Syria: NATO intervention —against al-Qaeda?

The Turkish armed forces on Jan. 29 attacked a convoy of al-Qaeda-linked rebel group ISIS in Syria in, destroying three vehicles, according to Turkish media reports. Turkish F-16s apparently struck the convoy "after militants opened fire on a military outpost" on the Turkey-Syria border. (Al Jazeera, Jan. 29) The skirmish comes amid reports that both ISIS and the Nusra Front, both al-Qaeda affiliates, have seized control of most of Syria's oil and gas resources, which lie in the country's north near the Turkish border, and are using the proceeds to underwrite their wars against both rival rebels and the Bashar Assad regime. While the oil and gas fields are in decline, control over them has been key to the growing power of the two groups. ISIS is even said to be selling fuel to the Assad government—lending weight to claims by opposition leaders that the regime is secretly backing the Qaedists to weaken the other rebel armies and discourage international support for their cause. (NYT, Jan. 28; The Telegraph, Jan. 20) 

On the same day as the Turkish incursion, US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the Nusra Front wants to attack the United States and is hosting a growing cadre of international militants at its camps, "to train people to go back to their countries." He said Nusra Front "does have aspirations for attacks on the homeland." Clapper said out of an estimated total of 75,000 to 110,000 rebels fighting in Syria, some 26,000 are "extremists," and about 7,000 of them foreigners from some 50 countries, including Europe. He said that Syria is becoming "in some respects a new FATA," a reference to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, considered the primary al-Qaeda stronghold over the past decade. (FT, AP, Jan. 29)