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What is Khorasan?

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September 24, 2014

By Stephen Gowans

Part of Washington’s legal defense of its violation of Syrian sovereignty in launching airstrikes against ISIS targets on Syrian soil is self-defense against the Khorasan Group, an organization whose name US officials hadn’t uttered until a few days ago and which Syrian rebels say they’ve never heard of and which appears to have no independent existence apart from al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, which cooperates militarily with CIA-directed rebels seeking to overthrow the secular nationalist government of Bashar al-Assad.

On September 20, US officials publicly expressed concern about the Khorasan Group, which they described as an offshoot of the Nusra Front. US officials told reporters that “Khorasan had emerged in the past year as the cell in Syria that may be the most intent on hitting the United States or its installations overseas with a terror attack.” [1]

Yesterday, US deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes announced that Khorasan “had very clear and concrete ambitions to launch external operations against the United States or Europe.” He added that there “was actual plotting that was ongoing from Syria.” The September 23 airstrikes, carried out by the United States and a coalition of Arab crowned dictatorships, were in part, Rhodes said, “aimed to disrupt that plotting.” [2]

To give its violation of Syrian sovereignty legal cover, the United States declared that it was acting at the request of the Iraqi government in connection with Iraq’s right of self-defense against aggression by ISIS, and that its actions were therefore consistent with the UN Charter. The airstrikes were also congruent with international law, insisted Washington, as a matter of self-defense against the Khorasan Group, which it said was plotting against the United States. [3] Neither defense is cogent since Washington rejected coordination with the Syrian government and refused to seek its assent to carry out air strikes on its territory.

Despite Washington pointing to Khorasan as a group with an independent existence apart from the Nusra Front, it appears to be indistinguishable from the latter. The alleged leader of the group, Muhsin al Fadhli, is a longtime al Qaeda operative. Since the Nusra Front is al-Qaeda’s official franchise in Syria, it follows that Fadhli is working with Jabhat al-Nusra. Moreover, US officials acknowledge that Khorasan and Nusra Front “are intertwined.” [4]

Both Jahbat al-Nusra and ISIS were censured by the UN Security Council this summer for gross, systematic and widespread abuse of human rights [5]. Nevertheless, the United States hasn’t officially declared the Nusra Front to be a target of its mission to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIS. This shows that protection of human rights does not underpin the US anti-ISIS campaign, notwithstanding expressions of concern about the plight of the Yazidis, ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Instead, Washington’s real motivations are linked to the divergent goals of the two al-Qaeda progeny. The Nusra Front’s ambitions are limited to Syria, and its immediate aim of toppling the country’s secular nationalist government meshes with US objectives. ISIS, in contrast, has larger territorial ambitions, which clash with US domination of the Middle East, particularly its informal control of Iraq’s oil. Hence, ISIS, which is against US foreign policy interests, falls within the crosshairs of the US military campaign, while the Nusra Front, which works (for the moment) in directions which complement US goals in Syria, is ignored, despite a human rights record which is as deplorable and barbaric as that of ISIS (and the United States, if the matter is taken further. Watch the testimony of US soldiers about the conduct of US forces in Vietnam and Iraq to see that barbarity isn’t unique to ISIS and the Nusra Front.)

Still, there’s a loose string. US warplanes and drones struck several bases and an ammunition warehouse belonging to the Nusra Front, according to the New York Times. Almost five dozen Nusra fighters were killed. [6]

If the Khorasan Group is a part of the Nusra Front, and not a separate organization, the apparent contradiction in the United States excluding the al-Qaeda franchise in Syria as an official target of its war on ISIS, while at the same time attacking it, goes away. It also explains why rebels have never heard of the organization. [7]

What remains unclear, however, is why the United States attacked Nusra Front targets. Does Khorasan indeed exist as a wing of al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise? Was it plotting attacks on Western targets? Were US airstrikes directed specifically at this wing?

