Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al Nusra, poses a greater long-term threat to the United States than ISIS, according to a new report.
The policy paper, issued last week by the Institute for the Study of War and the American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project, labels al Nusra "much more dangerous" than ISIS and criticizes the Obama administration’s focus on fighting the Islamic State in Syria rather than combating the al Qaeda branch.
"The Jabhat al Nusra model is much more dangerous to the U.S. than the ISIS model in the long run. ISIS has transformed itself into a territorial state with an army. It imposes itself upon the population in that territory by force and with terror," the report explains.
"It does not tolerate dissension even within the narrow bands of Salafism, let alone beyond those bands. It promises governance that it cannot deliver. ISIS presents numerous vulnerabilities that a well-designed campaign against it could exploit."
The report argues that al Nusra does not suffer from the same "vulnerabilities" as ISIS, namely because it attempts to befriend people rather than force them under its rule and also supplies its partners with military capabilities in an effort to encourage attacks on western nations.
"It provides advanced military capabilities to its partners that make them both dependent on Jabhat al Nusra and grateful to it such that they willingly provide Jabhat al Nusra cover and at least rhetorical protection, even against U.S. activities precisely targeting the elements of Jabhat al Nusra oriented on attacking the West," the report reads.
Given the greater threat posed by al Nusra, the researchers fault the administration for focusing on defeating ISIS.
"Any strategy that leaves Jabhat al-Nusra in place will fail to secure the American homeland," they write.
The report, which breaks down the terror groups’ roles in recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, asserts that al Qaeda and ISIS pose the "most imminent threat" to western security.
"Sala-jihadi military organizations, principally al Qaeda and ISIS, pose the most imminent threat to the security and values of the United States and Europe," the paper reads. "Although these groups currently lack the ability to destroy us militarily, the danger they present is no less existential for that. Already their actions are causing the peoples of the West to turn against one another, to fear and suspect their neighbors, to constrain their freedoms, and to disrupt their ordinary lives."
Concerns about terrorism in the U.S. have heightened following the coordinated terror attacks in Paris, for which ISIS has claimed responsibility. The terror group is also believed to have inspired the shooting in San Bernardino, which was carried out by a radicalized married couple.
Al Nusra emerged in Syria in 2011 at the start of the Syrian civil war and has since gained control of territory in the northwest area of the country.