It is also being reported by NBC and other sources that the United States used "manned and unmanned air assets, including F-22s, B-1 bombers, F-16s, F-15s and F/A-18s. The aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush is at the ready in the Persian Gulf, and the USS Arleigh Burke, a guided missile destroyer that fires Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAMs), is in the Red Sea."
As Bill Roggio of The Long War Journal has stated, "It is unclear if the US will target the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria; the Khorasan group, a council of al Qaeda leaders that coordinates the activities of jihadist groups in Syria and has plotted to attack the West; and other jihadist groups in Syria. The Al Nusrah Front and other jihadist groups, which are at odds with the Islamic State, are poised to gain from any setbacks to the rival Islamic State."
But what exactly is "Khorasan"?
While some reports are saying that Khorasan is its own independent cell, it is more likely it is, or acts like, an extension of Jabhat al Nusra, al Qaeda's official group in Syria. The Long War Journal noted back in March that al Qaeda head Ayman al Zawahri has been dispatching senior members of al Qaeda to Syria. This was quite understandable, of course, as at that time US airstrikes inside Syria looked like it would never happen. This gave al Qaeda ample amount of security to begin working on new plots against the West, coordinating planning with Jabhat al Nusra, working with Nusra on the ground, and so on.
One such veteran AQ member was Muhsin al Fadhli, who TLWJ notes "Al Fadhli became the leader of al Qaeda's network inside Iran after a senior al Qaeda leader known as Yasin al Suri was detained by Iranian authorities. In July 2011, the US Treasury Department identified al Suri as the head of the network, which it said operates under an agreement between the Iranian regime and al Qaeda." They go on to say, "But earlier this year, the US government announced that al Suri had assumed his leadership role inside Iran once again...With al Suri back in the game, al Qaeda had the operational freedom to deploy al Fadhli to Syria. Al Qaeda's senior leaders dispatched trusted operatives to Syria once the dispute between Al Nusrah and ISIS became heated. Therefore, al Fadhli's presence inside Syria makes sense in the context of al Qaeda's decision to reshuffle its personnel."
Background on al Fadhli
Al Fadhli is a very seasoned al Qaeda operative with membership dating back to at least 2001. In 2001, it is believed he was one of the few who knew of the 9/11 attacks before they commenced. This only shows how close he was to Bin Laden and the upper echelons of al Qaeda.
Moreover, al Fadhli "has been tied to the Oct. 6, 2002 attack on the French ship MV Limburg and the Oct. 8, 2002 attack against US Marines stationed on Kuwait's Faylaka Island. One Marine was killed during the Faylaka Island shootout. He may have also been involved in the bombing of the USS Cole on Oct. 12, 2000. He then went on to support Abu Musab al Zarqawi's operations inside Iraq.
An al Qaeda cell responsible for the 2009 plot against Camp Arifjan, a US military installation in Kuwait, had ties to al Fadhli. That cell was broken up by Kuwaiti authorities before it could launch an attack."
It is also thought that following the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, al Fadhli escaped to Iran with his family. This probably led to him leading AQ's network in Iran for some time later in his career.
Role in Jabhat al Nusra
As mentioned above, this Khorasan group, which takes its name for the term jihadists use to denote the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, is probably an extension of Nusra. However, being that they are top guys sent by Zawahri, himself, they probably take orders directly from him as well. It is unclear how many people make up this group, but it is presumably relatively small. If this is the case, it would make sense for them to be attached to Nusra rather than being their own independent cell.
To be certain, several experts on this group are also saying that Khorasan is part of Nusra rather than their own group. As Thomas Joscelyn notes at The Weekly Standard, "The head of the Khorasan group within Jabhat al Nusrah is a longtime al Qaeda operative". Katherine Zimmerman of the American Enterprise Institute says that, "They [Khorasan] entered Syria in mid 2013 to work with al Qaeda’s affiliate there, Jabhat al Nusra." Aron Lund of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace also noted that, "What is being discussed is not a “new terrorist group,” but rather a specialized cell that has gradually been established within, or on, the fringes of an already existing al-Qaeda franchise, the so-called Nusra Front."
So, as one can see, this Khorasan group is neither new nor is it its own independent group in Syria. It is a group of seasoned al Qaeda veterans embedded with Nusra under the direct control of Zawahri. To make matters worse, this group more than likely has connections with Ibrahim al Asiri, the master bomb maker of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.