Obama Took 4 Years To Start Major Operations Against Al-Qaida In Syria

REUTERS/Naseer Ahmed

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Saagar Enjeti White House Correspondent

President Barack Obama authorized the Pentagon to find and kill members of al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate Thursday, The Washington Post reports.

The authorization includes drone resources and intelligence assets dedicated to tracking Jabat Fateh Al-Sham, formerly known as Jabhat Al-Nusra. Jabhat Al-Nusra was constituted in 2012, and its affiliation with al-Qaida has been to U.S. intelligence officials for years. Despite this, prior authorization only allowed the U.S. military and intelligence community  to kill al-Qaida leaders actively planning external operations.

The new authorization will focus on removing territory from the group. “We have made clear to all parties in Syria that we will not allow al-Qaeda to grow its capacity to attack the U.S., our allies, and our interests,” Obama’s chief counter-terrorism advisor Lisa Monaco said in a statement.

The new authorization will also deploy U.S. drone aircraft over airspace normally avoided because of Russian aerial activity. The U.S. has mechanisms in place to de-conflict aircraft in Syria, but it is unclear whether that agreement applies to unmanned aerial assets.

The U.S. plan to target al-Qaida in Syria was enveloped in a failed U.S.-brokered September ceasefire. Under the agreement there were to be no airstrikes in Syria for a period of one week, after which the U.S. and Russia would jointly target al-Qaida terrorists together. Russia and the Assad regime repeatedly violated the agreement, and they reverted back to their original strategy of massacring civilians.

The terrorist group is reportedly leading a major assault against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and his allies in the city of Aleppo. Some U.S. officials reportedly opposed or delayed Obama’s authorization of increased force, because they fear it will assist the Assad regime.

The U.S. periodically strikes high level al-Qaida operatives in Syria, but has not undertaken a concerted effort to remove territory from the group. Affiliates for al-Qaida in Syria now constitute tens of thousands of fighters, and have tenuous alliances with several other Islamist rebel groups in Syria.

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