There’s an article from the National Review written by Andrew McCarthy stating that the al-Qaida (AQ) cell known as the Khorasan Group (KG) “doesn’t exist.” We disagree with that on the grounds that many of our staff have served in Afghanistan’s RC-E battle space and have personally been involved in intelligence operations regarding this organization. Hundreds of other 35-series personnel and 18Fs have deployed to this part of Afghanistan and have been tracking the group since they first started to pop up in reporting in 2010 – not 2013 as Mr. McCarthy alleged.
The Khorasan Group Does Not Exist -
This group is very much real, although their numbers are small with reporting that suggest their strength is between 50-100 personnel. KG started out as an intelligence apparatus for AQSL (Al Qaeda Senior Leadership) tasked with identifying individuals in the local populace suspected of being an asset for western intelligence services – even individuals within the AQ and Taliban ranks have been targeted if they were deemed “suspect.” This is made possible through the deep ties they’ve cultivated with the local tribes on both the Afghan and Pakistani sides of the border. It’s been implied that they may have a separate HUMINT network in the Middle East from members of the group that are of Arab ethnicity.
They eventually evolved into a special operations entity that refined IED TTPs (Techniques, Tactics and Procedures) for use in complex attacks. In fact, they reportedly trained the Taliban on the construction and implementation of 200-400 lbs explosive devices. That’s one of the reasons the Taliban (and Haqqani Network) became more effective in the P2K region, (Paktiya, Paktika and Khost Provinces) which was one of the primary areas KG operates in. Nangahar and Konar are other areas that have seen reporting of KG activity.
They’re greatest success has come in the form of performing a supporting role in joint operations with other jihadist groups such as the Haqqani Network (HQN) and Taliban (to include Pakistani Taliban or “TTP” [Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan]-not to be confused with Tactics, Techniques and Procedures). Despite the reporting we’ve seen throughout RC-E (Regional Command-East), the group was never very successful in their attempts at launching high-profile attacks themselves. Even with the assassinations, most of the incidents proved to have been the work of others. They’re a great support element, but as the main attraction? Not so much.
Indeed, we’ve been seeing open source reporting for some time on them over the years, although sporadic. It comes down to the American MSM not paying attention until the US government finally started talking about them sending personnel to Syria. Another thing to consider is that this particular AQ cell are supposed to be the “executioners,” so it shouldn’t surprise anybody that they’re not into propaganda videos. Truth is they’ve been sending personnel to Syria since last year for the purpose of assisting al-Nusra in identifying potential defectors to the Islamic State (IS) or western intelligence assets. They’re secondary task was to assist in the training of al-Nusra personnel on the above-mentioned TTPs in IEDs and executing complex attacks. At no time was this cell ever “absorbed” into al-Nusra. They remain to this day a separate entity that reports to the senior leadership in Pakistan.
It’s also important to note that this small cell is currently spread thin throughout Syria and the AF/PAK region. They’re in Syria to help identify the intelligence leaks and potential defectors to IS. In the AF/PAK region, they’re tasked with countering IS efforts at establishing a foothold in South Asia – which is AQSL’s back yard. The fact that the KG contingent sent to Syria is also reported to have experienced some defections themselves to IS has only further degraded their capabilities. The recent AQIS (Al Qaeda in South Asia) hijacking of the Pakistani warship – which in itself was an extremely bold operation – is an indicator of resources and personnel being stretched thin.
AQ remains a viable threat to the American people, but KG is primarily a threat to US military personnel stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan. As stated previously, this group is not an “imminent threat” to the American people living inside the US. All the over hyping of the group that’s coming out of the Obama administration is the result of lazy analysis, failure to listen to the analysts on the ground and for simply being in over their heads. Remember, most of the people placed in DoS (Department of State) and in key positions in the Intelligence Community don’t have much experience outside of academia or whatever politically appointed position they had previously.