The Khorasan group, moderate rebels, and other mythical creatures
Syrian rebels (AFP Photo/Aamir Qureshi)
Since the outbreak of the latest Middle East war a few years back, we have been chronicling the Washington political class’s Syria Fairy Tales. In particular, there is the story line that Syria is really teeming with secular democrats and authentic moderate Muslims who would have combined forces to both overthrow Assad and fight off the jihadists if only President Obama had helped them. But his failure to act created a “vacuum” that was tragically filled by Islamist militants and gave rise to ISIS. At this point in the story, you are supposed to stay politely mum and not ask whether it makes any sense that real democrats and actual moderates would agree to be led by head-chopping, mass-murdering, freedom-stifling sharia terrorists.
In point of fact, there simply have never been enough pro-Western elements in Syria to win, no matter how much help came their way. There was never going to be a moderate, democratic Syrian state without a U.S. invasion and occupation for a decade or more, an enterprise that would be politically untenable — and, as the Iraq enterprise shows, unlikely to succeed. The “moderate rebels” had no chance against Assad unless they colluded with the Islamist militants, who are vastly superior and more numerous fighters. And they would have even less chance of both knocking off Assad and staving off the jihadists.
The Obama administration and the Beltway commentariat have done their best to obscure these brute facts. Their main tactic is to exploit the American public’s unfamiliarity with the makeup of Syria. Obama Democrats and much of the Beltway GOP continue to invoke the “moderate Syrian rebels” while steadfastly refusing to identify just who those purported “moderates” are. They hope you won’t realize that, because of the dearth of actual moderate Muslims and freedom fighters, they must count among their “moderate rebels” both the Muslim Brotherhood (which should be designated as a terrorist organization) and various other Islamist factions, including . . . wait for it . . . parts of al-Nusra — i.e., al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise.
We’ve also noted that a new wrinkle has recently been added to the Beltway’s Syria Fairy Tales: Obama’s Khorasan Fraud. In a desperate attempt to conceal the falsity of Obama’s boasts about destroying what is actually a resurgent al-Qaeda, the administration claimed that the threat to America that impelled Obama to start bombing Syria was not ISIS (supposedly just a “regional” threat), not al-Qaeda (already defeated, right?), but a hitherto unknown terrorist organization called the “Khorasan group.”
To the contrary, the Khorasan group, to the extent it exists at all, has never been a stand-alone terrorist organization. It is an internal component of al-Qaeda — specifically, an advisory board (or, in Islamic terms, a shura council) of al-Qaeda veterans who advise and carry out directives from Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s emir. During the fighting in Syria, some of these operatives were sent there by Zawahiri to conduct operations under the auspices of al-Nusra. These operations have included jihadist activity against both the United States and Assad allies, plus negotiations for a rapprochement with the Islamic State (or ISIS). The limited success of those negotiations has led to fighting among the jihadists themselves.
The ball to keep your eye on here is al-Qaeda. The al-Nusra terrorist group is just al-Qaeda in Syria. Even ISIS is just a breakaway faction of al-Qaeda. And the Khorasan group is just a top-tier group of al-Qaeda veterans doing al-Qaeda’s work in conjunction with al Nusra — i.e., al-Qaeda.
The Obama administration disingenuously emphasizes these various foreign names to confuse Americans into thinking that there are various factions with diverse agendas in Syria — that al-Qaeda is no longer a problem because Obama has already dealt with it, and what remains are sundry groups of “moderate rebels” that the administration can work with in the effort to vanquish ISIS. Meanwhile, you are supposed to refrain from noticing that Obama’s original Syrian project — remember, he wanted Assad toppled — has given way to fighting ISIS . . . the very Sunni jihadists who were empowered by Obama’s lunatic policies of (a) switching sides in Libya in order to support the jihadists against Qaddafi and (b) abetting and encouraging Sunni Muslim governments in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey to arm Sunni militias in the fight against Assad — those militias having all along included al-Qaeda elements, some of which split off to become ISIS and now threaten to bite off the very hands that once fed them.
