying JN’s rhetoric concerning sectarianism and kuffar (labelling Alawites, Shiites and Sufis as non-Muslims)
  • the decision to use a different name to avoid preconceptions associated with Al Qaeda.

If the Obama administration chose for debatable reasons to target a unit inside JN and wanted to explain itself to the American public, it didn’t need to concoct a new name for this unit. It could simply present the same assertions about plots to attack the homeland and say that they emanate from Syria’s al Qaeda affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra.

After all, Mohsin Al-Fadhli who in recent reports has been described as the leader of the Khorasan Group has also been referred to as the de facto leader of al Qaeda in Syria.

An Arab Times report in March this year said:

Al-Fadhli lives in north of Syria, where he is in control of al-Qaeda. He entices and recruits jihadists from among the European Muslim youths, or from those who embrace Islam. After choosing the youths, he trains them on how to execute terror operations in the western countries, focusing mostly on means of public transportation such as trains and airplanes. His activities were also focused on directing the al-Qaeda elements to execute operations against four main targets, which are Assad’s military, the Free Syrian Army, the ‘Islamic Front’ and ‘Da’esh’ [ISIS]. Sources revealed that Al-Fadhli supports ‘Al-Nusra Front’ against ‘Da’esh’, especially after the Al-Nusra leader Abu Mohammad Al-Joulani declared his loyalty to al- Qaeda group in April last year.

The decision taken by [Al Qaeda leader] Al-Zawahri to support ‘Al-Nusra Front’ to face ‘Da’esh’ was made after Al-Fadhli provided information about what is happening in Syria. Sources stressed that such a decision indicates the confidence al-Qaeda leadership has in Al-Fadhli. It also confirms that Al-Fadhli is the de facto leader of al-Qaeda in Syria, even though it has not been officially announced over fear of exposing him.

If the leader of the so-called Khorasan Group had such a central position in JN, why should the Obama administration see fit to try and educate the American public about some finer details in the organization’s internal structure?

It didn’t. The distinction between the Khorasan Group and Jabhat al-Nusra appears to have been contrived in a vain effort by Washington to fool Syrians rather than Americans. The U.S. hoped it could chop off one of JN’s limbs without appearing to strike its body.

The problem with a frontal attack on Jabhat al-Nusra is that this would inevitably be perceived in Syria as an attack on part of the opposition which has been on the frontline of the fight against ISIS and the regime — an attack that can thus only provide additional help to Bashar al-Assad.

President Obama says that the fight against ISIS will require ground forces drawn from the Syrian opposition, but by attacking JN the U.S. has swiftly alienated itself from the very fighters — the so-called moderates — on whose support the U.S. supposedly depends.

The ploy of inventing the Khorasan Group didn’t succeed in deceiving Syrians who knew that the men being killed in airstrikes in north-west Syria all belonged to Jabhat al-Nusra. Thus, by the end of last week instead of there being popular rallies welcoming a campaign to destroy the much-despised ISIS, ordinary Syrians were taking to the streets to protest against the U.S. airstrikes.

They already had reason to question American motives, given that Assad can be blamed for far more carnage and destruction than ISIS has wrought, and now it seems their worst fears have been confirmed — whether by design or sheer incompetence, the U.S. despite its oft-stated desire to hasten Assad’s departure seems to be doing more to ensure that he remains in power.

As for whether the U.S. truly has the desire to destroy ISIS remains far from clear. So far it has demonstrated a greater interest in destroying empty buildings than responding to desperate calls to block the ISIS assault on Kobane, the Kurdish city in northern Syria that truly faces an imminent threat to its survival.

Least of all is there any evidence that Obama has anything that barely resembles a coherent strategy.

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ISIS fighter says U.S. airstrikes aren’t effective

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How the U.S. lost its latest war within hours

Scott Lucas writes: Wednesday morning’s statement from US Central Command was — unsurprisingly — buoyant. The US and allies from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, and Jordan had launched attacks the previous day inside Syria, with 14 airstrikes and 47 Tomahawk missiles. Multiple targets of the Islamic State had been hit in northern and eastern Syria, including “fighters, training compounds, headquarters and command and control facilities, storage facilities, a finance center, supply trucks, and armed vehicles”.

Central Command promised, “The U.S. military will continue to conduct targeted airstrikes against ISIL in Syria and Iraq as local forces go on the offensive against this terrorist group.”

Behind the confident assessment, Central Command did not point to — and presumably did not recognize — reality: with those initial strikes, the US had probably already lost its belated intervention in the 42-month Syrian conflict.

The military did not mention that the greatest casualties of the first night’s attacks had not been suffered by the Islamic State, which had moved most of its forces before the arrival of the warplanes. Instead, the US had struck hardest on two locations of the Islamist insurgents Jabhat al-Nusra, killing more than 70 fighters and civilians in Idlib and Aleppo Provinces. [Continue reading…]

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Turkish military forces quietly watch while ISIS advances on Kobane

Reuters reports: Turkish tanks and armoured vehicles took up positions on hills overlooking the besieged Syrian border town of Kobani on Monday as shelling by Islamic State insurgents intensified and stray fire hit Turkish soil, a Reuters correspondent said.

At least 30 tanks and armoured vehicles, some with their guns pointed towards Syrian territory, were positioned near a Turkish military base just northwest of Kobani. Plumes of smoke rose up as shells hit the eastern and western sides of Kobani and sporadic bursts of machinegun fire rang out.

“We have taken the border under full control. We have ramped up our security measures in the Suruc region,” Interior Minister Efkan Ala told reporters in Istanbul, referring to the area on the Turkish side of the border with Kobani.

A local official inside the besieged town said Islamic State continued to bombard it from the east, west and south and that the militants were 10 km (6 miles) from the outskirts.

“From the morning there have been bomb shellings into Kobani and not one rocket, but maybe about 20 rockets,” Idris Nassan, deputy foreign minister in the Kobani canton, said by telephone.

Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights which monitors Syria’s civil war, said at least 15 mortar rounds had landed on Kobani on Monday, killing at least one person. He said Islamic State fighters had advanced to within 5 km of the town. [Continue reading…]

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Protests against ISIS’s Kobane siege continue across Turkey

Today’s Zaman reports: Demonstrators have gathered in cities across Turkey to protest the terrorist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant’s (ISIL) siege of the strategic Syrian town of Kobane, which is inhabited predominantly by ethnic Kurds.

An all-female protest including women from some 36 civil society organizations gathered in İstanbul to protest against ISIL over the weekend, marching towards the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) headquarters in Kadıköy.

The group included women activists from civil society organizations such as the Human Rights Association (İHD) and the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP). The group chanted slogans, saying, “If there is no Rojava [the Kurdish-populated region of northern Syria], there won’t be peace,” “Women’s solidarity against ISIL” and “Murderer ISIL, collaborator AK Party.”

The group said in a statement made during the protest that the ISIL attacks are also targeting the settlement process in Turkey, which aims to solve the Kurdish problem in the country, and called on the international community to take action for Kobane. The statement said the Turkish government should not allow ISIL members to cross into Syria from Turkey.

The protesters also stressed that they do not want a buffer zone in Syria.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has insisted that a buffer zone to protect Turkey’s borders with Iraq and Syria, as well as a no-fly zone over Syria, must be established. US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made clear at a Pentagon news conference that the US is not actively considering a buffer zone. [Continue reading…]

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