The strategies and tactics of the al-Nusra Front (ANF) are working due to the nature of the organization, lessons learned from past AQ mistakes, and the writings and teachings of Abu Musab al-Suri. In 2005 al-Suri was arrested in Pakistan, but for some reason was released and handed over to Syria when the rebel uprising began. It is believed that he freely resides somewhere within Syria’s borders and his teachings are heavily influencing the strategies of the ANF.
In the early 1980’s al-Suri completed a work that detailed the reason why the Jihadist experience failed in Syria during the late 1970’s. His writings were a compilation of 17 reason why the movement failed. Two of the main reason that were illustrated as the key points to the failed revolution were:
1. Failing to gain public support
2. Being labeled as a ‘terror’ organization
Many analysts believe that these two key factors are why al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda failed in Iraq and why many other factions of AQ are not as successful as they could be if they would account for past mistakes, such as the aforementioned.
The current leader of the ANF is Abu Muhammad al-Julani. Al-Julani was a key figure in al-Zarqawi’s network of funneling extremists into Iraq via Syria. Due to his leadership role during that time and his vast experience in Iraq, his leadership of al-Nusra has been unquestioned since the forming of the faction.
How Has al-Nusra Fixed Passed Mistakes?
By following the writings of al-Suri and the lessons that he learned while fighting for AQI, al-Julani has reevaluated and softened their stance on other sects of Islam fighting in Syria. By doing this, they are holding stability and gaining trust between all rebel groups throughout the countryside.
When the rebellion first started, the ANF sent their most experienced fighters into the front lines of the most fierce-some battles. By showing that they were willing to fight a tyrant like Assad, the ANF instantly gained favor and respect throughout the country.
Further, a report by the Quilliam Foundation has outlined how the ANF has neutralized, gained favor from the population, and helped alleviate tarnished labels–not fully, since many Western countries such as the U.S. have labelled the ANF as a terrorist organization
A. Predominantly military rather than civic targets, with no bombing of shrines and careful use of suicide bombs to minimise civilian casualties.
B. Downplaying the ANF’s rhetoric concerning sectarianism and kuffar (labelling Alawites, Shiites and Sufis as non-Muslims).
C. The decision to use a different name to avoid preconceptions associated with Al Qaeda.
A new beast has arrived. This may be a newer faction of AQ, but they are smarter and much more patient than their predecessors. They have planned strategies that are based off of intellectual understanding that for a true ‘Caliphate’ to be formed it must understand where they have gone wrong in the past.
I see a organization that is in this fight for the long haul. They are not just saying ‘screw you’ to their neighbors. They have a definite plan of action that is being supported both financially and militarily by the Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and many western governments, including the United States.
The ANF is one step ahead. They will take, and take, and eventually when they know that a certain resource has run out, they will strike. We are at the losing end of the this battle, not al-Nusra. They have learned from the past mistakes of AQ leadership–why haven’t we?
When Assad’s regime falls, a leader of our choosing wont be the one that sits on the throne of Syria–it will be shari’a law of al-Nusra. We will continue with our ‘forte’ of realizing mistakes after they have already happened and turn to our familiar ways of entering into a battle with an enemy we don’t understand, minimize Islamism by miss-labeling them as ‘just a bunch crazy extremists’, and pretend that the troops sent in and the SOF lives that were lost were a necessary means to an end.
Wakeup Washington and realize this is not the same al-Qaeda–this is al-Nusra.
*I felt it necessary to give more background on the ANF before I delve into the funding and coordinated support piece that can be read in the upcoming part III.