Syria Analysis: Obama Declares Fight is With “Terrorists” Rather Than Assad

Two days after Donald Trump’s election, officials of the Obama Administration have publicly acknowledged the shift in US involvement in Syria, focusing on the killing of leaders of the jihadist faction Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) rather than confrontation with the Assad regime or even the Islamic State.

The officials said President Obama has ordered the Pentagon to find and kill the leaders of JFS/Nusra, which formally revoked its allegiance to Al Qa’eda in July to focus on “unity” in the fight against the Assad regime.

Despite the revocation, the official said Obama ordered the deployment of more drones and intelligence assets, overseen by the Joint Special ­Operations Command, because of “concern that [JFS/Nusra] is turning parts of Syria into a new base of operations for al-Qaeda on Europe’s southern doorstep”.

The officials said the White House and State Department led the shift, overriding the objections of Pentagon staff who do not want to pull resources away from the fight against the Islamic State.

They declared that Obama has been repeatedly told over the summer that JFS/Nusra is allowing Al Qa’eda leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan to create a “haven” in northwest Syria. Officials also warned Obama that JFS/Nusra will try to fill the void as the Islamic State is pushed back.

The shift in operations began in October. Officials said four “high-value targets”, including JFS/Nusra’s senior external planner, have been killed. Two of the strikes have been disclosed, but a November 2 attack on a gathering of JFS/Nusra leaders has yet to be revealed publicly.

Lisa Monaco, Obama’s White House homeland security and counter­terrorism adviser, said:

[We have] prioritized our fight against al-Qaeda in Syria, including through targeting their leaders and operatives, some of whom are legacy al-Qaeda members.

We have made clear to all parties in Syria that we will not allow al-Qaeda to grow its capacity to attack the U.S., our allies, and our interests. We will continue to take action to deny these terrorists any safe haven in Syria.

Russia — which has long put out the line that JFS/Nusra must be “separated” from rebels to justify their own airstrikes on opposition areas, including civilian sites — cautiously welcomed the report of Obama’s move towards their position.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said, “If a decision like that has been made, we can only hail it.”

But Ryabkov added, “However, in foreign policies and diplomacy reactions are given to official statements, and as yet we have not seen anything of the kind.”

Sanctions Against JFS/Nusra Officials

The US Treasury accompanied the campaign with the designation of four purported JFS/Nusra officials for “support to terrorists or acts of terrorism”.

The best-known of the four is Abdullah al-Moheisini, a Saudi cleric who came to Syria in September 2013 to work with rebel factions. Although he is not formally part of JFS/Nusra, the Treasury maintains that he is “al-Nusrah Front’s religious advisor” and represented the group in an operations room in northwest Syria.

The other three men are Jamal Husayn Zayniyah, Abdul Jashari, and Ashraf Ahmad Fari al-Allak.

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Scott Lucas is Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham and editor-in-chief of EA WorldView. He is a specialist in US and British foreign policy and international relations, especially the Middle East and Iran. Formerly he worked as a journalist in the US, writing for newspapers including the Guardian and The Independent and was an essayist for The New Statesman before he founded EA WorldView in November 2008.


  1. Obama declares the fight is against Nusra “terrorists”, not against Assad. Yes. So where is the news? “… have publicly acknowledged the shift in US involvement in Syria.” Shift? The article didn’t discuss one. I suppose you might say the shift going on since at least September 2013 just keeps on deepening. I guess Obama is just preparing the way for Trump’s *even more* pro-Putin, pro-Assad policy than the present one.

  2. Yup, its no shift.
    Its only a shift for those who were selling the “US doesnt like Assad” rubbish.
    But its an act of desperation by the Obama regime. They have lost the war already, its just a question of time till every last scumbag they can send to fight for Assad is dead.

    • We’ll never know, but I bet the “high flying assets” Obama told Trump about were: Assad, Salman, Erdogan, Baghdadi, and Putin (or someone in Putin’s administration).
      Hafter, Sisi and all the others are just assets, not in the high flying category.

      • Yes I am sure he’s keeping Al Qaeda, ISIS and moderare choppers close to his chest for now.

        Would love to be a fly on the wall in Riyadh and Qatar. I wonder if the Clintons are going to have to return all those bribes now that they can’t deliver on their end of the bargain

  3. This is a blessing for Jabhat Fatah al-Sham´s cause (only an israeli excommunication is better than this). But the U.S´s is too much overburdened grappling with the taliban, ISIS, etc, if they keep opening new fronts they will sooner or later burn themselves out.

