US airstrike targets al Qaeda in Syria

The US targeted al Qaeda’s network in Syria in one of the 20 airstrikes that took place between Nov. 12 and Nov. 14. While the US military has said the strike was carried out against al Qaeda’s so-called Khorasan Group, the targets indicate that local infrastructure used by the Al Nusrah Front were hit.

US Central Command, or CENTCOM, noted that it “struck terrorists associated with a network of veteran al Qaeda operatives, sometimes called the ‘Khorasan Group,’ who are plotting external attacks against the United States and our allies” in one of the attacks.

The airstrike took place “in northwest Syria west of Aleppo.” The exact target of the strike was not disclosed, nor was the result of the operation. The strike took place on Nov. 13, according to CNN.

The Khorasan Group is part of the Al Nusrah Front, which is al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria. It is comprised of a group of senior al Qaeda leaders and operatives who are embedded within Al Nusrah. The al Qaeda veterans have been attempting to identify Western recruits who joined Al Nusrah and can be repurposed for attacks in their home countries or elsewhere abroad. [For more information on the Khorasan Group, see LWJ report, Analysis: CENTCOM draws misleading line between Al Nusrah Front and Khorasan Group.]

The US has targeted the Khorasan Group on two other occasions since launching airstrikes in Syria on Sept. 22. The US launched eight airstrikes against al Qaeda west of Aleppo on Sept. 22, and another five strikes in Sarmada on Nov. 5.

In its announcement explaining the Sarmada airstrikes, CENTCOM went out of its way to note that it “did not target the Nusrah Front as a whole,” but instead the attacks were “directed at the Khorasan Group whose focus is not on overthrowing the Assad regime or helping the Syrian people.”

In reality, there is no firm dividing line between al Qaeda’s so-called Khorasan Group and the rest of Al Nusrah. Indeed, the US military’s airstrikes on Sept. 22 and Nov. 5 hit the Al Nusrah Front ‘s infrastructure, which is used to wage its local insurgency against the Assad regime. Among the targets hit were IED-making facilities, a munitions production facility, a communication building, command and control facilities, training camps, staging areas for fighters, and vehicles.

One of the first reported casualties in the Sept. 22 airstrikes was an al Qaeda veteran named Abu Yusuf al Turki, who trained snipers for the Al Nusrah Front. While the snipers could be repurposed in Mumbai-style attacks in the West, their primary focus has been combatting Bashar al Assad’s forces and their Iranian-backed allies. [For more on Abu Yusuf al Turki, see LWJ report, Al Nusrah Front trainer suspected of plotting against 2004 NATO summit killed in US airstrikes.]

The Al Nusrah Front has posted photos from the Sept. 22 and Nov. 5 airstrikes on its official Twitter feeds. In the accompanying tweets, the group describes the targets hit as belonging to Al Nusrah, including buildings that have served as its headquarters.

Ahrar al Sham officials have claimed on Twitter that their facilities have also been hit in the US airstrikes. This has not been confirmed. If true, this is further evidence that the US military’s offensive is hitting targets that are associated with al Qaeda’s insurgency against the Assad regime. Ahrar al Sham is an al Qaeda-linked group that is primarily focused on overthrowing Assad. It is closely allied with the Al Nusrah Front.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal. Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for The Long War Journal.

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