Dropping "Khorasan" for "al Qaeda"

By Robert Chesney
Friday, October 3, 2014, 6:15 PM

There has been much talk about the "Khorasan Group" over the past several weeks, including occasional sharp questions regarding its nature and provenance. On that subject, Dina Temple Raston has a good piece on NPR this evening, underscoring the fundamental point that "Khorasan" is a term of convenience describing no more and no less than a large contingent of al Qaeda personnel dispatched to Syria last year by Ayman al Zawahiri himself:

The leader of Core al-Qaida, Zawahiri, is believed to have dispatched the Khorasan members to Syria about 18 months ago. They were supposed to try to reconcile bickering al-Qaida affiliates in Syria and Iraq and set up an external operations unit. ... Khorasan is thought to be made up of 40 to 60 key al-Qaida people who brought with them to Syria another 100 or so drivers, note-takers and other support staff. They have set up shop among Nusra Front fighters. Analysts say the relationship is a bit like the Taliban and al-Qaida before the Sept. 11 attacks. Al-Qaida needed the logistical support and sanctuary the Taliban provided them before 2001. Officials say that's exactly the role the Nusra Front plays with the Khorasan group.

I recognize that some are not persuaded that this is accurate, but for those who are willing to accept it, it underscores an important point about nomenclature. Using the "Khorasan" label rather than referring simply to "al Qaeda" makes perfect sense for analysts within the government, as they are not likely to forget that what they are speaking of is an al Qaeda cell. But I'm afraid the emphasis on the Khorasan label in public discourse has contributed to some confusion and skepticism, including leading to questions about the fit between the 2001 AUMF and that group. If the government really believes that this is an outright al Qaeda cell that is part-and-parcel of al Qaeda itself, it would be better all around to label it as such and to avoid the Khorasan label going forward.