Official: Al Qaeda-affiliated groups gaining strength in Syria
July 21st, 2013
02:20 AM ET

Official: Al Qaeda-affiliated groups gaining strength in Syria

By Elise Labott, reporting from Aspen, Colorado

Editor's note: This is one in a series of stories and opinion pieces surrounding the Aspen Security Forum. which took place from July 17 to 20 in Aspen, Colorado. Security Clearance was a media sponsor of the event.

Al Qaeda-affiliated groups are gaining strength in Syria, giving an edge to extremists in the country, a top military intelligence official said Saturday.

David Shedd, deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Aspen Security Forum that extremist groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra, which has publicly pledged allegiance to al Qaeda, have been the most successful in operations against troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

"It is very clear over the last two years they have grown in size, grown in capability and ruthlessly grown in effectiveness. Their ability to take the fight to the regime and Hezbollah in a very direct way has been, among those groups, the most effective," he said.

Left unchecked, he said, more radical elements of the opposition would have a greater role, eclipsing moderates in a post-Assad Syria. "They will not go home when it is over," Shedd said. "They will fight for that space. They are there for the long haul."

Shedd said at least 1,200 rebel factions have been identified in Syria. The U.S. ability to distinguish "good guys" from "bad guys" inside Syria was limited, but it was critical to do so in order to determine which groups to support, he said.

Shedd said that the core al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan is providing "spiritual direction" to its affiliates in Syria and "has been far more active publicly with the leadership" of those groups. "There is a flow of fighters into Syria that come from that side of the world," he said.

Shedd said one option could see al-Assad relocating to the largely Alawite area along the Northern coast, creating an enclave and leaving opposition groups fighting to gain control of Syrian territory.

He voiced concern about the Syrian civil war spilling over into neighboring Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon, where he predicted the government there could fall in a post-Assad Syria.

Fighters from al Qaeda in Iraq, Shedd said, are also getting valuable battlefield experience in Syria and could return home to Iraq to create further trouble.

On Afghanistan, Shedd cautioned against leaving no U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014, warning the capacity of the Afghan army and police, while improved over the past several years, remains fragile.

Senior U.S. officials have said President Barack Obama was considering a withdrawal to the "zero option," leaving no U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond the planned deadline of 2014.

"I'm very concerned that if it were to go to zero, there would be a much greater fallback to the old ways and challenges with the ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces)," Shedd said.

He said the Afghan forces still need training on gathering intelligence and implementing it on the battlefield, calling the bilateral security agreement for the United States to train and equip the Afghan forces being negotiated between the two countries "critical."

soundoff (67 Responses)
  1. robertmorton359

    Seth Jones, a former Special Ops Command senior advisor, analyzed thousands of pages of court transcripts, including wiretapped conversations and communications intelligence intercepts. He concluded that al Qaeda has been transformed, but not defeated, and is growing more dangerous. I wrote an article about this and offer it to readers here:

    http://osintdaily.blogspot.com/2012/05/seth-jones-former-special-ops-command.html

    August 13, 2013 at 10:20 am | Reply
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    July 26, 2013 at 3:04 am | Reply
  3. It looks like

    It looks like those MIC campaign dollars have been finally paid off!!!!!!!!!!

    July 23, 2013 at 9:46 am | Reply
  4. myattb

    So what..let them fight it out...for gods sake they've been fighting for 1500 years...over their fake Gods...

    July 22, 2013 at 3:07 pm | Reply
  5. NoJanie

    Thank you FOX News for playing our National Anthem every morning!

    July 22, 2013 at 9:54 am | Reply
  6. notus

    What did the west gain from Syria, Libya, Egypt, Tunisia? etc ....Nothing.

    July 22, 2013 at 5:07 am | Reply
    • mojacar

      now the americans have recruited Taliban as well

      July 22, 2013 at 8:28 am | Reply
    • mojacar

      western arms makers have made huge profits , Obama relaxed the sanctions on the newly appointed American imposed puppet govt to sell Syrian oil to American companies . the americans froze Syria s overseas accounts then gave access to the American appointed puppets so they could buy weapons

      July 22, 2013 at 8:31 am | Reply
    • Glauber

      Nothing. Americans naively thought that getting rid of the vicious and decadent Trabelsis in Tunisia would 'free' the Tunisians and that a democratic government would soon follow. They thought the same about Egypt. They thought the same about Iraq and Afghanistan. They think the same about Syria. No one cares that people in those places have never lived in a democracy, and have always known patronage and repression as facts of life. Even Russia is really only a democracy in name only at this point, and Americans were delighted to see the USSR collapse.

