Took out Al-Nusra's chief spokesperson – a guy they backed against Soviets in Afghanistan and was a friend of Osama Bin Laden
Well what do you know. When the present Syria ceasefire (which now hangs by a thread) was being first arranged in Geneva in February the talks dragged on because United States' John Kerry was trying to get the Russians to agree they would not target Al-Nusra during the ceasefire (albeit the US itself formally insisted Al-Nusra was a terrorist organization).
Yet now it is the US which is taking credit for a strike that took out 22 Al-Nusra and Jund al-Aqsa members including Nusra's spokesperson Radwan Nammou or Abu Firas Al Suri:
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said the US military conducted an air raid on a meeting of officials of Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front on Sunday in northeast Syria, targeting Abu Firas al-Suri and other leaders.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Suri, his son and at least 20 jihadists of Al-Nusra and Jund al-Aqsa and other fighters from Uzbekistan were killed in strikes on positions in Idlib province.
To make things more ironic Al Suri was a veteran of the Soviet Afghan War where he was on the same side as the American CIA. It was also where Al Suri became an associate of Osama bin Laden:
He said Suri was a Syrian national and a "legacy" Al-Qaeda member who fought in Afghanistan in the late 1980s and 1990s.
He "worked with Osama bin Laden and other founding Al-Qaeda members to train terrorists and conduct attacks globally," Cook said, adding that Sunday's strike killed several enemy fighters.
The US has bombed Al-Nusra in Syria a few times before.
However, before the US made every effort to pretend it was actually bombing a group distinct from Al-Nusra, the so called "Khorasan group" which it turned out nobody in Syria had ever heard of.
This time, however, the Department of Defense was forced to admit that it struck at Al-Nusra which is anyway one and the same as Al-Qaeda.
It's not information that was volunteered freely, however. In fact it took no less than three journalists asking the same question until the DoD spokesperson finally stopped covering for Nusra:
Q: Just to follow-up on your opening statement, could you provide us with more details? Where the strike against Abu Firas al- Suri took place. And now, can we consider that all the Al-Nusra Front leaders are a legitimate target for the U.S.?
MR. COOK: Again, it happened in Northwest Syria. I'll leave it at that for now. And we've been targeting Al Qaida leaders for some time, as you know. And that has always been a legitimate target.
Q: And the Nusra Front. If you consider Al Nusra Front leaders a legitimate target?
MR. COOK: We have always considered Al Qaida leaders to be legitimate targets. Of course, Al Nusra has its ties to Al Qaida. And that is something that we've been very upfront about for years. And continues to be an ongoing, active part of our efforts, will be to target Al Qaida leadership.
Q: Can I quickly, quickly follow up on Joe's question? While this person was clearly al-Qaida, and al-Qaida is tied to Jabhat al-Nusra, was this meeting that you referenced -- well first, was it a -- an al-Nusra meeting, an al-Qaida meeting? Did you strike him because of his previous connections to al-Qaida and his history with al-Qaida, or are you now striking Jabhat al-Nusra?
MR. COOK: I'm not going to get into intelligence here and operational details. What I can tell you is that we targeted al-Qaida members meeting in northwestern Syria and this individual, who has a long history in Al Qaida, we deemed that he was present at that meeting and we're trying to determine if he's been removed from the battlefield.
Q: I just want to make a -- just want to go back to the strike in northwest Syria. I just want to make it clear, does the U.S. consider al-Nusra a legitimate military target in the air campaign over Syria?
MR. COOK: We consider Al Qaida members in Syria to be legitimate targets, and that was the focus of this strike.
Q: So you are making a difference between al-Nusra and Al Qaida in this case?
MR. COOK: In this particular strike, which is what I'm referring to, we were targeting Al Qaida members.
Q: Not al-Nusra?
MR. COOK: Again, there's -- al-Nusra has been an affiliate of -- of Al Qaida, and so to the extent that there's a distinction there, we feel like the targeting of Al Qaida members in -- in Syria in consistent with the targeting of Al Qaida members we've conducted in other parts of the world.
Q: So in this case, al-Nusra and Al Qaida are interchangeable?
MR. COOK: In this instance, we're talking about a historic -- Al Qaida members who may be affiliated with al-Nusra. Now, al-Nusra has been an affiliate of Al Qaida, so it's in very much -- one in the same. And in this instance, we targeted someone we know as said -- someone who was present who has had a history in higher leadership of Al Qaida dating back to Afghanistan, and -- and -- so we will await to see what the results of that strike were and whether or not he was removed from the battlefield.
Here's an interpretation of what that lengthy (and cringy) exchange was about. The DoD spokesperson starts out with the prepared position:
We're taking out Al Qaeda members. Al-Nusra has links to Al-Qaeda so when we're taking out Al-Qaeda members we're also taking out people who happen to be Al-Nusra members.
But for once the journalists are actually doing their job and won't accept such incredible tales without a follow-up. He's asked the same thing six times by three different people. You can almost see the cornered Cook thinking to himself:
Come on guys why are you badgering me on this? Be team players! Don't you understand? I can't say it!
Until he breaks:
Oh screw it! I'm just gonna say it! Yeah, ok, ok! Yeah, Al-Nusra and Al-Qaeda are one and the same! There I said it! OK guys, are you happy now! You made me say it!