If you thought the Khorasan fraud was just a passing fad to get Obama through the initial stages of trying to rationalize his incoherent Syria air campaign, think again.
You see, Obama continues to have a problem. Everyone knows that ISIS, the main target of U.S. bombings in Syria and Iraq, cannot be defeated — or even stalled much — by a mere air campaign, which has been half-hearted at best anyway. Ground forces will be needed. So the administration and Washington’s foreign-policy clerisy keep telling Americans: Never fear, there is no need for U.S. ground troops, because we can rely on “moderate rebels” to fight ISIS. But the so-called “moderates” Obama backs have been colluding with al-Qaeda (i.e., al-Nusra) for years — at least when not being routed by al-Qaeda/al-Nusra.
Now, the sensible thing at this point would be to concede that there are no viable moderate forces in Syria, and that it would be folly for us to continue pretending those forces either exist or will materialize anytime soon. But no, that would be honest . . . which is not the Obama way — nor, frankly, is it the Washington way — to end our willful blindness to the lack of moderation among Middle Eastern Muslims.
So if honesty is not an option, what to do? Simple: Let’s just pretend that al-Nusra — part of the al-Qaeda network we have been at war with for 13 years — is, yes, moderate!
But wait a second? How can we possibly pull that off when we know al-Nusra/al-Qaeda is also plotting to attack the United States and the West?
Easy: That’s why we have the “Khorasan group”!
I kid you not. Even as al-Nusra/al-Qaeda mow down any “moderate rebels” who don’t join up with them, the Obama administration is telling Americans, “No, no, no: The al-Nusra guys are really good, moderate, upstanding jihadists. The real problem is that awful Khorasan group!”
Tom Joscelyn and Bill Roggio have the story at The Long War Journal:
CENTCOM draws misleading line between Al Nusrah Front and Khorasan Group
US Central Command [CENTCOM] attempted to distinguish between the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, and the so-called Khorasan Group in yesterday’s press release that detailed airstrikes in Syria.
CENTCOM, which directs the US and coalition air campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, denied that the five airstrikes targeted “the Nusrah Front as a whole” due to its infighting with the Syrian Revolutionaries’ Front, but instead claimed the attacks were directed at the Khorasan Group.
“These strikes were not in response to the Nusrah Front’s clashes with the Syrian moderate opposition, and they did not target the Nusrah Front as a whole,” CENTCOM noted in its press release.
The CENTCOM statement goes a step further by implying that the Al Nusrah Front is fighting against the Syrian government while the Khorasan Group is hijacking the Syrian revolution to conduct attacks against the West.
“They [the US airstrikes] were directed at the Khorasan Group whose focus is not on overthrowing the Assad regime or helping the Syrian people,” CENTCOM continues. “These al Qaeda operatives are taking advantage of the Syrian conflict to advance attacks against Western interests.”
Read Tom and Bill’s entire report, which sheds light on the web of jihadist connections.
Understand, the Khorasan group is al-Nusra, which is al-Qaeda. The “moderate Syrian rebels” are neither moderate nor myopically focused on Assad and Syria. (Indeed, Syria does not even exist as the same country anymore, now that ISIS has eviscerated its border with Iraq while capturing much of its territory.) The overarching Islamic-supremacist strategy of al-Qaeda has never cared about Western-drawn borders. The ambition of al-Qaeda, like that of its breakaway ISIS faction, is to conquer both the “near” enemies — i.e., the Middle East territories not currently governed by its construction of sharia — and the West. Al-Qaeda (a.k.a. al-Nusra, a.k.a. the Khorasan group) wants to overthrow Assad, but it still regards the United States as its chief nemesis.
The Khorasan group exists only as an advisory group around Zawahiri. The Obama administration’s invocation of it to divert attention from al-Qaeda and launder al-Nusra into “moderate Syrian rebels” is sheer subterfuge.
— Andrew C. McCarthy is a policy fellow at the National Review Institute. His latest book is Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s Impeachment.