Reality Check: Petraeus Pushes Lawmakers to Support Al Qaeda Fighters against ISIS

Former CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus has been reportedly talking to U.S. lawmakers, pushing an idea to use al Qaeda fighters to take down ISIS.

Sound strange?

It is controversial. But would it work?

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This is a Reality Check you won’t see anywhere else.

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According to the Daily Beast, the former general who oversaw the Iraq surge in 2006 and 2007 and the Afghanistan strategy under President Obama is quietly, behind the scenes, pushing lawmakers to embrace a new strategy against ISIS. That strategy is to arm members of the group al-Nusra Front. Here’s what Petraeus told CNN:

We should under no circumstances try to use or co-opt Nusra, an al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, as an organization against ISIL,” he said. “But some individual fighters, and perhaps some elements, within Nusra today have undoubtedly joined for opportunistic rather than ideological reasons: they saw Nusra as a strong horse, and they haven’t seen a credible alternative, as the moderate opposition has yet to be adequately resourced.

So who is Al Nusra Front? The simplest way to describe them is that they are the al Qaeda of Syria. Yes, connected to the same al Qaeda with whom, 14 years ago, we began a war over the September 11 attacks.

But what you may not know is that the U.S. has already accidentally funded al-Nusra Front. In 2012, when the U.S. was pushing for the overthrow of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, the U.S. sent guns, body armor, satellite radios, and money to a group called the Free Syrian Army. But shortly after doing that, most of those FSA fighters defected and joined al-Nusra Front.

In 2013, the U.S. officially declared al-Nusra Front a terror organization.

So how are lawmakers responding to this idea?

U.S. officials interviewed by the Daily Beast found Petraeus’s notion politically toxic, near-impossible to execute, and strategically risky. And the biggest reason for that? Well, what is a moderate member of al Qaeda?

Sen. John McCain talks about “moderate rebels” all the time, but where are these people?

What you need to know is that the U.S. has already committed $500 million in weapons and training to so-called moderate rebels in Syria. That program to train moderate fighters is hoping to train and release 15,000 each year over the next three years. That was the plan.

So how is it going?

The first group in that project have been trained and put into the field. There were 54 of them, and they officially started last month. Already, some have abandoned the program and gone back to their homes in Syria. Thirteen others were captured by al-Nusra Front—the group Petraeus wants to recruit from to take on ISIS.

That’s Reality Check. Let’s talk about that on Twitter @BenSwann_

I put together a full report on the Origins of ISIS earlier this year.  You can see that in-depth piece here:



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