But what does this mean for al-Qaeda or even ISIS? A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with Mr. Bill Roggio of The Long War Journal about what this all meant. Essentially, what he had to say is that this is a “big problem” for both AQ and ISIS. For either of them to be successful terrorist organizations and/or insurgent groups, they have to be able to (a) attract enough recruits to continue to operate and (b) to direct enough attention to a certain goal. Let us look at these two things in depth.
ISIS does not seem to have a problem with attracting foreign fighters in both Syria and Iraq, as this can be seen with large contingents of fighters from the Caucasus, the Arab World and even the West. To make matters more interesting, ISIS’s military commander inside Syria is a Chechen by the name of Abu Omar al-Shishani—which certainly showcases how much they depend on foreigners. JN, while they also attract their fair share of foreigners, seem to attract a large number of native Syrians, as well. Of course, this is probably correlated to JN being more focused on the fight against Assad than other rebel groups unlike ISIS. This is also not to say that ISIS does not attract native Syrians--they do, albeit not as much as JN.
Speaking of which, ISIS inside Syria seems to be more focused on fighting AQ/JN and rebel factions other than the Assad regime, which certainly hurts their recruitment efforts inside Syria. However, their fight against the more moderate groups makes them an ideal group to join for those radical foreigners wishing to get involved in Syria.
So what is next for the infighting?
Mr. Roggio explained to me that he sees a few possibilities regarding the infighting, with three really standing out to me. He sees that the infighting will either continue indefinitely, al-Baghdadi will eventually repent, if you will, and fold back into AQ, or al-Baghdadi will simply be whacked by those inside his group wishing to end the fighting. Out of these three, he seemed to favor the latter two with the first being “bad for business” for both AQ and ISIS. Either way, he sees the fighting being resolved at some point.
I cannot help but to agree with his assessment. The infighting is certainly not helping either entity to advance their interests; if either party wishes to continue to be relevant and successful, something will have to give that will stop the infighting. Al-Qaeda is losing foreign recruits and ground inside Syria to ISIS, and ISIS is further distancing themselves from other groups inside al-Qaeda’s umbrella. Like Mr. Roggio said about this, “neither group wants this”. Sooner or later, something will happen. The direction in which that “something” will take the infighting is yet to be seen. With supposed breaks within ISIS, AQ-affiliates and figures siding with Zawahiri and ISIS again rejecting a reconciliation offer from Zawahiri, it seems like a complete toss-up of which way this whole ordeal will go.
The quotations and subsequent references to Bill Roggio were paraphrased from a phone call I had with him a few weeks back. The analysis primarily focuses on what was discussed in said conversation and not the fighting between al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in general.