An exasperated Gabe Malor reminds us that disrupting Khorasan plotting against the west was part of the casus belli for airstrikes in Syria. Better luck next time?
The barrage of U.S. cruise missiles aimed at a cell of al-Qaida militants in Syria last month failed to stop ongoing terror plots to blow up airplanes over Europe and the United States, American intelligence officials say…
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the strikes disrupted the group’s plotting, but he did not know for how long. FBI Director James Comey said he believed the plots had not been disrupted and that the group remains a threat to the U.S. Other intelligence officials embraced Comey’s view…
News stories last month, including a Sept. 13 report by The Associated Press that first disclosed the group’s significance as a terrorist threat, led some members to flee before the U.S. military had a chance to strike their known locations, U.S. officials said.
The supposed head of the Khorasan Group, Muhsin al-Fadhli, was reported dead on jihadi social media after the strikes but U.S. intelligence isn’t so sure. That may be an Al Qaeda ploy to throw American spies off his trail. Another jihadi whom everyone agrees is still alive and kicking: The French intelligence agent (and explosives expert) who defected to AQ and now is reportedly inside Syria teaching them how to build sophisticated bombs. The AP names him as David Drugeon and says he converted to Islam in his youth; he went on to join a French intelligence agency as an adult, then absconded to join Al Qaeda and fought in Afghanistan. The AP describes him as a “Khorasan figure,” which settles an open issue from that bombshell McClatchy bombshell about Drugeon earlier this week. It was unclear from that story whether Drugeon was part of the KG itself or leader of an independent Al Qaeda cell inside Syria. Answer: Yep, part of the group. And, as noted, still alive and plotting.
But back to that boldface bit in the excerpt. It was completely predictable that AQ members would go to ground once news broke that the White House was ready to hit them — so, er, why on earth would the White House choose to tip its hand before the bombs dropped? The answer, I assume, is that it wanted to limit the political fallout, even if that meant reducing the efficacy of the first wave of strikes. If Obama had pitched the country on attacking ISIS in Syria and then, on the night bombing began, suddenly branched out to hit AQ cells inside Nusra Front territory as well, there would have been an outcry about mission creep and “war on false pretenses.” So O had a choice. Either he could keep the Khorasan Group a secret until after the U.S. had attacked, preserving the element of surprise but inviting accusations from war critics that he had deceived the public in making the case for war, or he could tell everyone about the KG in advance, eliminating the element of surprise but reassuring war critics that he was being upfront about his aims. He chose door number two, starting with a series of leaks to the media about the Khorasan Group a week before bombing started and culminating with a mention of the group by Obama himself the morning after the U.S. struck. The punchline is that war critics like Glenn Greenwald hammered him anyway, accusing him of manufacturing a threat from a shadowy group at the eleventh hour to help justify an unauthorized U.S. incursion into Syria. In light of today’s news about the KG having survived the strikes, O will doubtless now be hammered for recycling the Khorasan threat for whatever dastardly neocon trick he has up his sleeve next. He probably should have kept his mouth shut, taken the AQ cells in Syria by surprise, and then explained later.
Or, of course, he could avoided this entire headache by hitting the Khorasan outfits back in June, when Special Forces were ready to move. The Pentagon didn’t even bother presenting their plans to him at the time, though, figuring — certainly correctly — that there was no chance he was going to get involved in Syria until he had no other options. (Three months later, with ISIS running wild, he had no other options.) Now we’ve somehow got to find the Khorasan operatives inside Syria after they’ve scattered to the winds, with no reliable eyes or ears on the ground to help. In fact, per the AP, U.S. intelligence on targets is already sufficiently compromised that one of its initial missile strikes allegedly hit a Syrian village and killed a dozen civilians. Exit question: Didn’t the Pentagon tell us the morning after the first airstrikes that the plotters inside the Khorasan Group had been “eliminated”?