US should use al-Qaida forces to defeat ISIS, former CIA chief reportedly says

David Petraeus wants to use moderate members of Nusra in Syria to defeat hardline Islamist group, The Daily Beast reports.

September 1, 2015 10:39
1 minute read.
Members of al Qaeda's Nusra Front

Members of al-Qaida's‏ Nusra Front [File]. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Fourteen years after al-Qaida's September 11 attacks on the US, retired US army general and former Central Intelligence Agency director David Petraeus has been advocating the use of moderate members of al-Qaida's branch in Syria in order to fight ISIS, The Daily Beast reported on Tuesday.   

Petraeus, the former commander of US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, has been "quietly urging US officials" to consider aligning with the so-called moderate members of Nusra Front in Syria, four sources familiar with the conversations, including one person who spoke to Petraeus directly, told The Daily Beast. 

Petraeus reportedly advocates "trying to cleave off less extreme Nusra fighters, who are battling ISIS in Syria, but who joined with Nusra because of their shared goal of overthrowing Syrian President Bashar Assad," according to those familiar with the general's thinking.   

Christopher Harmer, a senior naval analyst with the Middle East Security Project at the Washington, DC-based Institute for the Study of War, told The Daily Beast that Petraeus's recommendation is "an acknowledgment that the US stated goal to degrade and destroy ISIS is not working."

"If it were, we would not be talking to these not quite foreign terrorist groups,” Harmer said. 

“Strategically, it is desperate,” he added. 

Privately, US officials told The Daily Beast that any direct links with Nusra are off the table, but working with other factions, while difficult, might not be impossible.

“As prospects for Assad dim, opposition groups not already aligned with the US or our partners will face a choice,” one US intelligence official told The Daily Beast.

“Groups that try to cater to both hardliners and the West could find themselves without any friends, having distanced themselves from groups like al-Qaida but still viewed as extremists by the moderate opposition and their supporters,” the official said. 

US officials interviewed by the news outlet said that the idea that the US would, 14 years after the September 11 attacks, work with elements of al-Qaida’s Syrian branch "was an irony too tough to stomach for most."

According to the report, the officials found Petraeus’s plan "politically toxic, near-impossible to execute, and strategically risky."

Petraeus declined The Daily Beast's request for comment on his views. 

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