      July 22, 2013 at 10:27 am | Reply
    • USMC1371

      We gained debt and no respect.

      July 23, 2013 at 5:26 am | Reply
  7. helenecha

    If the situation now in Syria reported above is like a test filled up with the answers itself, how many scores can it get on the test?

    July 22, 2013 at 1:27 am | Reply
  8. George Patton

    Thanks to Senador McCain al qaeda is gaining strength in Syria.

    July 21, 2013 at 9:01 pm | Reply
    • George

      Both republicans and democrats are funding al-qaeda in syria and in afghanistan, via pakistan who work as intermediaries of that dirty money transaction.Obama is as dirty as maccain but much worse because he is so much more powerful and is giving them weapons that are used to kills secular muslims and wipe out christians from syria.This is a sickening betryal of America and all these currupt «american» politicians should be kicked out from their offices, tried and arrested for treason, if America was still America, which unfortunately it isn't any more, since no one is responsible any more for their own mistakes and crimes.American politicians make me vomit and puke.

      July 22, 2013 at 4:37 am | Reply
      • mojacar

        what should be a huge story is the number of birth defects and cancer (7 times greater than after the Hiroshima boms) as a result of Americas use of depleted uranium warheads and weaponry used in Iraq
        Obama will be remembered as the biggest disappointment in the long line of u s presidents .like the emperors new clothes those who voted for him still wont admit we were duped

        July 22, 2013 at 8:36 am |
    • George

      --------Both republicans and democrats are funding al-qaeda in syria and in afghanistan, via pakistan who work as intermediaries of that dirty money transaction.-------------------------Obama is as dirty as maccain but much worse because he is so much more powerful and is giving them weapons that are used to kills secular muslims and wipe out christians from syria.----------This is a sickening betrayal of America and all these currupt «american» politicians should be kicked out from their offices, tried and arrested for treason, if America was still America, which unfortunately it isn't any more, since no one is responsible any more for their own mistakes and crimes.---------------American politicians make me vomit and puke.

      July 22, 2013 at 4:39 am | Reply
  9. Pete

    Wow, has sen.McCain sent AlQaeda all the US military support already?
    Hey, he could join them, as a senior adviser.

    July 21, 2013 at 7:03 pm | Reply
    • USMC1371

      Hmmm think you got that wrong.....Kerry and Obama have sent the "aid/weapons".

      July 21, 2013 at 10:38 pm | Reply
    • George

      Both the democrats and republicans alike are supporting al-qaeda, Muslim brotherhood and other jihadist organisations operating in syria and elsewhere in the muslim world. Both parties have been bribed, bought by saudi wahabi and salafi Money that is as dirty as dirty can be..America is funding its own destruction and the destruction of its once great values like freedom, human rights, democracy...it is a disgrace and sickening. When you come to the point in which normal muslim and christian egyptians unite to attack obama's failed foreign policies, while americans continue sleeping and sleeping(helped by the massive media brainwashing and twisting of the facts- a obamaniac propaganda machine), ignoring the devastation that the democrats and republicans are causing inside the middle-east. we can say the situations is critical. US politicians are currupt and should be kicked out from their offices, including and specially Obama who has caused massive mayhem worldwide by supporting al-qaeda, muslim brotherhood takeover all over the middle-east, allied with the saudis.All for the sake of the stupid oil addiction. It causes me náusea these acts of sheer betrayal!

      July 22, 2013 at 4:31 am | Reply
    • mojacar

      the americans have been arming , funding and directing this thing for 2 years now , not so well guarded secret

      July 22, 2013 at 8:51 am | Reply
  10. edward_s

    so al Qaeda is fighting Hezbollah, great we can sit back and let them kill each other. This isn't new they have been fighting since before the current borders and countries were made.

