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From the Daily Beast:
U.S. strikes against the self-proclaimed Islamic State have had an unintended beneficiary: al Qaeda. Al Qaeda has exploited the strikes and gained strength, and that has created a growing rift within U.S. national security circles about where the coalition should aim its strikes. Some American intelligence and defense officials and counterterrorism experts are worried that the intense focus on defeating ISIS has blinded the U.S. to the resurgence of al Qaeda, whose growing potency has become more apparent as ISIS becomes weaker.
The American air campaign has notably not targeted al Qaeda in Syria, known as Jabhat al Nusra. With its foe, ISIS, under daily coalition bombardment, al Qaeda has been thriving, continuing to re-align itself with local forces, and re-emerging as the world’s enduring terror group.
“In Syria, it’s actually remarkable that they managed to survive despite ISIS,” Barak Mendelsohn, a professor and terrorism expert at Haverford College and the author of The Al Qaeda Franchise, told The Daily Beast. He attributed al Qaeda’s success in part to the lessons it learned in Iraq, where, a decade ago, a violent branch of the terror group alienated locals through a systematic campaign of terror, beheadings, and the imposition of strict Islamic rule. The remnants of that group went on to become ISIS.
Today, al Nusra isn’t making the same mistakes. “They have put a more friendly face on their actions and are embedding themselves within insurgencies so they’ll be more welcomed by the people,” Mendelsohn said.
Such lessons, and subsequent al Qaeda gains, have reached outside of Syria. From Libya to Yemen to Afghanistan, al Qaeda has managed to dig in and survive, largely by insinuating itself into local populations and rebranding itself as the world’s more reasonable global Islamic jihadist movement. At the same time, ISIS, with its boisterous propaganda, barbaric execution videos, and apocalyptic vision, has captured the most public attention and become the main target of the Obama administration’s fight against extremism.