    Trump is dangerous because he will accelerate the pace of interventionism everywhere, that was exactly Che Guevara´s strategy against the U.S “Create Two, Three, Many Vietnams”.

    • Trump is dangerous because he will accelerate the pace of interventionism everywhere

      Yeah right, makes perfect sense seeing as he explicitly campaigned AGAINST interventionism.

      It sounds like the election results have made people on this forum loopy

      • You live in a parallel reality. Trump said that the U.S must send thousands of U.S troops to finish ISIS. He NEVER campaigned against attacking Al Qaeda, ISIS and the likes. You are just delusional if you think he will refrain from deploying worldwide massive resources against them.

        • And the people who voted for Trump did that based purely on domestic policy. Trump has free range on foreign policy and given that all his advisers such as Guiliani and Bolton, Benner, and Gingrich are anti-Putin, it is simple wishful thinking on the part of Andre and Amir to believe that Putin has a friend in the White House. Obama was as close a friend that he could ever get, and Obama is finished – finally. It could not get any worse. The streak of isolationism does run through segments of US society – but it is a weak streak and as soon as US interests get threatened somewhere, or some American citizen gets killed by a Russian agent, they change course and talk about US interests and being a super power. American isolationism only existed before WWII – once the US attained world power status, isolationism was just another another name for protecting US interests.

          There is no interest for the US to have another 40 years of Assad rule and Russian interference in the middle east – destabilizing the entire region. Trump will re-assert US dominance – have no doubts about it.

          • Having Russians hack for Trump only to end up with traditional Republican foreign policy would create a funny twist to this whole situation.

          • There’s no reason for enmity between Russia and the US. Trump wants to cut funding, or dismantle NATO anyway, which is a great idea. So no NATO no problems.
            NATO should have been annihilated the minute the USSR disappeared. Keeping and expanding NATO is an act of hostility towards Russia.
            Trump is free to do whatever he wants. He owes nothing to no-one. He is a self-elected president. Guiliani, Bolton, Benner, and Gingrich can only recommend, not to decide.

          • “…Russian interference in the middle east – destabilizing the entire region”.
            You’re joking, right?
            So it’s not Amrica, that the entire region hates because of its interference and destabilization. Like in Iran, Iraq, the Gulf states, Egypt, Libya, west-bank and Gaza (just a sample).

          • Sorry Zazemi,

            But less than a week ago you were pinning all your foreign policy hopes on a Clinton presidency, which you insisted was beyond doubt, so for you to try and spin that Trump is going to do you proud having been so wrong in the past is beyond hilarious.

            Trump ran on a very clear platform of non interventionism. Fewer military bases, calling on others to take care of their own defence and paying their way. As he said repeatedly, foreign interventionism is bankrupting the US and the money needs to be spent in the US and on US infrastructure.

            You cannot have it both ways. If the public are not voting on foreign policy, then their non interventionism is not weak. Nor can you argue the US has interests in Syria. In the past the public has responded to being told their interests are at stake in the Middle East, but that scam is up. The US does not need the ME in any way. It is self reliant on oil and all the consensus among the public is that if the Middle Eastern states want to destroy one another, they should be left to do it.

            Nor do Americans want to see fellow Americans coming home in body bags over dumb and futile overseas interventionism, especially seeing as the ones who get killed and maimed tend to be from the poorer areas of America.

            American isolationism no only existed before WWII, but also after Vietnam and nor we are seeing it in the wake of America’s defeat in Iraq.

            Bolton is a nut job who could not even get confirmed for job of UN ambassador under Bush. Still he is Gingrich is a pragmatist and none of these players are going to get appointments unless they agree to be on the same page as Trump. It is simple wishful thinking on your part to believe that Putin has an adversary in the White House. Obama was surrounded by Russophobes. It was Obama who pushed for sanctions. It was Obama who appointed anti Russian neocons like Victoria Nuland and allowed her to wreak havoc in the Ukraine.

            So yes, it’s going to get a lot worse for those who were hoping to see the US pick a fight with Russia.

            There are no US interests in Syria. There are no American citizens gets killed by Russian agents,

            Trump has no interest in re-asserting US dominance. The das of US dominance are in the past and not coming back.

