The Guardian reports: The Obama administration is publicly conflating the Islamic State (Isis) and al-Qaida, taking a legally convenient position for its new war that dismisses a major public split between the two jihadist organizations.
While several US officials contend the rupture between Isis and al-Qaida is irrelevant – Secretary of State John Kerry has mocked it as a “publicity stunt” – the administration line undercuts its previous distinctions between al-Qaida’s core leadership, various affiliates and unrelated terrorist groups.
Amongst counter-terrorism veterans, the conflation is considered tendentious – and, to some, reminiscent of the Bush administration’s exaggerated linkages between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida, part of the language that tried to sell the 2003 Iraq invasion.
While Isis began life as al-Qaida in Iraq, al-Qaida’s leadership ultimately renounced all ties and condemned the group in February 2014. It is believed to be the first time al-Qaida has declared itself “not responsible” for a former affiliate.
“We know from open sourcing that they are not part of al-Qaida,” said Nada Bakos, a former CIA analyst. “Zawahiri denounced them. Baghdadi has declared his caliphate separate. We have no reason to believe they are currently operating as part of al-Qaida,” she said, referring to the respective leaders of al-Qaida and Isis.
Glenn Carle, a former CIA official who supports taking action against Isis, said that while the US public may not need a catalogue of the differences between Isis and al-Qaida, “each of them is different, and they are not one group.”
Much of the administration’s conflation of Isis and al-Qaida has occurred in a legal context, part of its argument that Obama possesses authority to attack Isis in Syria ahead of a congressional vote. But the contention is starting to migrate beyond legal discussions. [Continue reading…]