Retired U.S. Army general and former Central Intelligence Agency Director David Petraeus is urging government officials to consider using moderate members of Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front to fight ISIS.
According to the Daily Beast, the architect of the “surge” in Iraq is suggesting that some Al Qaeda-affiliated fighters might be persuaded to turn their guns on the Islamic State.
The idea came from Petraeus’s experience in Iraq in 2007 when the U.S. was able to persuade Sunni militias to stop fighting with Al Qaeda and to work with the American military.
The tactic worked for a while, but the Al Qaeda forces in Iraq rebranded themselves as ISIS and turned their backs on their old organization. According to the Daily Beast report, Petraeus believes advocating a strategy of co-opting rank-and-file members of Al Nusra, particularly those who don’t necessarily share all of core Al Qaeda’s Islamist philosophy, can be beneficial to the U.S. military.
In an interview with CNN, Petraeus told CNN that “We should under no circumstances try to use or co-opt Nusra, an Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, as an organization against ISIL.” He continued by saying, “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.”
In the interview, Petraeus suggested that it might be possible to recruit some of the moderates in the group who would be willing to renounce Nusra and align with a moderate opposition supported by the United States.
According to some U.S. officials that were interviewed by the Daily Beast, Petraeus’s idea would be extremely controversial because America’s war on terror started with an Al Qaeda attack on American soil on 9/11. Working with elements of the group 14 years later will be a tough pill to swallow for a lot of people.
The U.S. officials also feel the Petraeus strategy will face legal and security obstacles. In 2012, President Obama labelled Al Nusra a terrorist group, and last year, the U.S. launched airstrikes on some of their locations.