US debates confronting ISIL after getting disbanded by al-Qaeda

US debates confronting ISIL after getting disbanded by al-Qaeda
Tue Feb 11, 2014 20:42:24

Al-Qaeda’s growing power in Syria has prompted US government to debate about the extent of the president’s powers to use lethal force against terrorist organizations.

The Washington Post wrote in a report that the focus of internal discussions is whether a law giving the president authority to attack al-Qaeda affiliates still applies to the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), the group that was recently disavowed by al-Qaeda leader.

Current and former US intelligence officials said last week’s expulsion marked the first time al-Qaeda had ejected a group that had formally joined its fold, a potentially risky move at a time when the terrorist network’s affiliates have largely eclipsed the core group in strength and relevance.

According to some administration lawyers and intelligence officials, the expulsion of ISIL removes the group from the short list of al-Qaeda “associates” that the president has virtually unlimited powers to strike under a law passed days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The Obama administration is debating to confront ISIL after it was disavowed while there are no talks of confronting al-Qaeda’s main representative, al-Nusra Front, which is fighting at the side of US-backed Syrian opposition to topple the Syrian government.

ISIL emerged after al-Nusra Front as a ruthless player in the Syria war.

Western intelligence agencies says they are worried about ISIL getting more power, while the al-Nusra Front which has pledged alliance to al-Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri and is blacklisted by the US has already expanded its operations in Lebanon and Turkey.

According to the Post, officials who spoke about intelligence matters on the condition of anonymity stressed that the administration has not made any ruling on the subject.

What appears at first glance to be a legal debate over an arcane dispute among terrorists is largely theoretical, since the administration has no current intention of attacking in Syria or Iraq.

But the answer has major implications for a far more important issue — what to do about the post-Sept. 11 law authorizing the use of force as the Afghanistan war winds down and an increasingly decentralized al-Qaeda becomes more of a shared ideology than an organized hierarchy.

Beyond its implications for broader US counterterrorism operations, the expulsion of ISIS is being examined by analysts at the CIA and the National Counterterrorism Center for clues to al-Qaeda’s evolving strategy amid the turmoil of the Middle East.

A US intelligence official asked: “Does it make al-Qaeda leadership look stronger or weaker” to eject an insubordinate but violently effective franchise? Will it help their recruitment efforts to side with al-Nusra Front?”

US officials said the split is unlikely to harm the operational capabilities of ISIL, which has never depended on its al-Qaeda sponsor for funding or other material support. The officials, noting long-standing frictions between Ayman al-Zawahiri and ISIL’s upper ranks, said there is no doubt the ban was real and not a ruse.

Current and former officials noted that Zawahiri did not cite ISIL’s brutality in the decision to sever ties with the group but instead focused on its battles with Jabhat al-Nusra and insubordination. Officials also said the move underscores the importance that Zawahiri attaches to Syria — over maintaining ties with a wayward but viable franchise in Iraq.

“Syria is an opportunity for them” above all others, said a former senior US intelligence official. “They truly believe that if they don’t get in there and do the best they can, they’re nothing anymore.”


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