Al Qaeda in Iraq, Syria a ‘transnational threat’

During a press briefing on Wednesday, Oct. 30, a “senior administration official” updated reporters on recent meetings between an Iraqi delegation, headed by Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, and their American counterparts, including Vice President Joe Biden. The official’s main focus was the “reemergence” of al Qaeda in the region, especially under the banner of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham, or Levant (ISIS).

ISIS is now “really a transnational threat network,” the official warned. “This is really a major and increasing threat to Iraq’s stability, it’s [an] increasing threat to our regional partners, and it’s an increasing threat to us,” the official continued.

Earlier this month, a senior Republican congressman offered a similar assessment. Al Qaeda’s affiliates inside Syria are “talking about conducting external operations, which is exactly what happened in Afghanistan, which led to 9/11,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee.

“The only thing we think is stopping it now is the fact that there is this struggle between al Qaeda core leadership saying, ‘hold off, don’t do it yet’,” Rogers said at the 2013 Foreign Policy Initiative Forum in Washington. Rogers also said that there are more than 10,000 “committed” al Qaeda fighters in eastern Syria alone.

Rogers’ comments indicated that al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliates, the Al Nusrah Front and ISIS, are anxious to lash out at the West, while al Qaeda’s senior leadership has been more focused on consolidating the terror network’s territorial gains.

European counterterrorism officials have repeatedly worried out loud about the possibility of jihadist recruits fighting for al Qaeda or affiliated groups in Syria and then returning to their home countries to commit terrorist attacks.

Iraqi government outgunned in west

The senior Obama administration official also warned about the deteriorating environment in western Iraq, once home to the Awakening, which, along with American support, turned back al Qaeda’s advances during the so-called surge.

Prime Minister Maliki “recently met with the Governor of Anbar province to discuss some efforts in terms of counterterrorism and trying to isolate the increasingly strengthening al Qaeda networks in Anbar province,” the official explained.

It “is a fact now that al Qaeda has a presence in western Iraq, and it has a presence in terms of camps and training facilities and staging areas that the Iraqi forces are unable to target effectively,” the official continued. “Now, that’s just a fact that goes to their capabilities.”

The Iraqis are unable to effectively target al Qaeda’s presence in western Iraq. Some of the “al Qaeda networks that are coming in from Syria and that are based in Iraq now really have heavy weapons.” Al Qaeda is targeting “Iraqi unarmored helicopters” with “PKC machine guns.”

“Iraqi helicopter pilots [whom] we have trained have been killed by, again, heavy machine gun weaponry,” the official said. “And so they’re trying to take this threat – take on this threat with equipment that isn’t really geared towards doing it effectively.”

The senior administration also offered a stunning statistic. In “just last month alone we had … 38 suicide bombers,” the official explained. “Nearly all these suicide bombers – actually, all of them – we think come from the Islamic State of the Iraq [and] in the Levant network.”

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Uncle Sammy says:

    Uncle Sam, the chickens are coming home to roost. The whole DU mess and more going to be settled score by score. Not a good outlook for the Yanks.

  • john says:

    The statements sound a lot like somebody asking for money and equipment. Kind of funny how the money slows down when the troops go home, isn’t it? I can’t wait to see what lame excuse Afghanistan comes up with to keep the money faucet turned on after America leaves. I don’t doubt AQ is very powerful in Syria and Iraq. I do have some doubts about the Iraqi government and what it’s reporting, though. Do they really want us to believe AQ has tens of thousands of fighters in camps in Anbar and they can’t do anything about it? Maybe they have a low-intensity sunni revolt going on and they’re attributing that to AQ.

  • irebukeu says:

    Some of the “al Qaeda networks that are coming in from Syria and that are based in Iraq now really have heavy weapons.” Al Qaeda is targeting “Iraqi unarmored helicopters” with “PKC machine guns.”
    2 sentences I know but is the “heavy “weapons reference referring to the PKC machine gun? Isn’t the PKC just a PKM by another name? If they are using it as an anti-aircraft weapon I assume it has been mounted on an AA pinnacle mount.
    Can this really be “new”?
    I would not consider the PKC/PKM as a ‘heavy’ weapon. I would not even call it a heavy machine gun though I know sometimes the designation is not dependent on the weapon itself but rather on how the weapon is mounted/supplied (WWII German machine guns come to mind MG 34/42).
    I would call the ‘Dishka’ a heavy machine gun but save the term heavy weapon for tubed artillery, GRADS and ZU anti-aircraft weapons. You know, ZU’s the ones with the seat and kick pedals.
    Sounds like the white house official is abusing the term for effect.
    So the ISIL is using squad level weaponry to shoot down helicopters and Iraq is trying to, according to the quoted official “…take on this threat with equipment that isn’t really geared towards doing it effectively.”
    What weapons do they lack one must wonder to combat the mighty PKC”?
    The administration is making sure that this doesn’t happen in Afghanistan by not giving them many helicopters and giving them donkeys instead.

  • Zeissa says:

    It’s true. The reason Al Qaeda has made such a comeback is because Al Maliki and his party turned up with tanks on the doors of Iraqiyya on the night the American forces left, arresting some key opposition party members; this was the culmination but not the end of disenfranchising the Sunni minority.
    The US made no comment, similar to what happened when S. Vietnam repelled the first North Vietnamese invasion after the USA left, the US some time after that cut the defense aid to S. Vietnam.
    The fact is the USA, being a young energetic nation, often lacks patience for being an empire (I think of that word as a good term), unlike such past empires as the UK and the still living empire of Russia.

  • Zeissa says:

    … though the tens of thousands bit you’re quoting from somewhere must be an exaggeration, unless you count the total armed strength of the Anbar tribes.


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