    July 21, 2013 at 5:52 pm | Reply
    • TY

      Im pretty much for that but this is spinning into something really nasty really fast and no amount of talks or negotiations will even work. Russia has been conducting massive exercises and everyone is frothing at the bit. It takes a person like Assad to keep people in line and yes hes went above and beyond cruelty. Who ever wins it wont change a thing.

      July 22, 2013 at 3:20 pm | Reply
  11. SolarMoon

    Another lose/lose situation. Just as the Sunni/Shia conflict has raged on for 1400 years, the radical Muslims will eventually win because they are willing to die for their cause.

    July 21, 2013 at 3:21 pm | Reply
    • JohnathanA

      They are willing to die for their cause and kill anyone who disagrees.

      July 21, 2013 at 5:02 pm | Reply
  12. Wim Roffel

    Any Syrian fighter who is only concerned about democracy and freedom has left. They have concluded long ago that the price of 90,000 killed and a devastated country is too high and that – given the presence of Islamists – the benefits are too dubious.

    So that leaves three categories:
    – the guys who fear that if they loose they will have to go in exile or face sanctions
    – the opportunists who are in for money or power (the Saudi's pay quite well)
    – the Islamists

    Only the first group has some democratic potential. However, many of them have become cynics.

    The best solution for Syria is still a negotiated solution. Experience in South Africa, El Salvador and elsewhere learns that these will be long negotiations that might well last more than two years. Unfortunately Obama is only interested in his "regime change" and doesn't care how many Syrians have to die for that. Real negotiations are for him taboo as they might leave Assad around – at least during the talks.

    July 21, 2013 at 3:21 pm | Reply
    • George

      Don't say that man! Come on..it's forbidden!!He won a «nobel peace prize» for funding the most hateful, warmongering ideologies ever like radical islam, global jihad, al-qaeda,Muslim Brotherhood, is negociating the surrender of afghanistan to the taliban, is alowing sharia alw to rule over US law inside the USA..he's such an «iluminated» and «magical messiah», a the lest to millions of brainwashed poor americans, who, only God knows why still stubburnly support his endfless list of broken promisses, political and even judicial scandals, blatant curruption cases and abuse of power actions(IRS use to persecute critics...)huge economical failures..you name it...

      July 22, 2013 at 4:23 am | Reply
    • mojacar

      like president carter said how can America export democracy when they no longer have one.
      when did the military coup take place in America ?>

      July 22, 2013 at 8:44 am | Reply
  13. Ray O Hope

    "Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." Mark Twain.

    July 21, 2013 at 2:15 pm | Reply
  14. Big T

    ............and McCain wants the USA to ....ARM these guys with top end weapons.
    .
    ..........Hummmmm,....where have I heard this before?

    July 21, 2013 at 12:56 pm | Reply
  15. Ray O Hope

    and I thought that we are at war with AL QAEDA, now our Government is arming and sending them to Syria, and giving them safe passage from Turkey and Jordan, it seem's that they are working together to destabilize the Middle East, just like they did on 911 to shock and awe the American people into waging war in the Middle East...NOW IT ALL MAKES SENSE !

    July 21, 2013 at 10:34 am | Reply
    • IhaveID

      Ray, I read the article but must have missed the part where it says the US is arming Al-Qaeda and sending them to Syria.

      July 21, 2013 at 10:52 am | Reply
      • Ray O Hope

        why don't you look at all the facts, like who is Turkey and Jordan main allay ? and how come we are not fighting AL QAEDA there ? and who is arming AL QAEDA with the deadliest weapons ?

        July 21, 2013 at 11:09 am |
      • Joe Wright

        David Shedd says the al Qaida group is the most effective in taking the fight to Assad. Why would the US not arm the best fighters with the best chance of success? That is, assuming the US wants a favourable military outcome. But perhaps you have some 'conspiracy theory' that they are only pretending to want to win?

        July 21, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
      • USMC1371

        Sad part is Ray we are threw this admin

        July 21, 2013 at 10:41 pm |
    • USMC1369

      Well said, Ray O Hope.

      July 21, 2013 at 11:29 am | Reply
    • IhaveID

      Help me out here Ray, what facts? Post something other than conspiracy theories. I don't know if "Elise Labott, reporting from Aspen, Colorado" has factual references or not but, at least it's presented to us in print. I'm not even going to try and guess where you are drawing your conclusions from.

