Despite John Kerry stating that al Qaeda’s top leadership has been ‘neutralized’ as an effective force in November 2015, al Qaeda have continued to grow in various countries including Yemen, recently capturing the town of Azzan.
Yemeni Newspaper (Pro President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi government) Al Tagheer and Indian Newspaper The Times of India have reported that the town was allegedly captured on the 01 February 2016 after closing off the towns entrances and attacking government buildings.
Al Qaeda has steadily grown while politicians and main stream media outlets have focused on IS over the last two years. This is not to say that the US and other coalition forces are not targeting al Qaeda, they are, reportedly killing a number of operatives and commanders in recent years.
According to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the alleged statistics for covert US strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia upto January 2015 are as follows:
Pakistan: All actions 2004 – January 31 2015
Total Obama strikes: 362
Total US strikes since 2004: 413
Total reported killed: 2,438-3,942
Civilians reported killed: 416-959
Children reported killed: 168-204
Total reported injured: 1,142
Yemen: All actions 2002 – January 31 2015*
* All but one of these actions have taken place during Obama’s presidency. Reports of incidents in Yemen often conflate individual strikes. The range we have recorded in US drone strikes and covert operations reflects this.
Confirmed US drone strikes: 88-107
Total reported killed: 424-629
Civilians reported killed: 65-96
Children reported killed: 8
Reported injured: 86-215
Possible extra US drone strikes: 71-87
Total reported killed: 307-439
Civilians reported killed: 26-61
Children reported killed: 6-9
Reported injured: 75-102
All other US covert operations: 15-72
Total reported killed: 156-365
Civilians reported killed: 68-99
Children reported killed: 26-28
Reported injured: 15-102
Somalia: All actions 2007 – January 31 2015:
US drone strikes: 7-12
Total reported killed: 18-102
Civilians reported killed: 0-5
Children reported killed: 0
Reported injured: 2-7
All other US covert operations: 7-11
Total reported killed: 40-141
Civilians reported killed: 7-47
Children reported killed: 0-2
Reported injured: 11-21
With all this said, it is IS that is main stream media’s immediate priority and in turn plays into al Qaeda’s hands.
Al Qaeda is far from neutralized as an effective force, they continue to recruit, open training camps and take advantage of IS being center stage in main stream media headlines world wide. With the brutality shown by IS towards anyone not following their version of Islam, including both Shia or Sunni Muslims, many Sunni Muslims see al Qaeda as the more moderate organisation.
The stated goals of IS and al Qaeda remain similar though, establishing a Muslim caliphate governed under Sharia Law with a view to expanding this world wide.
Al Qaeda is present in various areas around the world including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Africa (North, East and West), Indonesia, Philippines and Europe.
Some areas hold a larger presence than others with a particular presence in destabalised regions and active war zones. This provides an opportunity to influence proceedings on the ground, provides military experience to it’s fighters and propaganda material to further its ideological gains.
In Syria, al Qaeda holds influence among opposition fighting groups and coalitions with a presence near Aleppo, Idlib, Hama, Homs and Damascus. They often spear head attacks, proving to be an effective fighting force by capturing government and allied militia held areas that have previously held out for many months against attacks by other opposition groups.
Evidence for this can be seen below:
- Reuters article (16 Dec 2014) – Around 180 Syrian soldiers, jihadists reported killed in battle for base:
- Reuters article (19 Sep 2015) – Insurgents killed 56 government troops at captured air base: Syria monitor:
They have reinforced opposition areas that have come under attack from government and allied militia forces such as the fundamentalist Shia group Hezbollah when other opposition forces have melted away.
The recent large Jabhat al Nusrah convoy seen below is thought to have traveled across Turkeys border into the North of Syria.
- Tweets on the 27 and 31 January 2016 by Aleppo 24, Terror Monitor and Northern Stork reporting a large reinforcement convoy of Jabhat al Nusrah fighters heading for Aleppo:
- Images below taken from a video released by Jabhat al Nusrah’s media arm al Manara al Bayda (White Minaret) Media group (02 Feb 2016) – Arrival of Mujahidin Support to the Center of Ratyan and Ma’arstah in Rural Aleppo:
- The Long War Journal article (06 Feb 2016) – Jihadists reinforce other rebels during key battle in Aleppo province:
Such actions help to garner credibility, respect and add to it’s ranks with both new recruits that require training and battle tested opposition forces, some of which have been deemed moderate by the West.
Why al Qaeda, the reason an entire country was invaded (Afghanistan), receives little main stream media coverage of their continued development despite their overt involvement in conflicts that have garnered large amounts of media coverage such as Syria, remains to be seen.
In the case of Syria, given al Qaeda’s proven assistance and co-operation with moderate deemed groups, reporting this risks tarnishing the narrative of moderate opposition forces battling IS, the Syrian Arab Army and associated militia’s including fundamentalist Shia Islamic groups.
The truth is many fundamentalist Sunni Islamic groups are fighting in partnership with Western deemed moderate groups and have done so since the beginning of the conflict.
- Washington Post article (10 July 2015) – The deadly consequences of mislabeling Syria’s revolutionaries:
- Reuters article (22 Sep 2015) – Resilient insurgent group Ahrar al-Sham to play bigger role in Syria:
The reason espoused for Western support of opposition groups in Syria, from the beginning of the conflict, is support for the creation of a democratic, free Syria.
Given the assistance and influence of large fundamentalist Islamic groups who wish to see an Islamic state or Emirate established and ruled by Sharia Law, this reason has been flawed from the start and seems highly unlikely should opposition forces ‘win’.
Indeed the chief negotiator Mohammed Alloush, representing the opposition in Syria fighting The Syrian Arab Army and its associated militias at the latest slated UN peace talks, is a member of The Army of Islam (Jaish/Jaysh al Islam).
The Army of Islam was led by Zahran Alloush until his death by an airstrike in December 2015. Zahran Alloush openly stated that he did not want Syria to become a democratic system and should be governed under Gods law.
Despite clear and continued evidence contrary to the narrative, the same narrative continues five years later. This maybe due to many reasons including the spotlight being firmly shone on the incompetence of politicians and their decisions in 2011 – 2012 (although it spans back at least to the Iraq invasion if discussing al Qaeda and IS) or possibly deals struck and arrangements made away from public view.
Whatever the reason(s), the general public have and continue to be ill informed by politicians and main stream media outlets of the full reality in Syria and the risks behind the continued narrative.
One being the inadvertent support by Western populations of Syria becoming an Islamic state or Emirate ruled under Sharia Law (not just espoused by IS and al Qaeda fighting in Syria), a far cry from the protests and slogans the West supported from the beginning.
UPDATE – 11 February 2016:
According to The Long War Journal, al Qaeda are continuing to expand in the South of Yemen. As reported above they captured the town of Azzan, along with another four towns over the last two weeks.