An al-Qaeda Setback in Syria?

Thomas Joscelyn
6th December 2017 - Quoted by Daniel Byman - Lawfare

Unheralded amid the recent political chaos in Washington and upheavals in the Middle East was a potential bit of good news: revelations that the al-Qaeda core’s split from its Syrian affiliate did not resemble a gentle parting but rather an acrimonious divorce. The revelations, which emerged from a statement by a senior Syrian jihadist, a public chastisement from Ayman Zawahiri, and then and a back-and-forth involving various jihadists in Syria, suggests that al-Qaeda wields less influence than previously feared and that U.S. efforts to isolate al-Qaeda in Syria are bearing some fruit.


Finally, the split represents a rare win for U.S. policy in Syria, which can claim some credit for pushing al-Qaeda and its affiliate apart. Without U.S. and allied pressure on local groups to shun al-Qaeda, the group’s Syrian affiliate would have less incentive to leave the core group. Such pressure cannot fully explain the split, and at best it produces quiet wins—but the United States must continue pressuring regional groups. Indeed, HTS still struggles to gain allies because of its al-Qaeda association. As Thomas Joscelyn contends, “some of the parties who decided against joining HTS cited the possibility that they would be designated by the US as terrorists if they did so.” The United States should continue to make clear that ties to any group with an anti-U.S. focus will be costly.


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al-qaeda, sunni-jihadism, syria