By Kailee Dahan
As if things were not already chaotic enough in the Middle East, the terrorist group ISIS has reportedly reached an agreement with al-Qaeda’s Syrian group, known as Jabhat al-Nusra. Their goal is to work together against Syrian president Bashar Assad, and to team up and attack Northern Syria. According to a Syrian opposition official, the meeting took place on November 2, 2014 in the town of Atareb. A second official similarly reported that a third party organized the meeting between high-ranking officials of Nusra and ISIS.
Prior to this agreement, each group was working independently to raise chaos and oust President Assad. Assuming these reports are correct, collaboration now may provide the means for the two groups to wage war together against the Syrian government. This development also deals a considerable blow to the U.S., which has been working to target rebel groups on the ground and arm them against al-Qaeda militant forces. The Syrian civil war, which began in 2011, has already seen over 200,000 lives been lost as a result of fighting and attacks organized by terrorist groups. Collaboration between al-Nusra and ISIS could increase that number, increase the amount of violence in Northern Syria, and lead to better-orchestrated attacks against the government.
Nevertheless, the U.S. intelligence community currently believes that an agreement like the one between ISIS and al-Nusra is unlikely to signal a full merger between the two groups. US intelligence operations have been monitoring both groups’ activities and they have not seen any shift in either ISIS or al-Nusra’s strategies.
Whether or not the U.S. is correct in its assessment of the situation remains to be seen; however, if the two groups do manage to successfully work together, the U.S. will need to re-assess its position on backing Syrian rebels. Because the two groups would be combining their manpower, funds, and weapons, the situation in Syria presents a much more severe threat than has been encountered so far.
ISIS and al-Nusra have been funded by individuals near the Persian Gulf, which has notoriously been considered a breeding ground for some of the most violent militant groups in the region. According to former U.S. Navy Admiral and NATO Supreme Commander James Stavridis, the wealthy suppliers or “angel investors” in the Gulf have sent significant amounts of cash to both ISIS and the al-Nusra front in Syria over the years. However, now that both groups have established themselves, they are now not only capable of attacking Syrian civilians and President Assad, but also of engaging in illegal activities that would provide additional funds such as oil smuggling, kidnapping, and selling people into slavery.
As a nation, the U.S. has committed to leading the War on Terror and protecting those who are having their human rights violated. Therefore, we must consider whether or not we can afford to get involved in another war. Although the UN Security Council ruled that humanitarian aid must be provided in Syria and that both the Syrian government and opposition forces must allow “aid convoys to reach civilians across the country,” there is a difference between aiding rebels and providing humanitarian relief to the Syrian people. After more than a decade of fighting in Afghanistan and nearly as long in Iraq, American citizens are wary of supporting additional wars than would cost billions of tax dollars and possibly American lives. Something must be done in Syria, but whether or not the U.S. should be involved is an entirely different question.