      July 21, 2013 at 11:43 am | Reply
      • Ray O Hope

        well..for one the way the US and all of our allies (Turkey, Israel, Saudi, Jordan, EU) are behaving, helping, aiding, arming, allowing AL QAEDA a safe passage to terrorizes and wage war in Syria.....do you tell me that you can't see anything wrong with that...talk about conspiracy....effff, are you out to discredit all the facts with just with one word.

        July 21, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
    • IhaveID

      @Ray O Hope, you said;
      "Turkey, Israel, Saudi, Jordan, EU) are behaving, helping, aiding, arming, allowing AL QAEDA a safe passage to terrorizes and wage war in Syria"

      My understanding is that the Al Qaeda fighters are coming to Syria from Iraq. If you look at a map, Iraq and Syria share a long border, none of the countries you've mentioned would be able to stop the fighters from entering Syria.
      Al Qaeda is a militant Islamic organization, any aid they are receiving would be coming from other similar militant Islamic groups.

      July 21, 2013 at 1:54 pm | Reply
      • Ray O Hope

        it is a fact that they "AL QAEDA" are coming into Syria from Turkey, Jordan and Iraq. but what I can clearly see is that you are trying to mislead us with half truth....

        July 21, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
  16. IhaveID

    Sen.Graham, I guess your idea for a boots on the ground intervention wasn't such a good idea after all.

    July 21, 2013 at 10:08 am | Reply
  17. Nikan

    Syria has always been a secular state, where Muslims of all sects, Christians, Druze and other minority religious groups lived peacefully, as neighbors. This is unprecedented in other parts of the Middle East, including Qatar.

    You tell me how these Islamist fighters fit into a future secular Syria. Mind
    you, many of these fighters, the vast majority, are not even Syrian.
    Most of these groups operate under the moderate Free Syrian Army (FSA)
    banner in hopes of getting a piece of the aid pie. But they all operate
    independently, and there is no command and control in the FSA. The
    Islamists are in the majority. Any arms sent will end up in their hands.
    In Aleppo, for example, the Islamists disarmed the smaller rebel
    actions fighting the government.

    1. Syrian Islamic Front
    Est. nos. – 25,000 – extremist salafist militia
    Leader: Abu Abdullah al-Hamawi

    2. The Syrian Islamic Liberation front – Loosely knit Islamist alliance.
    Est. nos. – 37,000
    Leader: Ahmed Eissa al-sheikh

    3. Farouk Battalions – moderate islamist
    Est nos – 14,000
    Leader: Osama Juneidi

    4. Jabhat al-Nusra and The Islamic State Of Iraq – Both are al-Queda affiliates.
    Est nos. – 6,000 – 7,000
    Leader: Abu Mohammed al-Golani

    5. Islamic Ahrar al-Sham Movement – Extreme salafists
    Est nos. – 10,000
    Leader: Abu Abdullah al-Hamawi

    6. Syrian Martyrs Brigade – Salafists
    Est nos. – 8,000
    Leader: Jamaal Maarouf

    7. Islam Brigade – Extreme salafists
    Est nos.- Low thousands
    leader: Zahran Alloush

    8. Tawid Brigade – Moderate Islamist.
    Est nos. – 12,000
    Leader: Abdel Aziz Salama

    9. Suquor al-sham Brigades – Moderate Islamist
    Est nos: Several thousand
    leader: Achmed Eissa al-Sheikh

    I vote to keep President Assad in power. He is no angel, but he is the lesser of the evils! When we know the Taliban AND Al-Qaeda are fighting against Assad, we know there is a problem!

    July 21, 2013 at 9:55 am | Reply
    • Freddie Nerk

      Right on. This whole war has only been about Sunni extremists backed by the Gulf States. I hope when it's over that these defeated killers turn their attention to Jordan, Qatar antbth UAE. They could probably defeat their rimes easily.

      July 21, 2013 at 12:50 pm | Reply
    • edward_s

      I think they are just using Syria for a platform and excuse. Both are trying to gain ground as they've been fighting before the countries were establish. Both groups need unstability to flourish.

