While the world focuses on the so-called Islamic State, the other main jihadi group in Syria—the one still affiliated with al-Qaida—has been biding its time. The Nusra Front has extended its footprint in northwestern Syria as the civil war has dragged on, embedding itself in the patchwork of rebel groups there and, more recently, dreaming of a statelet of its own. The Obama administration, apparently alarmed at those prospects, is now moving to work more closely with Russia to attack the Nusra Front.
In a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this month, U.S. President Barack Obama discussed plans to coordinate airstrikes in Syria, in order to better target Nusra, as well as the Islamic State. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Putin last week in Moscow to discuss the proposal, which includes setting up a joint command center in Jordan and sharing intelligence. Last Friday, Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, announced a tentative deal.
Even if it aims to attack the Nusra Front more directly, this plan doesn’t sit easily with U.S. diplomats and officials. “It has generated deep unease at the Pentagon and in some quarters of the State Department, where it is seen as too conciliatory to both the Russians and the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad,” according to The New York Times.