Report: US strategy against ISIS overlooks Syrian al Qaeda affiliate

Report: US strategy against ISIS overlooks Syrian al Qaeda affiliate
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The U.S. strategy against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is completely overlooking al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, the Nusra Front, and may be strengthening the affiliate, according to a new report. 

"The likeliest outcome of the current strategy in Syria, if it succeeds, is the de facto establishment and ultimate declaration of a Jabhat al Nusra emirate in Syria," the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said on Wednesday. 


"This emirate, even before it is declared, will function as a central node in the global al Qaeda network, supporting other al Qaeda affiliates with resources and highly-trained fighters and technicians, and exporting violence into the heart of the West," it said. 

The report is the first in a series the think-tank will put out examining options to destroy ISIS and al Qaeda in Iraq and Syria, said ISW founder and president Kimberly Kagan.

ISIS and the Nusra Front (JAN) have the same objective of overthrowing existing governments in the Muslim world, attacking the West and spreading their ideology globally, said ISW fellow and analyst Jennifer Cafarella, one of the report's authors. 

"ISIS is attempting to spark a global movement, JAN is trying to grow one," she said. She added that JAN is trying to build a foundation of local legitimacy and a base from which to launch attacks. 

The group had tried not to identify itself as al Qaeda in order to not be targeted by the West, she said, but like ISIS, it has its own foreign fighter flow. 

The U.S. strategy in Syria that focuses on a negotiated settlement is likely to radicalize the opposition and drive them into the "no-talks" camp — including Nusra, Cafarella added. 

Another claim from the report is that ISIS is an existential threat to the U.S., despite contrary statements by the administration.

The authors of the report argue that while Salafi-jihadist groups cannot militarily destroy the U.S., they can destroy the idea of the United States and the values it stands for. 

ISIS attacks in the U.S. can lead to "exaggerated xenophobia and anti-Muslim calls for closing our borders" and "calls to restrict civil liberties," said the report's lead author, Frederick K. Kagan, director of the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute. 

"The threat comes from our reaction to our actions," he said. "We must not act in that way. ... We must not allow ISIS attacks to turn into a wave of anti-Muslim hysteria." 

The reports are also authored by Harleen Gambhir, ISW analyst, and Katherine Zimmerman, fellow at the AEI.

They will be geared toward setting the conditions for changes in the current strategy under a new administration, Kagan said.  

"This president is not going to alter in any fundamental way [the strategy] in his last year in office," he said.