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An al-Nusra fighter holds his group flag as he stands in front of the governor building in Idlib province, north Syria. Photo: Al-Nusra Front Twitter page via AP

After al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, broke off in 2016, the U.S. government and other observers portrayed the split as a public relations move. The assumption was that al-Qaeda would retain an unofficial link to its loyal force in Syria, which would then be free to partner with local groups that must reject al-Qaeda in order to secure aid from the U.S. and its allies.

In fact, the separation may have been more of an acrimonious divorce. Recent revelations, including a statement by a senior Syrian jihadist, a public chastisement from Ayman Zawahiri, and an exchange among various jihadists in Syria, suggest that al-Qaeda wields less influence than previously feared and that U.S. efforts to isolate al-Qaeda in Syria are bearing some fruit.

Why it matters: The al-Qaeda core has not carried out a major terrorist attack in years, and much of the “action” is undertaken by local groups bearing its name. As the Islamic State’s caliphate collapses, Al-Qaeda’s inability to hold on to its most important affiliate raises questions about its ability to regain leadership over the global jihadist movement.

Go deeper

Updated 31 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: Trump received COVID vaccine at White House in January — CDC director warns "now is not the time" to lift COVID restrictions.
  2. Education: More schools are reopening in the U.S.
  3. Vaccine: J&J CEO "absolutely" confident in vaccine distribution goals Most states aren't prioritizing prisons for COVID vaccines — Vaccine hesitancy is shrinking.
  4. Economy: Apple says all U.S. stores open for the first time since start of pandemic — What's really going on with the labor market.
  5. Sports: Poll weighs impact of athlete vaccination.
  6. World: Latin America turns to China and Russia for COVID-19 vaccines.
Dave Lawler, author of World
49 mins ago - World

Latin America turns to China and Russia for COVID-19 vaccines

Several countries in the Americas have received their first vaccine shipments over the past few weeks — not from the regional superpower or from Western pharmaceutical giants, but from China, Russia, and in some cases India.

Why it matters: North and South America have been battered by the pandemic and recorded several of the world’s highest death tolls. Few countries other than the U.S. have the capacity to manufacture vaccines at scale, and most lack the resources to buy their way to the front of the line for imports. That’s led to a scramble for whatever supply is available.

More schools are reopening in the U.S.

Students settle into a classroom in New York City. Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

More than 72% of K-12 students are now attending schools that offer in-person or hybrid models of learning.

The big picture: The U.S. is seeing an almost-universal return of schools that were in-person as of November, as well as a gradual return in parts of the country that had been virtual for almost a year.