Airstrikes in Syria continue to focus on Islamic State, not al Qaeda

As the press has been abuzz about the so-called Khorasan group in Syria, which Thomas Joscelyn adeptly explains is merely al Qaeda, the US has so far focused little attention on the group since launching eight airstrikes against it on Sept. 22.

Of the 48 strikes that have taken place in Syria since the US and allied countries began launching airstrikes, only 8 have targeted al Qaeda’s network in Syria (which includes the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria). All eight strikes took place on the opening day of coalition airstrikes in Syria.

Over the past two days, the US conducted 10 airstrikes in Syria; three near the city of Deir al Zour “that destroyed four ISIL [Islamic State] tanks and damaged another,” and seven more near Hasakah, Manbij, Kobani, and Raqqah that damaged or destroyed an Islamic State command and control center, garrison, training camp, buildings, and armed vehicles.

The Sept. 22 strike against al Qaeda / the Al Nusrah Front / the Khorasan group killed Abu Yusuf al Turki, a seasoned sniper trainer for al Qaeda who has more than a decade of experience with al Qaeda. Jihadists displayed pictures of his body on Twitter. Additionally Muhsin al Fadhli, the leader of al Qaeda in Syria, is also thought to have been killed but his death has not been confirmed.

The SITE Intelligence Group reported that an “al Qaeda member who trained under Abu Khalid al Suri and fought in Khorasan (Afghanistan-Pakistan region) before traveling to Syria, confirmed the deaths of senior officials Muhsin al Fadhli (AKA Abu Asma’a al-Kuwaiti) and Abu Yusuf al Turki.” Al Qaeda and the Al Nusrah Front have not issued a formal statement announcing al Fadhli’s death.

The prime target of the US-led air campaign in Syria so far has been the Islamic State. But the Al Nusrah Front and its jihadist allies such as Ahrar al Sham, the Islamic Front, Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar, Harakat Sham al Islam, and Junud al Sham, also have a strong presence in Syria. Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar, Harakat Sham al Islam, and the leader of Junud al Sham were added to the US’ list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists last week. The Islamic Front, however, is often held up as being part of the so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels.

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

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