How Washington Is Positioning Al-Qaeda’s Founder As Its Rebranded ‘Asset’

March 2021 marked the 10th anniversary of the Western regime-change war on Syria. And after a decade of grueling conflict, Washington is still maneuvering to extend its longstanding relationship with the Salafi-jihadist militants fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

With the northeastern province of Idlib under the control of a self-proclaimed “Syrian Salvation Government” led by the rebranded version of Syria’s al-Qaeda franchise, and protected under the military aegis of NATO member state Turkey, powerful elements from Brussels to Washington have been working to legitimize its leader.

This June, PBS Frontline aired a special, “The Jihadist,” featuring a sit-down interview with Abu Mohammad al-Jolani, de facto president of the “Syrian Salvation Government” and founder of the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda originally called Jabhat al-Nusra, today re-branded as Hay-at Tahrir al-Sham, or HTS.

Having traded in his battlefield garb for a freshly pressed suit, Jolani was presented with the once unthinkable opportunity to market himself to a Western audience and pledge that his forces pose no threat to the US homeland because they were merely focused on waging war against Syria’s “loyalist” population.

The PBS correspondent who conducted the interview, Martin Smith, previously starred in a 2015 PBS special, “Inside Assad’s Syria,” which presented a US audience with a rare and relatively objective look at life inside Syrian government-controlled territory, as insurgents backed by NATO and Gulf monarchies encircled and terrorized its population.

Whether or not he realized it, when Smith returned to Syria this March to meet Jolani, he was on more than a journalistic field expedition. A network of think tanks and Beltway foreign policy veterans were engaged in a simultaneous push to remove Jolani and his militant faction HTS from the State Department’s list of designated terrorist groups.- READ MORE