Syrian Airstrikes and the Khorasan Group

Dennis Loo | September 24, 2014

Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that the US government's claims are true that its airstrikes on Syria killed eight leaders of the Khorasan Group, an al-Qaeda offshoot, thus foiling an "imminent attack” on the US homeland.

Consider the facts and logic of this claim.

Even if a) Khorasan was in fact planning an “imminent” attack and b) their key leaders were killed, exactly how did this decapitation stop that “imminent” attack (and especially, future ones)?

First, if the US government knew that an attack was “imminent,” why wasn’t the alert level raised in the US before this “imminent attack”? They have warned us in the past to watch for signs of a terrorist attack, based upon claims of “noise” or “chatter” over their NSA spy lines. Why not around this?

Second, if an attack was “imminent,” how did they know this? We might presume that this came from their spy networks, either on the ground and/or via NSA’s high-tech surveillance over trillions and trillions of phone calls, online activities, and so on. If they knew this, why did the taking out of the Khorasan Group’s leadership have to wait until possibly too late and only in conjunction with a public announcement by Obama that he was going after ISIS with relentless airstrikes, with ISIS not a threat in the near future – according to US spokesmen - of attacking the US homeland? From the standpoint of protecting the homeland and if you take Obama at his word that this is his primary mission to protect us, this seems recklessly negligent.

Third, if this attack was actually imminent, this would mean that it would have to be in the very final stage before an attack and therefore decapitating its leadership would likely not cancel out the terrorist cell that is already set to carry out their attack. Calling an attack “imminent” necessarily means, if we take their claims literally and not as hype, that the “Go” signal has been already given. It is in the nature of clandestine activities that they involve keeping different parts of the operational teams separated from each other as much as possible, walling off the known-to-the-US leadership of Khorasan from their operatives in the field in order to minimize the plans being discovered and/or someone in the organization having too much information so that if they turned or were a double-agent plant, the plan would still not be jeopardized.

Fourth, and this is the most important point that matters far more than any of the preceding such that even if all of what the USG has been saying is absolutely true: even if the US’s massive airstrikes have decapitated the Khorasan Group’s top leadership, this is not going to prevent other future terrorist attacks. Indeed, it ensures that those who are killed will be avenged and replaced by others. That is the essential nature of this “war on terror” and the jihadists. They need each other as foils to continue to wage their bloody fight.

As Bruce Riedel, a former Pentagon and top CIA analyst now at the Brookings Institute states as quoted in today’s (September 24, 2014) Wall Street Journal:

“What is worrisome is it [Khorasan’s emergence] signals the regeneration of al Qaeda core.” (p. A-8)

In other words, all of the killings of al-Qaeda by the US and British et al governments in this massive and ongoing “war on terror” that has involved the deaths of more than a million Iraqis and more than 60,000 American GI’s deaths by suicide alone, has not nullified the core of al-Qaeda. Khorasan, ISIS, and groups such as the Nusra Front, along with groups not well-known, not yet known, or even not yet existing. The al Qaeda core has regenerated. This is in direct contradiction to the US's central public claim that by their policies they are winning their war against terror and that by killing the leadership they are crippling the jihadists. The WOT has, in short, been a spectacular failure if you assume that its goal is its stated one of eliminating terrorism. Obama is escalating this spectacular failure with his "relentless airstrikes" that are killing many, many innocents and enflaming people against the US, providing new bumper crops of recruits for jihadists and a sympathetic sea of peoples all over the world who at a minimum feel some level of sympathy for the anti-state terrorists because of the grotesqueness of US's policies.

The US is in a real fight to destroy or weaken ISIS because they are genuinely rivals for power and influence. This is not a pretend fight. But the means and the goals of US policies as they fight for supremacy over those who would restore the world to 14th century sharia law are not in the interests of anyone in the world, including Americans.

The WOT only dramatically exacerbates anti-state terror through its use of state terror (e.g., torture, drone killings, unjust and illegal invasions and occupations, indefinite and preventive detentions). Anyone who thinks otherwise needs to grow up, stop swallowing uncritically everything the government tells us, and pay attention: the stakes and costs are terribly high.

You don’t destroy a tactic, which is what terrorism is, by killing its leaders anymore than you can make people forget that a tactic called terrorism exists and thereby vanquish it. Terrorism is a brutal, inhuman, barbaric tactic that involves deliberately targeting or being utterly indifferent to the deaths and injuries to innocents. It’s being used by both the jihadists (anti-state terrorists) and governments (state terror). If the American people allow the US government to continue to wreck death and destruction on the world with its horrid indefinite “war on terror,” then extreme reactions against it in the form of more virulent religious fundamentalism will continue to spring forth like weeds. As the World Can’t Wait has repeatedly stated, if you side with one terrorist against another then you end up strengthening both kinds of terrorism, US-style terrorism and jihadist terrorism.

Dennis Loo is a Professor of Sociology, author of Globalization and the Demolition of Society, and a member of the World Can't Wait's Steering Committee. His website is


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