Thursday, September 25, 2014

Shaping or Responding?

On Monday of this week the United States, along with a coalition of Arab states, began launching airstrikes in Syria for the first time. Coordinating and working with a coalition is certainly a good thing for the U.S., as America has already faced criticism for often choosing to act unilaterally. Additionally, having an alliance that is willing to fight together against ISIS lends more credibility to the mission, instead of appearing to merely being a U.S. intervention. And with many Americans growing tired of being in a constant state of war, it becomes particularly important for the Arab countries to help deal with the problems in their own region.

However, while talk of the use of airstrikes had been swirling around for a while, what surprised some was the fact that the U.S. not only attacked ISIS, but also hit Khorasan. It is important to note that while Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates all contributed in some sort of fashion to airstrikes against ISIS, the U.S. was alone in its pursuit of destroying Khorasan. This then begs the question: why did the U.S.-Arab coalition only go so far as to attack ISIS? Why did the partnership stop when it came to hitting Khorasan targets? Is Khorasan some sort of a personal vendetta for the U.S., or is it simply not well-known enough yet to draw attention from Arabs and others? Did the Arab nations even know about Khorasan or America's intent to strike them? Or, were the Khorasan attacks an attempt by President Obama to shape, rather than respond, to the situation in the Middle East?

Khorasan is composed of senior al-Qaeda operatives who have moved into Syria and built a base of operations there. Although practically unheard of until the airstrikes, Khorasan is apparently being monitored by several intelligence agencies, both American and otherwise. While the general public does not have access to any concrete intelligence indicating the threat that Khorasan presents, the Department of Defense, senior administration officials, and the Director of National Intelligence have all made statements about the danger that Khorasan poses. Furthermore, an argument has been made that an attack by Khorasan against the U.S. or its allies was imminent. Various agencies were tracking Khorasan for years, and for several months airstrikes against them were contemplated. Were the strikes against ISIS just an easy way for President Obama to slip in another attack then? Indeed, with ISIS dominating the news, little attention has been given to the attacks on the Khorasan group.

By choosing to unilaterally go after Khorasan, Obama has continued fighting the War on Terror, but he has done so in such a way that he is now playing a role in shaping the landscape of the war. Previously most of his actions were a response to the ongoing situations in the Middle East, but at this point, Obama now appears to be setting the agenda. Some people believe America has always been one step behind terrorists and stopping terrorism, and by acting proactively, Obama may be seeking to stop something before it grows out of control. Some of the locations hit during the strike included training sites, command centers, and facilities where explosives are made. However, with few “boots on the ground”, it is hard to know what was hit, who was killed, and just how crippling the attacks were, or were not. Over the next few days, weeks, months, and maybe even years, more information will become available and as the future unfolds, it will become easier to see if this was the right call and if Khorasan and the fight against it actually changes the political or military environment and if Khorasan really is/was a danger to the American people.

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