Whatever the case, one leader of a rebel group under US sway objected to the strike on Nusra targets on grounds that al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise is “a loyal partner in the battle against Mr. Assad.” [8] Numerous press reports have pointed to US-backed rebels cooperating with al-Qaeda in Syria. One veteran observer has argued that there is no dividing wall between “America’s supposedly moderate opposition allies” and ISIS and the Nusra Front. [9] It’s all one movement, no part of it secular, and all parts of it, including the misnamed “moderate” rebels, are overwhelmingly Islamist. [10]

That the Nusra Front is a loyal partner of US-backed rebels means that the alleged Khorasan leader Muhsin al Fadhli has been an important part of Washington’s war on Assad. Fadhli was close to Osama bin Laden. According to the Wall Street Journal, he “is a senior al Qaeda facilitator and financier” who “has an extensive network of Kuwaiti jihadist donors who have sent money to Syria through Turkey.” [11]

While US warplanes were bombing Nusra Front targets and US-backed rebels were objecting to US attacks on their loyal al-Qaeda partner, Israel was intervening on behalf of the Nusra Front by shooting down a Syrian warplane that was attacking Nusra positions on the Syrian-controlled Golan Heights. Al-Qaeda fighters have captured most of this territory. [12]

The Syrian aircraft had strayed about a half mile into territory of the Golan Heights under Israeli control (legitimately belonging to Syria but occupied by Israel since 1967), and had turned back when Israeli forces shot it down. That the Syrian warplane had no aggressive intention against Israel was clear in its quickly returning to Syrian airspace.

The absence of aggressive intent was also clear from the context: With its hands full fighting Islamist proxies of the United States, Turkey, Jordan and the US-backed Gulf oil tyrannies, Syria is in no position to undertake a war with Israel, and, indeed, is no position to do so even under the most favorable of circumstances. It should have been clear to Israeli commanders that the pilot had made an error, and likely was clear. All the same, it would appear that Israel couldn’t resist an opportunity to lend a hand to al-Qaeda—not to mention al-Qaeda’s Western and Arab allies of convenience—in their battle against a government they all deplore for their own reasons: Israel, because the Assad government is anti-Zionist; al-Qaeda and Turkey, because it is secular; and the United States and its Arab puppet dictators, because it is nationalist and refuses to be integrated into the US-dominated global economic order.

But for the support of Russia and China, Iran and Hezbollah, Syria stands alone against a US-led club of imperialists, their democracy-abominating Arab clients, a Zionist colonial settler regime, and Islamist fanatics, who brazenly dub themselves Friends of Syria, but parts of which are in reality enemies of secularism and the other part enemies of national independence and self-directed development.

Imperialists, royalist dictatorships, an apartheid settler regime, and jihadists who seek to make the Koran their constitution, are as far away from democrats as could possibly be, which makes the spectacle of their invoking democracy as grounds for their war on Syria’s secular nationalist government—topped off now by the violation of Syrian territory by the United States and its Arab janissaries—a matter of revulsion and egregious hypocrisy.

1. Mark Mazzetti, Michael S. Schmidt and Ben Hubbard, “U.S. suspects more direct threats beyond ISIS,“ The New York Times, September 20, 2014.
2. Siobhan Gorman and Julian E. Barnes, “U.S. feared al Qaeda group targeted in Syria was plotting terror,” The Wall Street Journal, September 23, 2014.
3. Somini Sengupta and Charlie Savage, “U.S. invokes Iraq’s defense in legal justification of Syria strikes,” The New York Times, September 23, 2014.
4. Julian E. Barnes and Sam Dagher, “Syria strikes: U.S. reports significant damage in attacks on Islamic state, Khorasan,” The Wall Street Journal, September 23, 2014.
5. UN Security Council Resolution 2170 (2014). http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2014/sc11520.doc.htm
6. Ben Hubbard, “Startling sight where blasts are the norm,” The New York Times, September 23, 2014.
7. Gorman and Barnes.
8. Hubbard.
9. Patrick Cockburn, cited in Belen Fernandez, “Book review: The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising,” The Middle East Eye, September 3, 2014.
10. Ben Hubbard, Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzetti, “U.S. pins hope on Syrian rebels with loyalties all over the map”, The New York Times, September 11, 2014.
11. Gorman and Barnes.
12. Joshua Mitnick, “Israeli military shoots down Syrian aircraft,” The Wall Street journal, September 23, 2014.

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September 24, 2014 at 10:32 pm

Posted in Al Qaeda, Syria

Al Qaeda’s enemy in Mali, friend in Syria, and air force in Libya

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By Stephen Gowans

New York Times reporters Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt, writing on January 16 about the “hazy threat from Mali militants,” note that, “The group most worrisome to American officials is Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which emerged out of Algeria’s civil war in the 1990s and originally was strictly focused on overthrowing Algeria’s government.”

