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Al Qaeda Tried to Hide Hand in Syria

12:00 AM, Dec 14, 2012 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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These lessons are applicable around the globe. In numerous countries, al Qaeda and its affiliates have utilized alternative “brand” names in an attempt to resonate with the Muslim populace and obfuscate its role. To give just one example: Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is located in Yemen and has also sworn fealty to Zawahiri, uses the brand name Ansar al Sharia as an “alias.” It should come as no surprise that Ansar al Sharia groups with known ties to al Qaeda have popped up in other countries.

Then there is the issue of the top-down approach to beating al Qaeda. This approach, which relies on the killing of top leaders, is the linchpin of the U.S. government’s current strategy in Pakistan and elsewhere. While vital, it has severe shortcomings. AQI’s history provides a cautionary tale in this regard.

In 2010, the U.S. military said that 80 percent of AQI’s leaders had been killed or captured. In 2011, AQI launched a new wing in Syria. Today that branch of the terrorist group has blossomed.

Finally, throughout the 2012 presidential campaign President Obama claimed he had ended the war in Iraq “responsibly.” His claim received little resistance despite its obvious tensions with reality. The war did not end for al Qaeda in Iraq, however. Instead, it expanded its operations into Syria, where it now controls the most deadly rebel group.

Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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