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While Defeat of Isis Dominates Attention, al-Qaeda Gets Stronger
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Al-Qaeda is creating its most powerful stronghold ever in north-west Syria at a time when world attention is almost entirely focused on the impending defeat of Isis in the east of the country. It has established full control of Idlib province and of a vital Syrian-Turkish border crossing since July. “Idlib Province is the largest al-Qaeda safe haven since 9/11,” says Brett McGurk, the senior US envoy to the international coalition fighting Isis.

The al-Qaeda-linked movement, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which used to be called Jabhat al-Nusra, has long been the most powerful rebel group in western Syria. After the capture of east Aleppo by the Syrian army last December, it moved to eliminate its rivals in Idlib, including its powerful former Turkish-backed ally Ahrar al-Sham. HTS is estimated to have 30,000 experienced fighters whose numbers will grow as it integrates brigades from other defeated rebel groups and recruits young men from the camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who have sought refuge in Idlib from President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

Al-Qaeda is growing in strength in and around Idlib province just as Isis is suffering defeat after defeat in eastern Syria and Iraq. Its latest setback was its failure on Tuesday to stop the Syrian army linking up with its enclave at Deir Ezzor, where Isis has been besieging the government held part of the city for three years. Divided by the Euphrates, the city is the largest in eastern Syria and its complete recapture opens the way to the al-Omar oilfields that once provided half of Syria’s crude production.

The end of the siege, supposing encircling Isis forces are permanently driven back, frees up a Syrian army garrison of 5,000 to 10,000 soldiers as well as the 93,000 civilians trapped in the government-held zone who had been supplied with food by airdrops. Deir Ezzor is only the latest Isis urban centre to be lost on the Syrian portion of the Euphrates valley which was the heartland of its territories in Syria. Isis is everywhere on the retreat. Upriver from Deir Ezzor at Raqqa, the American-backed and Kurdish-run Syrian Democratic Forces are fighting their way into the city and has captured its old city quarter in the last few days.

Despite its proven fighting prowess, Isis is collapsing under the impact of ground attacks launched by different parties on multiple fronts in Iraq and Syria. What tips the balance against it in all cases is the massive firepower of the Russian and US air forces in support of ground assaults. Isis’s defeat in eastern Syria will accelerate as local tribes, previously won over or intimidated by Isis, join the winning side. The US and the Syrian Kurds may not like the return of Syrian government authority in eastern Syria, south of Raqqa, but they do not look as if they are prepared to fight hard to stop it. President Trump’s priority is to eradicate Isis and al-Qaeda, regardless of who rules Syria in future.

Bad news for Isis is good news for HTS and al-Qaeda. Its defeat preoccupies its myriad enemies and largely monopolises their military efforts. Short of combat troops, the Syrian army is only really capable of making a maximum effort on one front at a time. The Syrian Kurds have an interest in fighting Isis but not necessarily defeating it so decisively that the US would no longer need a Kurdish alliance and could return to the embrace of its old Nato ally Turkey.

HTS stands to benefit politically and militarily from the decline of Isis, the original creator and mentor of Jabhat al-Nusra, as the earliest of al-Qaeda’s incarnations in Syria was known. Under the name of al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of the movement split off in 2013 and the two sides fought a bloody inter-jihadi civil war. If Isis is destroyed or rendered a marginal force, Sunni Arab jihadis refusing to surrender to Mr Assad’s army and intelligence service will have no alternative but to join HTS. Moreover, Sunni Arabs in eastern Syria may soon be looking for any effective vehicle for resistance, if Syrian government armed forces behave with their traditional mix of brutality and corruption.

HTS will expect the many states now attacking Isis, and battering to pieces its three-year-old caliphate, to turn on them next. But they will hope to delay the confrontation for as long as possible while they strengthen their movement. Ideologically similar but politically more astute than Isis, they will seek to avoid provoking a final territorial battle which they are bound to lose. Some Syrian specialists warn against waiting too long. “The international community must seek urgently to counter-attack HTS, which grows stronger by the day, without waiting for the complete destruction of the Islamic State,” writes Fabrice Balanche in a study published by the Washington Institute for Near East Studies called Preventing a Jihadist Factory in Idlib. He says that HTS wants to dominate the whole Syrian rebellion and is close to succeeding.

The open dominance of an extreme Islamic jihadi movement like HTS creates a problem for foreign powers, notably the US, UK, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, previous funders and suppliers of the Syrian rebels. HTS, whose attempt to distinguish itself from al-Qaeda has convinced few, is listed in many countries as a terrorist organisation, unlike its former ally, the Ahrar al-Sham. It will be difficult for foreign powers to do business with it, though the armed opposition to Mr Assad has long been dominated by extreme Islamist jihadi groups. The difference is that today there are no longer any nominally independent groups through which anti-Assad states and private donors can channel arms, money and aid while still pretending that they were not supporting terrorism.

ORDER IT NOW

Isis declared war against the whole world in 2014 and inevitably paid the price of creating a multitude of enemies who are now crushing it in Syria and Iraq. Many of the members of this de facto alliance always disliked each other almost as much as they hated Isis. It was only fear of the latter that forced them to cooperate, or at least not fight each other. It may not be possible to recreate the same unity of purpose against al-Qaeda.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: al-Qaeda, ISIS, Syria 
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  1. This is not exactly some great surprise. Japan did get a fraction of American war efforts during WWII, despite having attacked Pearl Harbor. Germany received the bulk of those efforts because it was simply the more dangerous power. Once Germany was defeated, Japan received the full measure of US efforts.

