Analyst: Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria now best-equipped of the group
June 17th, 2013
12:27 PM ET

Analyst: Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria now best-equipped of the group

By Barbara Starr

Al Qaeda's affiliate inside Syria is now the best-equipped arm of the terror group in existence today, according to informal assessments by U.S. and Middle East intelligence agencies, a private sector analyst directly familiar with the information told CNN.

Concern about the Syrian al Qaeda-affiliated group Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as the al-Nusra Front, is at an all-time high, according to the analyst, with as many as 10,000 fighters and supporters inside Syria. The United States has designated al-Nusra Front as a terrorist group with links to al Qaeda in Iraq.

That assessment is shared by some Middle Eastern intelligence agencies that have long believed the United States is underestimating the Sunni-backed al Qaeda movement in the country, according to a Middle East source. It is also believed that Iran is running training camps inside Syria for Hezbollah and that other Iranian militia fighters are coming into the country to fight for the regime.

The analyst has been part of recent discussions with the U.S. intelligence community, which is urgently working to understand what is going on inside the war-ravaged country and is consulting outside experts. The analyst, who declined to be named because of the sensitive nature of the information, stressed that all assessments about Syria are approximate at best because of the lack of U.S. personnel on the ground.

With the growing strength and support for al-Nusra, U.S. concerns are growing about its influence to further destabilize Syria and potentially pose a greater regional threat, administration officials have told CNN.

"They are making desperate attempts to get chemical weapons," the analyst told CNN, noting that in the past few weeks, security services in Iraq and Turkey arrested operatives who were "trying to get their hands on sarin."

A senior U.S. intelligence official told CNN recently that gathering intelligence on Syria, including its potential future use of chemical weapons, is now one of the top priorities of the U.S. intelligence community.

The Obama administration announced last week that it will start arming rebels because Syria crossed a "red line" by using chemical weapons - including sarin gas - against the opposition.

soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. massoud

    So what happens when members of the FSA defect to the al- Nusra Front after they get anti jet and anti tank missiles that the US is going to provide ? We will essentially be fighting the enemy on some fronts and arming them on others, our foreign policy has not worked for decades yet we double down on our mistakes instead of learning from them. No aid for Syrian rebels is the best option because we will create more problems down the road than solve as is always the case with US Mid- East policy.

    June 18, 2013 at 8:36 pm | Reply
  2. bettyhill

    Syria, the next nail in the West's Economic coffin.

    Why is it that western governments get it so horribly wrong and their eastern counterparts get it so overridingly right? For over the last quarter of a century there has been two wars going on – one military and the other economic. The irony of the former is that it has also been economic under the guise of war. Indeed, has anyone ever wondered why China has marched on in economic terms and why the West has decisively gone backwards? Using common sense gives us great insights into what has happened. Whereas China has not gone to what is commonly known as conventional War, the USA, UK and its western allies have. Joseph Stiglitz, former World Bank economist and others have estimated recently that the real cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars at the end for the USA alone will be in the range $4 trillion to $6 trillion. To put matters into perspective the United Nations considers that $30 billion a year would end world hunger. Therefore for the average of $5 trillion, why not end world hunger for 167 years? But these Wars have cost the UK dearly also and some place the costs at the end to over £100 billion (or around $150 billion). For other western allies collectively the Wars have most probably cost them at least $50 billion and a total projected cost to the West of between $4.2 trillion and $6.2 trillion. But if we add in the Wars that the West has been involved with since the end of WW2 in real terms, the cost to the West moves towards $10 trillion. Therefore whilst the West has been going to War and countries like China have not, the West has got poorer by the year and where China is marching on to eventual Economic supremacy. Add in again the $15 trillion of Western bank debt and we can see why our governments have got it so horribly wrong and why China et al have got it so right. Indeed, whilst China has been building up its nation through the economic war of the last quarter of century, we in the West have been fighting the wrong Wars, even it has to be said unfortunately for our servicemen who died in fighting for our own kind of western War. Which politicians have intelligently run their nations it has to be asked?

    Dr David Hill
    Chief Executive
    World Innovation Foundation

    June 17, 2013 at 5:23 pm | Reply
    • mojacar

      it wont hurt the economy as we sell weapons to both sides .

      June 21, 2013 at 6:24 am | Reply
  3. George Patton-2

    Al Qaeda's affiliate inside Syria is now the best-equipped arm, and they are also our tagged dolphins; those so called "best-equipment" have concealed tracking devices, so we know where our weapons go, something like our Mexican fast and furious operation. Smart ehh !!!!

    June 17, 2013 at 2:53 pm | Reply
  4. Observant

    There are those within governments and intel organizations who have been calling this all along. It is now a tricky situation for the US and our allies as we not only have to deal with Assad but also a second enemy force that has a significant amount of popular support and the equipment to do some damage. Furthermore, very few have mentioned anything about the turmoil in Iraq, a country that shares a large border with Syria. My personal opinion is that if Iraq fails, Iran will move in and possibly begin moving toward Israel through Jordan and cycling its Hezbollah minions through Syria. The best thing the US can do right now is maximize relations with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and start some heavy preventative diplomacy in Egypt. This could be a strategic encirclement of the area and there is no question that the US would dominate sea power in the area. Most important, we cannot let this be like Iraq and Afghanistan. There must be diplomacy and strategic military planning by many countries, not led solely by the US and NATO allies. Western governance is not faith based, thus our beliefs do not work with tribal peoples. The moderate Islamic community must help its own people. We can send bullets and fighter jets, but there will be no end to the conflicts without a strong Muslim leader to unite the people, provided that person is not radical.

    June 17, 2013 at 1:21 pm | Reply
  5. Random

    The pattern is this:

    One by one the people in control of 'radical islam' are supporting riots and revolutions that put their people in power. As one country matures it's rebellion highly trained fighters from all over the world, including the us, flood the country. In syria they were relying on our intervention to win , on the side of the rebels, when it never came they changed directions (or asshat became more agreeable) They have fighters on both sides , it doesn't matter who wins .
    I can see it clear as day , if you put prism to work and look back at my posts since this started I've been calling it months ahead of people figuring it out that the fighters are radicals. They are highly trained , you can just see it in their form. They are already armed. They don't need our help. The only way to stop them from taking the country is to go in and clean it out. At some point enough countries will fall that it will take a world war to stop the flood of fighters into each country. Really the only way to win is to invade all of the countries sending fighters at the same time. Then there would not be enough to turn tides at all of them. A guy with an rpg doesn't work unless you have tons of them. Spread them thin and wipe them out.

    June 17, 2013 at 12:46 pm | Reply

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