With all the talk of how ISIS may be worse than al-Qaeda, it’s worth remembering that one of the largest rebel groups in Syria is al-Qaeda. Moreover, the administration clearly believes that the “Khurasan Group” within the al-Qaeda affiliate the Nusra Front is a direct threat to the United States. As the AP reports:
On the same night that U.S. and Arab allies carried out more than 200 airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, the U.S. on its own launched more than 20 Tomahawk cruise missiles and other ordinance against eight Khorasan Group targets near Aleppo in northwestern Syria, Pentagon officials said.[…T]he Khorasan Group is a cell of al-Qaida veterans of wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan who traveled to Syria to link up with the Nusra Front, the al-Qaida affiliate there. U.S. intelligence officials say the group has been working with bomb makers from al-Qaida’s Yemen affiliate to perfect explosives that can fool Western airport security measures, including, one official said, a bomb in a toothpaste tube[….]Briefing reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday, Lt. Gen. William Mayville, who directs operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Khorasan Group was nearing “the execution phase of an attack either in Europe or the (U.S.) homeland.”
There’s conflicting discussion about the ability of that group to have actually carried out attacks, as well as their identity as separate from the Nusra Front and al-Qaeda. Nonetheless, a major strike at the leadership of this group, as well as administration reports and leaks about them, shows that this particular mutation of al-Qaeda is still very much trying to strike at the United States and Europe.And if this plot was as advanced as the reports would have us believe, it just illustrates a point we’ve long tried to make on these pages: while intervening in the Syrian conflict would never be the tidy option, doing so earlier would have forestalled all sorts of unpleasant eventualities which would doubtless emerge if Assad’s civil war was allowed to fester. Not doing anything was a choice as much as intervention—and it carried its own consequences.