US officials didn’t find AQIM so worrisome when the Islamist group was focused on overthrowing Libya’s government. At the time, Washington was happy to allow Islamist militants to destabilize a government that wasn’t wholly congenial to US business interests.

As the Ottawa Citizen’s David Pugliese reported last year, Libyan leader Muamar Gaddafi had “said the rebellion had been organized by AQIM and his old enemies the (Libyan Islamic Fighting Group), who had vowed to overthrow the colonel and return the country to traditional Muslim values, including Sharia law.”

AQIM’s goals for Libya raised no alarm in Washington, but according to Mazzetti and Schmitt, the organization’s vow to convert Mali to Sharia law is setting off alarm bells in Washington.

To assist AQIM and other Islamist rebels in Libya, the United States led NATO into an air war against the Gaddafi government. Acknowledging AQIM’s role in the Libyan rebellion, some of the Canadian pilots who participated in the NATO air campaign jokingly referred to themselves as part of “Al-Qaeda’s air force.”

Washington’s use of jihadists to topple leftist and nationalist governments stretches back to its 1980s alliance with Islamist rebels, including Osama bin Laden, in Afghanistan. Today, al Qaeda-linked militants play an important part in the US-backed effort to overthrow the Syrian government.

To mobilize public support for jihadist rebellions, US officials and news media sanitize Islamist militants as “freedom fighters” or part of a “popular movement for democracy.” Few people anymore believe that the Islamists seeking to overthrow the Syrian government represent a popular movement for democracy. They are, instead, a movement for Sunni religious domination.

After the AQIM triumph in Libya, the organization turned to attacking the US consular building in Benghazi. With its transition from US cat’s paw to US enemy, Washington changed its naming protocol. Now AQIM would go by the moniker Gaddafi favored–terrorists. Which is also how Western officials and news media prefer to describe the organization today, now that AQIM’s goals in Mali collide with the West’s goal of maintaining a puppet regime in the country.

Were the AQIM working in Mali to topple a leftist or economically nationalist government, Washington and Western news media would be hailing the jihadists as a force for democracy.

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January 17, 2013 at 11:44 pm

Posted in Al Qaeda, Libya, Mali, Syria

Al-Qaeda’s Air Force

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Some Canadian military officers in private...referred to the NATO jets bombing Gadhafi’s troops as “al-Qaeda’s air force”

Canadian fighter pilots “flew 946 sorties and dropped almost 700 bombs” in last year’s NATO intervention in Libya. [1] But rather than enforcing a no-fly zone to protect civilians, the Canadian pilots—and their counterparts from other NATO countries—took sides in the conflict, intervening directly on behalf of anti-Gaddafi rebels.

But who exactly were the rebels that NATO sided with?

Private remarks by Canadian military officers, reported by the Ottawa Citizen’s David Pugliese, suggest the rebels weren’t everyday people thirsting for democracy, as NATO officials and mainline media made them out to be.

Gaddafi had claimed that “the rebellion had been organized by” Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb “and his old enemies the LIFG (Libyan Islamic Fighting Group), who had vowed to overthrow the colonel and return the country to traditional Muslim values, including Sharia law.” [2] But this was dismissed by the West as propaganda.

Still, a “Canadian intelligence report written in late 2009…described the anti-Gadhafi stronghold of eastern Libya” where the rebellion began, “as an ‘epicentre of Islamist extremism’ and said ‘extremist cells’ operated in the region.” [3]

And Canadian military intelligence noted “in 2004 (that) Libyan troops found a training camp in the country’s southern desert that had been used by an Algerian terrorist group that would later change its name to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or AQIM.” [4]

Abdel Hakim Belhaj, who had “joined the U.S.-backed resistance to the Soviet (intervention in) Afghanistan, fighting alongside militants who would go on to form al-Qaeda,” was emblematic of the militant Islamic character of the uprising.

“Mr. Belhaj returned to Libya in the 1990s and led the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group in fierce confrontations with Col. Gadhafi’s” government. The LIFG was aligned with al-Qaeda. [5]

Belhaj was “the rebellion’s most powerful military leader.” [6]

This should have aroused suspicions about the true nature of the uprising, but there was an earlier clue that the Benghazi revolt was inspired by something other than a thirst for democracy.

