Petraeus Recommends Using Al Qaeda Fighters to Defeat ISIS

by Vins
Published: Updated:

The United States’ relationship with Al Qaeda could be closer than corporate media might lead you to believe. In August 2015 retired CIA chief David Petraeus openly called for recruiting so-called moderate members of Al Qaeda’s Al Nusra to fight ISIS in Syria. Despite corporate media reiterating the message that Al Qaeda is an enemy terrorist group, the CIA and US military leadership continue to discuss using Al Qaeda as a tool for their own military objectives. As Shane Harris and Nancy A. Youssef report, Petraeus called for recruiting members of the Nusra Front, which opposes the Syrian government, to help the US combat ISIS.

Petraeus’s proposed plan would not be the first of this type. As the head of the CIA, in 2007 he implemented a similar strategy in Iraq where US military “peeled off” Sunni elements that had fought against US occupation by intimidating and bribing them, promoting the formation of the “Sons of Iraq” to combat Al Qaeda. After the US switched its game plan and withdrew the bulk of its troops, the Sons of Iraq disintegrated; many former members are now key ISIS operatives.

As Harris and Youssef note, Petraeus’ plan would face “enormous legal and security obstacles” and, if implemented, it could be “enormously controversial.” As they report, other US officials interviewed for the story described the proposed plan as “politically toxic, near-impossible to execute, and strategically risky.” According to Christopher Harmer, a senior naval analyst with the Middle East Security Project at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, D.C., “This is an acknowledgment that the U.S. stated goal to degrade and destroy ISIS is not working. If it were, we would not be talking to these not quite foreign terrorist groups… Strategically, it is desperate.”

The only corporate media coverage of this article appeared on September 1, 2015 in the New York Daily News.  The article is a response to the original article on the Daily Beast.  The article mentions the proposed plan from Petraeus, but claims that the plan is unrealistic because it would be nearly impossible to differentiate moderate Al Qaeda members from extremists. The Daily News coverage did not compare Petraeus’ proposal for Syria with the previous, comparable but failed effort in Iraq.


Shane Harris and Nancy A. Youssef, “Petraeus: Use Al Qaeda Fighters to Beat ISIS,” Daily Beast, August 31, 2015,

Student Researcher: Theo Loukos (Sonoma State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Jerry Krause (Sonoma State University)