AQ tells Jabhat al-Nusra it can drop links
Reuters, Jul 28 2016
AQ has told Jabhat al-Nusra that it can break organisational ties with the global militant organisation to preserve its unity and continue its battle in Syria, in an audio statement released on Thursday. A break with AQ could pave the way for greater support from Qatar for Nusra, the most powerful faction in Syria’s five-year civil war. It could also lead to closer ties between Nusra and other fighting factions in Syria. AQ leader Ayman al-Zawahri said in an audio statement directed to Nusra:
You can sacrifice without hesitation these organisational and party ties if they conflict with your unity and working as one body. The brotherhood of Islam among us is stronger than any organisational affiliation … Your unity and unification is more important to us than any organisational link.
Nusra was excluded from Syria’s February cessation of hostilities. Russia and Pindostan are also discussing closer coordination to target the group. Speaking before Thursday’s announcement, Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute said that while Syria’s opposition has always demanded Nusra leave AQ, Western powers are unlikely to change their assessment of the group. Jackass Kerry has proposed closer cooperation with Russia against Nusra, including sharing intelligence to coordinate air strikes against its forces. Ayman Jawad al-Tamimi of Middle East Forum said:
A formal break with AQ and the possible formation of a new coalition of fighters with AQ’s blessing arguably represents the worst outcome from the Pindosi perspective. It will make targeting of terrorist figures much more difficult, as they will be ever more deeply embedded in the wider insurgency. A larger coalition between Nusra and other groups would then quickly and easily dismantle many of the Pindosi-backed groups among the Syrian rebels in the north.
Nusra was set up shortly after the uprising against Assad broke out in 2011. Originally supported by ISIS, it split from them in 2013. In many parts of Syria it frequently fights on the same side as mainstream groups favoured by Washington and its Arab allies. Rebels fighting under the banner of the FSA have denied direct coordination with Nusra, which has also fought and crushed several Western-backed rebel groups. After lying low in the early days of the February truce, Nusra has re-emerged on the battlefield as diplomacy has unravelled, spearheading recent attacks on pro-government Iranian militias near Aleppo, Nusra commanders and other rebels say. Proposals to distance Nusra from AQ have been floated before. Last year, sources told Reuters that the group’s leaders considered cutting ties with AQ to form a new entity backed by some Gulf Arab states seeking to topple Assad but which are also hostile to Daesh.
It looks like AQ is ‘laying a trap’ for Pindostan, and giving Russia exactly what it wants
Natasha Bertrand, Business Insider, Jul 29 2016
AQ’s former affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, formally severed ties with the global terrorist organization Thursday in an attempt to “unify” as a distinct Islamist brigade with its own revolutionary goals and vision. In its mission to rebrand itself, Nusra, now identifying as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, has clearly indicated that it is not committed to AQ’s brand of global jihad but to the singular goal of fomenting an Islamic revolution inside Syria. The break was made easier by the fact that, since its emergence in 2012, Nusra has woven itself into the fabric of Syria’s communities and established military alliances of convenience with many mainstream rebel groups in the name of toppling Assad. But it also confirms that Nusra has no intention of distancing itself from the revolution’s non-Jihadi rebel groups, many of whom are backed by Pindostan and its allies. For Russia then, which has consistently used Nusra’s presence among these more moderate rebel groups as an excuse to target and eliminate any and all opposition to its ally Assad, Nusra’s dissolution of ties with AQ is a gift. For Pindostan, it’s a headache. Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute who is an expert on Syria’s Jihadi insurgency, wrote in Foreign Policy on Friday:
By dissolving its ties with AQ, Nusra has made certain that it will remain deeply embedded within opposition front lines, particularly in the northern governorates of Aleppo and Idlib. Any airstrikes by foreign states targeting the group will almost certainly result in the deaths of mainstream opposition fighters and be perceived on the ground as counter-revolutionary. Consequently, a mission defined by Moscow and Washington in counter-terrorism terms would in all likelihood steadily broaden the spectrum of those potentially defined as ‘terrorists’ to the substantial detriment of any future solution to the Syrian crisis.
The break comes just as Pindostan and Russia are preparing to announce a military cooperation plan, known as the Joint Implementation Group, that was meant to more clearly delineate Nusra’s positions in Syria and deter airstrikes on civilians and the more moderate opposition. A Pindo boxtop told Reuters on condition of anonymity:
By disavowing its ties to AQ which, incidentally, it did with AQ’s blessing, Nusra has made it harder to isolate it from more moderate groups, some of whose members may join it now because it’s more powerful than some of the groups they belong to now.
Jeff White of WINEP said the development would probably not have any effect on Russia’s military strategy in Syria. White told Business Insider:
Russia doesn’t bomb Nusra because it’s a terrorist group, it bombs Nusra because it is an enemy of the regime, an effective one. For Russia, as long as Nusra keeps fighting the regime, it will remain a target.
As for how the break might affect Pindosi military strategy in Syria, White said:
(They will) want to assess what the split means in terms of goals, objectives, and operations, I suspect the counter-terrorism community will be loath to take it off the target list.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday that Nusra’s rebranding would not affect Pinbdostan’s assessment of the group. Earnest told reporters at the daily White House presser:
There continues to be increasing concern about Nusra Front’s growing capacity for external operations that could threaten both Pindostan and Eurostan.
But the development is bound to further complicate Syria’s rebel landscape, especially as Nusra under its new name mainstreams itself and consequently attracts more young men to its cause. Lister wrote:
Nusra’s break from AQ can be seen less as a conscious separation from the terrorist organization’s global Jihadi ideals and more as a way of “laying a trap” for Pindostan and its allies who claim to want to support the goals of Syria’s revolution. The most moderate FSA groups will be forced to choose between military and revolutionary unity, or operational isolation and subjugation. In short, Jabhat al-Nusra is taking yet another step toward shaping the orientation of the Syrian opposition in its favour.
Many experts claimed that Pindostan and Russia sealed AQ’s fate in Syria after it was revealed that they were going to coordinate their respective air campaigns to target its affiliate Nusra. Now, by breaking ties with AQ, Nusra has all but cemented the conditions for its own long-term survival. Those include increased popular support, which will lead to a backlash against the West if Pindostan targets the group, and potentially, funding from Qatar and Turkey, which may interpret Nusra’s rebranding as a legitimization of its revolutionary goals. Placed in this quandary, international military action against Jabhat al-Nusra does seem all but inevitable. At the same time, however, the consequences for doing so have become even more concerning.