The United States began air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria last night. If you’re a reader of my twitter account or blog you know my opinion on that. However, reading through the battle damage assessment this morning one thing caught my eye. In addition to processing ISIS targets the U.S. also hit the Khorasan Group. A smaller and not as well known affiliate of al qaeda. Where did that come from? Who or what is the Khorasan Group?
Pre 2001 my unit hadn’t studied al qaeda too extensively. We were focused on another area of responsibility (AOR). That all changed after September 11th. My intelligence unit was stationed aboard a carrier battle group in the Indian Ocean at the time, and we immediately began sailing towards Pakistan reading up on all we could to catch up.
We saw how al qaeda was attempting to become a global movement. They were setting up affiliates everywhere they could. Mostly in areas that were not all that stable. Places where they could recruit, train, and plan future missions. The U.S. and the West were major fundamental targets but regional targets were of high priority as well.
Of note, most all of al qaeda’s affiliate groups were located in areas that were once dominated by the Umayyad Caliphate around 600-700AD. Al qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb conducted operations in Northern Africa, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula conducted operations in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, Al Shabaab conducted operations in East Africa, etc. Their positioning was purposeful. They had a clearly defined role to bring global jihad to their AOR.
Studying up on al qaeda affiliates we ran across a smaller cell that operated out of Eastern Iran. Their group was responsible for bringing forth an old Islamic Hadith (story or prophesy) that foretold the rise of a new Islamic army in the old Umayyad Caliphate province of Khorasan. Khorasan was located in Eastern Iran and was the birthplace of modern Persian culture. The modern Persian language, science, philosophy, etc came out of Khorasan.
This group posed a clear and present danger to the Iranian government. It was basically an insurgent group biding time. To the Khorasan Group, and many other jihadists, the current maps mean nothing. They don’t respect them. They still see the maps laid out with the old Umayyad boundary lines. The Shia government of Iran is an example of why regional al qaeda groups were formed. To bring global jihad to everywhere possible.
Fast forward to September 22nd (last night). The Obama administration began bombing ISIS targets within Syria. On top of that they also chose to hit the Khorasan Group. The President even mentioned them in his speech the following morning.
Air strikes over a sovereign nation that has not sanctioned them is no small thing. Hitting ISIS would be justified and explainable to the rest of the world. Processing additional targets is an entirely different matter.
Lets say the Obama Administration wanted to prove a point that they’re not arming the wrong rebels. Hitting an al qaeda affiliate would be a good bonus right? Then why wouldn’t they hit a larger affiliate like Jabhat Al Nusra? That makes way more sense. Instead, media reports are coming out today that show government officials reporting that the Khorasan Group is one of the scariest affiliates they’ve seen. Bull. Al qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is operationally far more potent than even Al Nusra...much less Khorasan.
Iranian officials are in New York City today discussing their nuclear program. It’s very clear that the U.S. and Iran are aiming for rapprochement. Striking a clear and present threat to the Iranian government along with our strikes against ISIS is just too convenient. Admitting they’re working together is something that both Obama and Rouhani won’t do. Politically they’d never recover. However, that doesn’t change the fact that last night the United States, Iran, and Syria all gained ground.