WASHINGTON: A former top military general who headed the CIA has suggested to the Obama administration to rope in jihadists from al Qaeda to take on the Islamic extremist group Islamic State which has threatened the United States of America with another 9/11-style attack.
The heart of the controversial idea stems from former commander of US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and ex-CIA director David Petraeus’ experience in Iraq in 2007, when the US persuaded Sunni militias to stop fighting with al Qaeda and work with American military, US based newspaper reported.
The tactic worked, at least temporarily in Iraq. The al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) was later reborn as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and has become the sworn enemy of its parent organisation.
Al Qaeda has distanced itself from the IS, chiding it for its lack of teamwork in its aggressive, brutal expansion.
Citing sources familiar with the conversations, including one person who directly spoke to Petraeus, the report said the age general is returning to his old play, advocating a strategy of co-opting rank-and-file members of al Qaeda’s Syrian branch al Nusra Front, particularly those who don’t necessarily share all of core group’s Islamist philosophy.
According to those familiar with Petraeus’ thinking, he advocates trying to cleave off less extreme al Nusra fighters, who are battling IS in Syria but who joined the group because of their shared goal of overthrowing the Syrian regime.
However, Petraeus’ plan, if executed, could be enormously controversial, the report said, noting that the American war on terror began with an al Qaeda attack on 9/11.
The idea that the US would, 14 years later, work with elements of al Qaeda was an irony too tough to stomach for most officials. They found Petraeus’ notion politically toxic, near-impossible to execute, and strategically risky, it said.
In 2012, the Obama administration designated al Nusra a foreign terrorist organisation and the US President, last year, ordered airstrikes on Nusra positions housing members of the Khorasan Group, an al Qaeda cadre that was trying to recruit jihadists with western passports, the report said.
Stating that Petraeus and his plan cannot be written off, it said he still wields considerable influence with current officials, US lawmakers, and foreign leaders.
Petraeus was the CIA director in early 2011 when the Syrian civil war erupted. At the time, he along with then secretary of state Hillary Clinton and defense secretary Leon Panetta reportedly urged the Obama administration to work with moderate opposition forces.
Privately, US officials told the newspaper that working with some factions, while difficult, might not be impossible.
The highly decorated retired four-star general is not the only ex-official who wants to talk to jihadist-linked fighters who share some, if not all, of the United States’ goals.
Former US ambassador to Syria Robert Ford had called for a dialogue with Ahrar al Sham, a jihadist force he has called “probably the most important group fighting the Syrian regime now”.