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  2. from my blog:

    Feb 5, 2017 – Al Qaeda Does Not Exist

    Pentagon and State Department spokesmen often refer to ISIS and Al Qaeda as worldwide terrorist organizations. I wish a reporter would ask them for the names of their top two leaders. They would be stunned, and might remember leaders of small groups of Arab nationalists in small regions of a certain nations. But they can’t name their worldwide leaders because ISIS and Al Qaeda do not exist. They are just names invented by the CIA to describe dozens of small, independent groups of Arab nationalists who oppose western domination of their homeland. Our government pretends they are a threat to the West to justify perpetual war.

    I explained this in past blog posts, so was happy to see former CIA officer Amaryllis Fox confirm this in a short video, whose link includes this quote:

    “The truth is, there is no Islamic army or terrorist group called Al-Qaeda, and any informed intelligence officer knows this. But, there is a propaganda campaign to make the public believe in the presence of an intensified entity representing the ‘devil’ only in order to drive TV watchers to accept a unified international leadership for a war against terrorism. The country behind this propaganda is the United States.”

    – Former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook

    https://newspunch.com/cia-agent-u-s-government-feed-fake-911-isis-stories-to-media/

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  3. Guess we should go bomb the fuck out of it, then. This guy irritates me. Sometimes he gets it; mostly he just spews crap. Unreal–and he’s THERE! How is this possible? Same like R. Fisk. They write for the same “news”paper, tho’, so maybe that’s why.

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  4. JNDillard says:

    Is HTS being resupplied via Turkey or is it in a cauldron? This is the real issue. If it isn’t in a cauldron, that will obviously be the next major issue for the Syrian army. Once that has been accomplished – and I see no insurmountable reason why the Syrian army cannot accomplish this – the days of HTS are numbered.

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  5. Greg Bacon says: • Website

    ISIS or ‘al CIA Duh’ or al SHAM or whatever other trendy focus group names the Pentagon comes up with would be easy to defeat, if the West–especially the USA–wanted to defeat these state-backed terror groups.

    Just cut off their money from the USA, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, logistical support, the weapons that keep getting dropped by mistake into their lairs, the CIA training given to them in Jordan and Turkey, the medical care provided by Israel, the R & R spots in Turkey and the USAF cover and transportation given to these hired assassins and they’ll be gone in a month.

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  6. Carlton Meyer,

    I’m sorry but Al Qaeda and ISIL do and don’t exist.

    They are front-organisations set up and controlled by Washington to fight their CovertOperations using Islamiciat paramilitaries, but they are much more dispersed and fight to conquer and not defend their countiries for Washington.

    Islamicist Jihadist paramilitaries have been at the centre of Washington’sforeign policy since the mid-seventies.

    Al Qaeda meant “the database”, the printout of all the Jihadist fighters sent by the CIA to Afghanistan to fight.

    And now a question to Patrick Coburn.

    Patrick,

    after six and a half years, is it not time to do the brave and honest thing, and tell people these two organisations are American front-organisations to conquer Syria, but ISIL has beenused as an “Anti-Group” – see “Gladio” – togetat Syria but also get rid of the Jihadists for thepasst two years.

    And they way to peace is to stop paying and arming them.

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  7. anon says: • Disclaimer

    Franklin Lamb: Perhaps due partly to his current domestic political vulnerabilities stemming from some apparently serious fraud charges, PM Netanyahu has been making increased threats that Israel with enter the war in Syria. For example, a senior Israeli intelligence delegation made visits last month to Washington and Moscow and according to the Jerusalem Post, Israel’s Prime Minister told Russia’s Putin that Israel was ready to bomb the Presidential Palace in Damascus, and to disrupt the Astana process, should Iran continue to ‘extend its reach in Syria’.

    Apparently also discussed was the report that an Al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia has seized control of some uranium mines in Africa and will supply the material to Iran. According to a claimed diplomatic letter from the Somalia Minister of Foreign Affairs signed the letter appealing to the U.S. Ambassador to Somalia, Stephen Schwartz. Israel claims that Iran works in several ways with ISIS for mutual benefits and partly to preserve its “we vs. the terrorists” tactic to justify its occupation of Syria. ” https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/09/07/russia-us-iran-and-israel-war-for-syria/

    Following near rout of multinational forces by Russia Iran Syria Lebanon , more psych Ops are emerging form established columnists with credibility .

    No where in the article NIGER FORGERY is mentioned.

    question is where is this coming from? Are’nt they same ? haven’t they all been filtered refined and either collected by IS or sent to retirement ?

    It seems the total destruction oif the evil is what works Evil doesn’tchange

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  8. As if there is a difference between ISIS and al Qaeda.

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  9. anon says: • Disclaimer

    “For example, a senior Israeli intelligence delegation made visits last month to Washington and Moscow and according to the Jerusalem Post, Israel’s Prime Minister told Russia’s Putin that Israel was ready to bomb the Presidential Palace in Damascus, and to disrupt the Astana process, should Iran continue to ‘extend its reach in Syria’.

    Apparently also discussed was the report that an Al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia has seized control of some uranium mines in Africa and will supply the material to Iran. According to a claimed diplomatic letter from the Somalia Minister of Foreign Affairs signed the letter appealing to the U.S. Ambassador to Somalia, Stephen Schwartz. Israel claims that Iran works in several ways with ISIS for mutual benefits and partly to preserve its “we vs. the terrorists” tactic to justify its occupation of Syria.” https://www.counterpunch.

    Expect the al Qiada again to become more visible. It will launch again from this area under the nose and eye of NATO . A few American soldiers will be shown suffering from the neuke attack and the blame will be dispatched to Iran an Syria a

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