            Best you get used to the new reality.

            • “Trump has no interest in re-asserting US dominance. The das of US dominance are in the past and not coming back.

              Best you get used to the new reality.”

              You speak in the hope to throw out in a whole breath 60 years of frustrations? Or its another of your comical forecasts?
              Let me refresh you a bit. The US remain the first superpower in this world, by far. Your predictions on Trump are quite risky since a lot neocons and tea party people are already said to be close to the main chairs in the new admin. Trump said a lot of populist bs to attract the attention of the average dumb american voter. Better not take it him word by word.

        • Trump said that the U.S must send thousands of U.S troops to finish ISIS.

          Trump has said a number of contradictory things. He also said that it would be preferable to leave it to Russia to deal with ISIS.

          I NEVER said he was against attacking Al Qaeda, ISIS and the likes, but he most certainly advocated allying with Russia to do it.

          He is definitely against interventionism.

          • Lol so he will ally with Russia to attack Al Qaeda, ISIS and the likes, but he “is definitely against interventionism”.?. How is is that possible?

            • Interventionism is starting wars like Iraq, Libya and entering wars like in Syria. You can accuse him of interventionism if US forces are already operating in Syria the day he takes office.

              Hope the helps.

              • “You can accuse him of interventionism if US forces are already operating in Syria the day he takes office”

                But he surely will keep interventionism in afghanistan, iraq, etc.

  4. What ever Obama says now is moot. He is irrelevant. It’s entirely possible that Netanyahu will be the first foreign leader to visit Washington under the Trump administration. This is significant. The Iranians, along with their allies, will and should take notice. The USA doesn’t have to do anything overt in the Middle East, the new administration just has to “let the dogs of the leash”. There are plenty of players ready and willing to counter the various agitators’ (I acknowledge this is relative to your leanings) meddling, both covertly and overtly. As for Syria, I can see Trump weighing heavily on counsel from Israeli, or should I say Netanyahu, as to what policy should be implemented.

        • Bibi, never had a Republican President while he was in power. We will see. That’s one scenario I was referring to with: “let the dogs off the leash”. Maybe Erdoğan as well. It’s very complicated, Not picking sides here.

          • Hezbollah and IRGC/Qods are very overrated. Israeli aircraft don’t even have to enter Syrian/Lebanese airspace to strike targets. Nasrallah is already unpopular with over 1500 KIA’s in Syria. Robust Israeli operations would severely damage remaining and VERY exposed units. In addition, there would be little international outcry, or any with any impact. If Nasrallah retaliated with rockets, Bibi will unleash ground forces that will be in Beirut in 3 days. Snowflakes Olmert/Obama will not be calling the shots.The Russians have successfully created a new paradigm of acceptable massive force against dense population areas. Just saying.

            • Hezbollah and IRGC/Qods are very overrated. Israeli aircraft don’t even have to enter Syrian/Lebanese airspace to strike targets.

              So overratted that they kicked IDF butt TWICE.

              Nasrallah is already unpopular with over 1500 KIA’s in Syria

              I your dreams. Lebanon knows that if it wasn’t for him, Lebanon would be overrun by ISIS.

              Robust Israeli operations would severely damage remaining and VERY exposed units.

              And risk rockets saturating norther Israel. Yeah right.

              Bibi will unleash ground forces that will be in Beirut in 3 days.

              ROLFA. They tried in 2006 and couldn’t even reach the Litani after 30.

              Israel won’t do squat without Putin’s permission.

              Hope that helps.

              • @Andre
                I do appreciate your incite/opinion on this board. Many things you say have merit. But, can you honestly say that hezbollah could defeat the IDF, if the ROE’s are removed?

              • Mike,

                Even the IDF admits it does not know if it can defeat Hezbollah. Bombing the crap out of Gaza is one thing, but Southern Lebanon is not some open air concentration camp which they can control and blockade.

  5. So, the Syrian régime-change jig’s up then and it’s now time to liquidate these ‘unofficial allies’ before they revert to more traditional pursuits, such as blowing up Manhattan.
    Needless to add the JFS leaders will rapidly depart for or are already in Turkey, where they will be quite safe under Tayyip’s wing in exchange for providing a sideline service as his semi-domesticated Kurd-killing irregulars.

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