“On Feb. 15, 2011, citizens in Benghazi organized what they called a Day of Anger march. The demonstration soon turned into a full-scale battle with police.

“At first, security forces used tear gas and water cannons. But as several hundred protesters armed with rocks and Molotov cocktails attacked government buildings, the violence spiralled out of control. Demonstrators chanted, ‘No God but Allah, Moammar is the enemy of Allah’.” [7]

Today, Libya is a warzone of competing militias. The Transitional National Council, anointed by the West as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people, has no authority.

And now, one year after the uprising began, some NATO officials are admitting that NATO aligned itself with militant Islamic rebels to oust Gaddafi, who US officials had complained was engaging in “resource nationalism,” while oil companies denounced him for trying to “Libyanize” the economy. [8]

According to the Ottawa Citizen’s David Pugliese, some Canadian military officers in private refer “to the NATO jets bombing Gadhafi’s troops as ‘al-Qaeda’s air force’.” [9]

The parallels with Syria are obvious. As Gaddafi’s government struggled with a number of militant Islamic uprisings over the years, so too has the secular government of Bashar Assad in Syria. [10] Calls have been made for NATO countries to intervene there too, either as the rebels’ air force or arms supplier or both.

But it’s clear that a NATO intervention in Syria will be a repeat of Libya, with NATO forces backing militant Islamists with the sole goal of sweeping a government from power that the West’s economic interests are not wholly comfortable with. Syria too practices economic nationalism.

The Assad government has drafted a new constitution , to be put to a referendum later this month, which promises the multi-party democracy and democratic reforms the West demanded—but now, on the eve of their being delivered, dismisses as “meaningless.” [11]

Apart from allowing multiple parties to contest elections and multiple candidates to run for president, the new constitution mandates that the country’s resources be publicly owned (which is to say that the country will practice the “resource nationalism” that got Gaddafi in trouble), that taxation will be progressive, and that the economy will be directed, rather than laissez-faire. [12]

Democratic reforms are largely irrelevant to the West. Otherwise, it would do more to press Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, and other petro-despotisms—from which Western oil companies derive billions of dollars in profits—to change their ways. Instead, Bahrain, site of a renewed uprising that is being violently suppressed–as one there was last year–continues to receive US-backing and arms.

Calls for democratic reforms—in some countries, not others—are simply pretexts for intervention. The West’s real motivation for backing uprisings in Libya and Syria are economic: turning the countries away from resource nationalism and a measure of independent, self-directed economic development into profit-disgorging spheres of exploitation for Western banks, corporations and investors.

In pursuit of these goals, NATO countries are willing to ally with anyone. Even al-Qaeda.

1. David Pugliese, “The Libya mission one year later: A victory, but at what price?” The Ottawa Citizen, February 20, 2012. http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/Libya+Mission+Year+Later+victory+what+price/6178518/story.html
2. David Pugliese, “The Libya mission one year later: Into the unknown”, The Ottawa Citizen, February 18, 2012. http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/Libya+mission+year+later+Into+unknown/6172099/story.html
3. David Pugliese, “DND report reveals Canada’s ties with Gadhafi”, The Ottawa Citizen, April 23, 2011.
4. David Pugliese, “DND report reveals Canada’s ties with Gadhafi”, The Ottawa Citizen, April 23, 2011.
5. Hadeel Al-Shalchi and Maggie Michael, “Libyan rebel hero plays down Islamist past”, The Associated Press, September 2, 2011.
6. Rod Nordland and David D. Kirkpatrick, “Islamists’ growing sway raises questions for Libya”, The New York Times, September 14, 2011.
7. David Pugliese, “The Libya mission one year later: Into the unknown”, The Ottawa Citizen, February 18, 2012.
8. Steven Mufson, “Conflict in Libya: U.S. oil companies sit on sidelines as Gaddafi maintains hold”, The Washington Post, June 10, 2011
9. David Pugliese, “The Libya mission one year later: Into the unknown”, The Ottawa Citizen, February 18, 2012.
10. Stephen Gowans, “Syria’s uprising in context,” what’s left, February 10, 2012. http://gowans.wordpress.com/2012/02/10/syrias-uprising-in-context/
11. David M. Herszenhorn, “For Syria, reliant on Russia for weapons and food, old bonds run deep”, The New York Times, February 18, 2012.
12. SANA, February 18, 2012

Written by what's left

February 20, 2012 at 4:58 pm

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