Rebranding: US May Look to al-Qaeda Faction as New ‘Moderate’ Allies in Syria

Qatar Aims to Get Nusra to Publicly Distance Itself From Parent al-Qaeda

The dissolution of the Hazm Movement, one of the last US-armed “moderate” rebel factions in northern Syria, has created a paucity of factions for the US to throw weapons at, at a time when the Pentagon is talking up the creation of a huge moderate force.

Enter al-Qaeda? It’s hard to imagine, but Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper is insisting now that moderates are “anyone who is not affiliated with ISIS,” and that the only obstacle to arming such groups are the international rules of law.

There are ways around that too though. Al-Qaeda’s Syria faction, Jabhat al-Nusra, is being courted by Qatar to publicly distance itself from al-Qaeda’s parent leadership as a way to get around international bans on funding al-Qaeda.

Ideologically, Nusra is a preposterously non-moderate faction, but the US has managed to keep from publicly going after the group, claiming airstrikes which were on Nusra members were really aimed at a faction called Khorasan, a term the US invented themselves.

This set Nusra against US-aligned rebel factions, wiping many of them out. This may come full circle, with Nusra having killed so many “moderates” that the US decides it’s just simpler to arm them directly, and so long as Nusra can keep a nominal distance from al-Qaeda’s parent leadership, the whole “arming al-Qaeda” thing can be downplayed, at least a bit.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.