      July 21, 2013 at 5:58 pm | Reply
  18. that sherman woman

    back away from this please. do not engage in this situation because we see you clearly. thanks to dead friends.

    July 21, 2013 at 9:15 am | Reply
  19. dread

    It's a shame what Assad is doing to the Syrian people, but let's remember these are the same people that were cheering in the streets when 9/11 happen. Now their leader is killing them in tens of thousands with no remorse; now Al Qaeda is in the middle of this civil war the same Al Qaeda that committed the 9/11 tragedy. Let Assad do us a favor in weakening Al Qaeda even more and if by some miracle Al Qaeda come out on top in this civil war they won't necessarily be stronger. And be assure as the Egyptians reject radical Islamism so will the Syrian people then we will know who is who.

    July 21, 2013 at 8:18 am | Reply
  20. DutchLing

    Is it so hard for the US to understand? They are talking, talking and do more talking while Syria is desintegrating before their eyes. They should have armed seculuar FSA brigades months ago, before ISIS and the Nusra Front were able to take control of towns and armed factions inside the country. The longer this war goes on, the longer the rebels are fighting the regular army with little weapons, the more Islamist groups will come to dominate the nation. Is it any wonder the rebels don't trust the USA anymore? "We will give you aid" .... nothing comes .... "we want the downfall of the regime" .... nothing happens .... "we will give you arms" ..... nothing comes ..... the USA is digging the grave of it's own interests in Syria with it's own indecisive hands. Shame!

    July 21, 2013 at 6:56 am | Reply
    • hayatte

      Get your facts straight before talking. Syria is not desintegrating on the contraire the syrian army is reconquering more and more territory and what is going on today is the fight between the rebels -who by the way were never seculars- and the islamists. Besides, America and britain decided to not ship arms because nobody knows who's who.

      July 21, 2013 at 10:28 am | Reply
    • IhaveID

      Hopefully the Americans have learned their lesson about getting involved in these religious civil wars. When the put "boots on the ground" the ground always turns out to be excrement.

      July 21, 2013 at 10:36 am | Reply
    • edward_s

      It's not our job, Instead of calling for the U.S to do something why not the U.N.? It's not Americas job to play policeman. Syria is trade partners with Russia, they don't seem too concerned.

      July 21, 2013 at 6:02 pm | Reply
  21. Anti Winston Smith

    " al-qaeda-affiliated-groups-gaining-strength-in-syria "

    Hurray !

    So they've already got the weapons President Obama'd sent to them !

    July 21, 2013 at 6:15 am | Reply
    • mojacar

      and now the idiot Cameron wants to sell them more weapons.perhaps the deal Kerry made to give the Taliban more say in Afghanistan is why we are seeing the Taliban in Syria more openly now

      July 21, 2013 at 6:36 am | Reply
    • USMC1371

      Don't forget the 500 million kerry sent

      July 21, 2013 at 10:40 pm | Reply
  22. Olim

    What a news fron CNN!! I knew this in 2011.

    July 21, 2013 at 5:47 am | Reply
  23. Mark

    Please don't arm the rebels, DON'T SEND MORE WEAPONS TO THE AREA. AS SOON AS THEY TOPPLE THE ASSAD REGIME, THEY WILL TURN ON YOU, LIKE IN LYBIA. THEN THEY WILL TURN ON ISREAL. PUTIN IS RIGHT ON SYRIA, BE MEN AND ADMITTED IT.

    July 21, 2013 at 5:20 am | Reply
  24. Awabvavi

    They are laying the foundation for an invasion of Syria now that their stooges seem to be losing – shouting "AL QAEDA will take over Syria", shouting "AL QAEDA will take over Syria", shouting "AL QAEDA will take over Syria" at the top of their voice. "We must stop AL QAEDA advance in Syria otherwise the SECURITY of the West will be in danger". This is the first move for the looming invasion of Syria. PROPAGANDA FIRST, INVASION NEXT.

    July 21, 2013 at 4:59 am | Reply
  25. press inside

    Reblogged this on News-Press.

    July 21, 2013 at 4:08 am | Reply
  26. USMC1371

    Don't tell Obama he will do something stupid like send them money and weapons oh wait.....

    July 21, 2013 at 2:53 am | Reply

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