Al Qaeda core’s break with one affiliate in Syria and its backing of another there may show that the group now views Syria as the primary battlefield in the region, a Defense official said at House hearing on Tuesday.
Last week, core al Qaeda leadership officially broke ties with an affilliate in Syria — the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) — over the group's insubordination, and said it now only backed the other AL Qaeda affiliate there, the Al Nusra Front.
“Our early assessments indicate that it means that al Qaida core is very interested in what happens in Syria,” said Elissa Slotkin, the principal deputy assistant defense secretary for international security affairs.
“One possibility that we're still exploring is that the al Qaida core is more interested in Syria than anything else in the region and has put their emphasis on Al Nusra Front because of the importance of Syria,” Slotkin said at the House Armed Services Committee hearing.
She added that officials were watching the split with “great interest” since it was the first time they had seen al Qaeda break with an affiliate.
ISIL has emerged as one of the most, if not the most, powerful al Qaeda affiliates in Syria and in Iraq.
“One of the fundamental questions we have is this the — a sign of strength or a sign of weakness for al Qaida core?” Slotkin said.“We're still trying to assess what it means for our policies and we watch it very, very closely.”