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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Brief Look at al-Nusra and Khorasan

Link: Khorasan a Threat to the West?
          What is Khorasan?

Recently I posted comments relating to the various terror groups currently active in Syria.  I believe that it is best to focus more on the overall threat posed by these groups, than to get lost in the weeds trying to determine what name belongs to which faction.  Al-Qaeda, Islamic State, Al-Qaeda in Yemen, Al-Qaeda in Magreb, al-Nusra, . . . they all have the same goal: they are determined to destroy our way of life.  The enemy does not separate the French infidels from the Danish infidels, or the Austrian blasphemers from the British infidels.  For those of us who are intelligence freaks, though, breaking down the various terror networks is what we enjoy.  I have stated my preferred strategy for militarily confronting these groups quite clearly in recent posts.  Today I would like to use my experience, training, and intuition to look into some of these groups.

On September 2, I spent an entire post detailing the evolution of the Islamic State (IS).  Not surprisingly, we could create a flow chart that connects all of these groups to Al-Qaeda in one way or another.  In fact, I believe all of the groups we have been reading about lately have an Al-Qaeda angle.  If these groups have an Al-Qaeda genesis and the same motivation, why have they splintered into so many factions?  First and foremost, its human nature.  These young men and women did not join a terrorist group to march on a parade ground and shine medals, they joined to kill in the name of Allah.  Without the discipline of a modern army unit, disagreements become arguments, and groups tend to splinter.  It doesn't mean that they hate you any less, it only means that personality clashes happen everywhere.  Also, smaller groups can be a strategic advantage in certain types of warfare.  Units of five to eight fighters can travel lightly and cover much more ground than two dozen armed men.  And if by chance the various groups come together for battle, they can splinter again just as quickly and disappear into the bush or mountains.  Its much harder to locate and keep track of smaller groups.  Another very important reason why we have so many groups with different monikers is vanity.  Everyone wants their five minutes of fame, so what better way than to create your own movement, name, and flag?

A review of open source media reveals (for the most part), four groups currently operating in Syria in opposition to the regular Syrian Army (loyal to President Bashir al-Assad).  The four names that seem to pop up most frequently are the IS, al-Nusra, Khorasan, and the New Syrian Army (NSA).  No doubt Al-Qaeda in present, advising the leaders of these various groups (NSA excepted, of course).  The NSA is the one anti-Assad group in Syria that appears to also oppose the Islamic extremist element.  The Obama Administration has selected the NSA to be our surrogates against the IS.  We spent time examining the NSA on September 21, so there is no need to revisit them so soon.  Personally, I am most fascinated by this group that calls itself the "al-Nusra Front" (ANF), or just "al-Nusra".  ANF is a direct extension of Al-Qaeda, straight from the border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan (its so fascinating how history repeats itself, especially from a military perspective.  The Pakistan/Afghanistan border reminds me of the Vietnam War-era Vietnamese border with Laos and Cambodia).  Khorasan is an extension of al-Nusra.  During the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s, the African National Congress (ANC) had a military wing (Umkhonto we sizwe- Spear of the Nation) to carry out attacks against the State.  It appears some of the terrorist groups are operating on similar lines.  Khorasan is known to favor western recruits, especially anyone with explosives training.  I believe Khorasan will attempt to exploit the training of its recruits to not only attack the enemy in Syria, but to also conduct more prolific attacks against western targets.

Khorasan is led by Muhsin Fadhli, a senior Al-Qaeda operative who was probably hiding out in Iran until recently (the Iran angle in this mess is most intriguing, and will be the subject of tomorrow's post).  It is believed that Fadhli was personally tasked by current Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to recruit westerners.  Why are the westerners so important?  Because some are former military and have specialized training, and (ostensibly) all can travel unhindered on western passports.  Examining the flow of recent media reporting on al-Nusra and Khorasan can be confusing.  Is Khorasan designed to be a specialized unit of western recruits with bomb-making experience, who can create explosives to be smuggled onto commercial airplanes?  Or will Khorasan use its skills to create I.E.Ds (Improvised Explosive Devices)?  ANF will be militarily active in Syria regardless of the presence of Khorasan, which leaves me with the impression that Khorasan will be used for specialized operations.

The Syrian conflict seems to become more complicated by the hour.  During a conversation with two colleagues, we couldn't help but laugh at some of the odd bedfellows that have evolved.  Will IS fight alongside ANF and Khorasan?  If events unfold as planned (by the Obama Administration), the New Syrian Army will be fighting both the IS and ANF/Khorasan.  Here is where it gets humorous.  If the situation on the ground develops logically, then the IS and the ANF/Khorasan will be fighting both the NEW Syrian Army and the OLD Syrian Army simultaneously.  And I'm sure before all is said and done, the NAS will settle its conflict with the regular Syrian Army.

One of the greatest books ever written (and I am an expert, just ask anyone) is Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia).  Seven Pillars is a poetic,
stylized biographic account of Lawrence during his efforts to organize Arab resistance to the Ottoman Turks during the First World War.  Don't be discouraged by the beginning...its can be a bit "thick".  Once you leave the beginning behind, you won't be able to put it down.  The book is written so beautifully as to provide the mind's eye with the most amazing Arabian landscapes and events.  True, you must wade through a passage or two of Lawrence's "boy-lust", but its not as bad as its made out to be. I strongly recommend Seven Pillars to everyone who will be serving in this part of the world, or who has an interest in Arabia.  I mention Lawrence and Seven Pillars because it provides great detail to the 1916 "Sykes-Picot Agreement" (I imagine if the Ottoman Empire and the Triple Alliance had gone on to win the war, Sykes-Picot would had become cage-liner for some Parakeet).  In a nutshell, Sykes-Picot was an agreement between France and the British, which defined "spheres of influence" (read: occupation) for each nation following the successful resolution of the war.  The Brits would get Palestine and Jordan, and the French would receive Syria and Lebanon.  The Treaty, which made Lawrence appear deceitful, was drafted without Lawrence's knowledge.  Lawrence had been preaching to the Arabs that their participation in defeating the Turks would result in freedom and independence.  Once the details of the treaty became public, the Arabs were incensed.  If you look close enough, you can always find some episode of western idiocy that stains the reputation of Europe and the United States indefinitely (the Chinese are still going on about the 1840s Opium Wars).  The point is, people in this part of the world do not trust westerners.  Every effort to win the "Hearts and Minds" has been unsuccessful.  The Obama Administration, alongside whatever coalition he is able to crochet together, must have a reasonable exit strategy that leaves the Syrian and Iraqi people in control of their own destiny.

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