NEW YORK -– The Associated Press reported Thursday that the U.S. fired 46 cruise missiles last month at Syria-based terrorist cell the Khorasan Group, but only killed one or two key militants.
U.S. intelligence officials, speaking anonymously about classified information, suggested to the AP that the strikes didn’t cripple the group “partly because many important members had scattered amid news reports highlighting their activities.”
The AP’s Ken Dilanian wrote Thursday:
News stories last month, including a Sept. 13 report by The Associated Press that first disclosed the group's significance as a terrorist threat, led some members to flee before the U.S. military had a chance to strike their known locations, U.S. officials said.
And who revealed details about the Khorasan Group on Sept. 13 to Dilanian and colleague Eileen Sullivan? (Bold added.)
While the Islamic State group is getting the most attention now, another band of extremists in Syria -- a mix of hardened jihadis from Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and Europe -- poses a more direct and imminent threat to the United States, working with Yemeni bomb-makers to target U.S. aviation, American officials say.
At the center is a cell known as the Khorasan Group, a cadre of veteran al-Qaida fighters from Afghanistan and Pakistan who traveled to Syria to link up with the al-Qaida affiliate there, the Nusra Front.
The AP noted in the Sept. 13 article that “many U.S. officials interviewed for this story would not be quoted by name talking about what they said was highly classified intelligence.”
It's essential for national security reporters to rely on anonymous sources to find out what's happening within the government. But doing so can be problematic in that those sources aren't accountable for what they say. In this case, unnamed U.S. officials now blame news reports -- and not the unnamed U.S. officials -- for allowing key targets to flee.
AP spokeswoman Erin Madigan White responded to questions about the U.S. officials’ criticism of reporting on the Khorasan Group.
“The Associated Press can speak only for itself and its reporting,” White wrote in an email to The Huffington Post. “The AP’s Sept. 13 story revealing the name and other details about the Khorasan Group was the product of weeks of reporting with sources, most of whom were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. Representatives of the U.S. government asked the AP to withhold from the story some details AP had confirmed, but the AP declined to do that.”
The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain recently argued that the media helped promote the government's often-anonymous claims that the Khorasan Group represented an imminent threat to the U.S. and thus helped justify military intervention.
The strikes aimed at the Khorasan Group, which took place as the U.S. began airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria, reportedly killed about a dozen civilians and immediately prompted anger at the U.S. coalition among ostensible allies within the Syrian opposition.