In Multipolarity

No easy target: U.S. and Russia take on Nusra Front fighters in Syria

By Sarah Almukhtar and Tim Wallace, New York Times, Aug 3, 2016

The United States and Russia announced on July 15 that they would coordinate airstrikes against the Islamic State and the former Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.

The Nusra Front is one of hundreds of rebel groups, including some backed by the United States, fighting the Syrian government. It is considered to be one of the strongest. Targeting the group will be challenging, in part because it frequently works in coordination with other rebels, making differentiation difficult.

In late July, the leader of the Nusra Front announced that it was changing its name to the Levant Conquest Front. Analysts said that this was a public relations move to distance the Nusra Front from Al Qaeda and allow members to further embed themselves within the rebel groups. But it will probably not have practical implications for the group’s ideology or goals in the war.

Zones of control in Syria as of Aug 1, 2016 (map by IHS Monitor, screenshot from New York Times)

Zones of control in Syria as of Aug 1, 2016 (map by IHS Monitor, screenshot from New York Times)

IHS Conflict Monitor analysts have been tracking the Nusra Front and the other warring forces in Syria, revealing the extent to which the Nusra Front is embedded in rebel territory.

Part of what makes this situation complicated is that the Nusra Front has been highly effective against the Syrian government. This aligns with the main goal of the rebel groups: removing President Bashar al-Assad from power.

But for the last two years, America’s main goal in Syria has been to fight the Islamic State and the Nusra Front, which the United States and Russia consider terrorist groups.

While American-backed rebel groups have often benefited from the firepower of the Nusra Front, it has destroyed rebel groups that refuse to work with it.

By standing against the Nusra Front, or attempting to carve out Nusra-free zones, the rebel groups risk being effectively eliminated. But if these groups do not distance themselves from the Nusra Front, Russia says it will continue to consider them legitimate targets.

Related news:
An op-ed was published in the New York Times on August 3 advocating that the United States undertake bombings against the Syrian government of President Bashar Al-Assad. The op-ed is written by Dennis B. Ross, a former senior Middle East adviser to presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama, and Andrew J. Tabler, the author, most recently, of ‘In the Lion’s Den: An Eyewitness Account of Washington’s Battle With Syria’. The two are fellows at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The op-ed it titled ‘The case for (finally) bombing Assad’.


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