The Independent wrote the recent name change of Jabhat Al-Nusra will not keep them from being bombed. But, it just might because it removes Jabhat Al-Nusra from an official list of terrorist organizations. They’ve distanced themselves from Al-Qaeda, which requires more investigation and validation. It will mean a world of difference for them. Because we’re bureaucrats and bureaucracy dictates how we fight. How we engage in battle is prescribed by our laws and the classification of the combatant is paramount. Jabhat Al – Nusra is aware of our framework and limitations and will undoubtedly exploit it.

In Afghanistan, the first time I was shot at was an attack on our small outpost of an Afghan mud house. The firefight went on for awhile and afterward, the Taliban members dropped off their weapons and walked around. They kept their distance, but walked around our perimeter – I could have hit them with a heavy rock. But, they knew we couldn’t shoot an unarmed civilian because we had no guarantee it was not a civilian casualty. They eventually walked around enough to get back azimuths that were used for a week’s long barrage of rocket attacks that escalated into mortar fire onto the compound. We even had trouble getting support because we didn’t use the appropriate language to declare we were in a TIC (Troops in Contact). In fact, we were denied close air support at the time. There were only 6 of us Americans defending the base at the time.

Title 50 of the U.S. Code is the legal mechanism by which the intelligence community and spy agencies operate. Title 10 of the U.S. Code describes how the Department of Defense works abroad. Title 22 of the U.S. Code is what enables the State Department to work overseas. The intelligence community, Department of Defense, and the State Department are all necessary, critical and part of the solution to national security and furthering our interests abroad. For better or worse, these are the three heads of the U.S. Foreign Policy snake. Also, the F.B.I. and other agencies play a critical role, but the tip of the spear are State, IC, and the DoD.

Obviously, within each agency, there are more offices, departments, missions, initiatives and the like to make your head spin. The point is the enemy knows this – and knows we can be cumbersome. ISIL is a unique threat in that they’re so large and wage war as an army. An army, not what we’ve come to consider a traditional terror organization, and it’s the DoD’s role to destroy foreign armies. The response to ISIL took the time to unpack and understand in the U.S. Government because we have layers of review and legal equities to consider. Jabhat Al-Nusra probably bought themselves some time. In fact, they could eventually align themselves with the U.S. backed rebels, if they’ve truly cut their ties with Al-Qaeda. Finally, they could receive Western support, in theory. Then, in the future, they’re still free to return to Al-Qaeda.

Editorial cartoon courtesy of Robert L. Lang

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