Stephen Tankel

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Policy Roundtable: 17 Years After September 11

Policy Roundtable: 17 Years After September 11

To understand what has gone both right and wrong since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, we have convened a roundtable of some of this country’s foremost experts on terrorism, insurgency, and strategy.

Policy Roundtable: What Is the Future of the Jihadist Movement?

Policy Roundtable: What Is the Future of the Jihadist Movement?

With ISIL having lost the bulk of its territory in Iraq and Syria, we asked a group of experts what comes next for the jihadist movement.

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1. Introduction: A Most Infamous Day: Marking the 17th Anniversary of the 9/11 Attacks

By Ryan Evans The 9/11 attacks and Pearl Harbor have often been compared. Not long after the towers fell, then-Sen. Chuck Hagel, a future secretary of defense, said, “This is the second Pearl Harbor. I don't think that I overstate it.”[1] A senior E.U. official said that same day, “It is the worst attack on the United States since Pearl Harbor. This is one of those few days in life that one can say will actually change everything.” Around the world and especially in the United States, these comparisons are being repeated today. But marking the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is fundamentally unlike observing that of the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, a day that President Franklin D. Roosevelt said would “live in infamy.” Less than four years after Japanese imperialist forces struck at America’s Pacific Fleet as it sat in Pearl Harbor, Japan surrendered unconditionally, submitting itself to a military occupation by its adversary. Seventeen years after the 9/11 attacks, however, the kindest thing that can be said of the American record against the jihadist movement is that it is mixed. While the United States has succeeded in preventing another mass casualty attack on its soil, its terrorist enemies continue to wreak havoc in Africa, the Middle East, as well as South and Southeast Asia, and have repeatedly attacked Europe. Sept. 11 is a day that, like Dec. 7, lives in infamy, but it is an infamy that today is largely defined by America’s strategic incompetence and confusion, which have played no small role in transforming a vicious tragedy into an expensive — and often fruitless — geopolitical preoccupation that has seen the United States and its allies pay dearly with both blood and treasure without making the world any safer. With the benefit of 17 years of hindsight, one would be hard pressed to imagine a worse way to have honored and avenged the lives of the 3,000 people who perished on this day in 2001. To understand what has gone both right and wrong, we have convened a roundtable of some of this country’s foremost experts on terrorism, insurgency, and strategy. The Contributions Without the durable alliance between al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the attacks might not have taken place and the last 17 years surely would have played out quite differently. Tricia Bacon of American University helps us understand this remarkable alliance and why it has proven so resilient in the face of an all-out assault by some of the world’s most advanced military powers. As Bacon observes, there is a considerable asymmetry in this relationship. For the Taliban, there have been great costs and marginal benefits. For al-Qaeda, great benefits and marginal costs. This case is perhaps the foremost example of America’s “larger failure to prevent or disrupt alliances between militant groups.” These jihadist alignments, however, are often not as stable as the alliance between the Taliban and al-Qaeda, which has posed other problems for America’s global counter-terrorism campaign. Focusing on Syria and the Sahel, Martha Crenshaw of Stanford University assesses the regularly shifting, and often “bewildering,” ties between various militant groups arrayed against the West. As she explains, “These complicated and often obscure interactions among jihadist militants make it hard for governments or international institutions to understand the adversary or predict what will happen.” Even after suffering undeniable military defeats, these groups are able to reconstitute themselves elsewhere with remarkable consistency, calling into question the sustained special operations missions and interventions meant to crush them. America, of course, is not fighting jihadist groups alone. Cooperation and coordination with the governments of Muslim-majority states has been a critical, yet frustrating, part of the war on terrorism. Drawing on his recent book, Stephen Tankel of American University explains how these partners “both help and hinder U.S. counterterrorism efforts.”[2] Even when Washington and a partner state find their interests closely aligned and see a jihadist group as a foe that must be fiercely fought, many Americans find themselves troubled by often repressive methods employed by the partner. And often, America has different priorities than a partner state, either because the local authorities see a jihadist group as useful or simply because they don’t see defeating it as especially important compared to other goals. It is undeniable that there have been some major successes in the global war on terrorism. Speaking as an intelligence professional, Michael Dempsey — formerly the acting director of national intelligence, the deputy director of national intelligence, and President Barack Obama’s primary intelligence briefer — walks us through these victories as well as some notable failures. The U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies have protected the homeland from another mass casualty plot and U.S. military forces, with the support of coalition partners, have more recently regained the battlefield initiative against jihadists in the Middle East. At the same time, however, jihadist groups remain adaptive, the socio-political drivers that sustain their ranks are unresolved, and Washington is prone to “unforced errors” that, in the end, are gifts to America’s enemies. How have American thinking and counter-terrorism efforts evolved in the last 17 years? David A. Brown, Tim Hoyt, and Craig Whiteside, all of the U.S. Naval War College, join forces to answer this question and others in a wide-ranging and creative article that draws on everything from the great naval strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan to Burmese pythons on the loose in Florida to Washington’s alleged reorientation toward great-power competition. “Much like the futility of trying to stop the growth of the python population,” they write, “our failure to reduce the scale of global jihadism is more obvious than ever.” Brown, Hoyt, and Whiteside call for a “shared understanding and more realistic appraisal of the nature of the conflict,” but are decidedly skeptical of Washington’s ability to get there. This roundtable ends where it all began: Afghanistan. Trevor Thrall of George Mason University and Erik Goepner of the Cato Institute examine how the “safe haven fallacy” has sustained poor decision-making on Afghanistan across three presidencies. Thrall and Goepner disassemble the assumptions of the safe haven fallacy — describing it as “an argument for endless war based on unwarranted worst-case scenario assumptions” — and call for Washington to finally end its involvement in the conflict. The Trump administration, they correctly argue, are guilty of relying on shoddy logic if its officials truly believe that with far fewer troops on the ground they can get any closer to something resembling victory than previous administrations have. “Nothing the United States is doing,” they write, “will encourage the Taliban to change its course, regardless of how much resolve Trump and his generals have.” Ryan Evans is the publisher of the Texas National Security Review and the editor-in-chief of War on the Rocks.  

2. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: The Alliance that Started the Forever War

By Tricia Bacon Today marks 17 years since 9/11 and nearly the same since America’s war in Afghanistan started. Launched on October 7, 2001, the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan quickly overthrew the Taliban regime after their leader, Mullah Omar, refused to hand over Osama bin Laden.[3] While America’s strategic objective in Afghanistan has often been unclear,[4] the Taliban’s refusal to give up al-Qaeda — and by extension the fear that an Afghanistan dominated by the Taliban would remain a safe haven for international terrorists[5] — has been one of the primary motives for the “forever war.”[6] The alliance between al-Qaeda and the Taliban has endured for over 20 years. Between a crushing military campaign by the world’s foremost military alliance and the realpolitik considerations that seemingly should have led the Taliban to break ties long ago, the fact that they haven’t is remarkable. As in other alliances,[7] the two groups remain engaged in cooperation with mutual expectations about consultation and cooperation in the future. An alliance does not mean that partners have merged, operate in lockstep, or even always adhere to one another’s input. In this case, they certainly have not, do not, and they sometimes ignore one another’s counsel.[8] Allies can have areas of major divergence. And the Taliban and al-Qaeda certainly do. Since the inception of their relationship, the two groups have differed on their strategic objectives, priorities, and tactics. The Taliban continues to be staunchly focused on Afghanistan and has never embraced al-Qaeda’s global jihadist ambitions. For its part, al-Qaeda has consistently pursued its agenda with a disregard for how doing so has affected the Taliban. Yet they cooperate in Afghanistan and expect future cooperation and consultation in that realm. They share a desire to expel U.S. forces from Afghanistan and re-instate Taliban rule. And they now have a mutual rival in the Islamic State. But even these common interests do not fully capture what binds these two groups into their long-standing, but difficult, partnership. Their relationship has evolved over time. Though Bin Laden had pledged bayat to Mullah Omar, al-Qaeda was “an organization supporting a state” during the 1990s.[9] Now the Taliban does not rely on al-Qaeda nor does it need al-Qaeda’s support for its insurgency. Al-Qaeda gains more from the relationship, not least of all a role in the insurgency in Afghanistan and an alternative to the Islamic State that it can promote to discredit its former ally.[10] Al-Qaeda also gets the prospect of a future safe haven should the Taliban return to power, though the Taliban’s willingness to provide such sanctuary is uncertain.[11] The alliance has proven resilient and thus poses a hurdle to efforts to find a negotiated settlement to end the war.[12] Heavy Costs for Limited Benefits for the Taliban The Taliban has incurred tremendous costs for its alliance with al-Qaeda over more than two decades. The relationship contributed to the Taliban’s international isolation while it was in power, including a rupture with Saudi Arabia: one of only three states to recognize the Taliban government.[13] Al-Qaeda’s presence was a source of internal strife within the Taliban,[14] with some urging Mullah Omar to oust the group.[15] Some in the Taliban were particularly frustrated by Bin Laden’s declarations of war and al-Qaeda’s acts of terrorism against the United States in the years prior to 2001.[16] But Washington’s responses actually increased the Taliban’s support for al-Qaeda.[17] Of course, most notably, Mullah Omar’s refusal to handover Bin Laden after 9/11 led to the United States’ invasion and the downfall of the Taliban regime. The persistence of their alliance is all the more remarkable when you consider how little the Taliban needs al-Qaeda now. However, it does accrue some benefits. Though al-Qaeda was the cause of the U.S. invasion,[18] it has steadfastly supported the Taliban’s insurgency. The Taliban has benefited from al-Qaeda’s expertise since the onset of the conflict,[19] as it did against the Northern Alliance during the 1990s.[20] Al-Qaeda helped train local Taliban commanders to fabricate improvised explosives beginning in the early days of the insurgency.[21] The terrorist group’s personnel also offer other specialized and technological skills,[22] leading one leading scholar on Afghanistan to refer to al-Qaeda operators as “subcontractors” for the Taliban.[23] Al-Qaeda has assisted the Taliban with special operations and terrorist attacks, offering experienced supplemental manpower.[24] The jihadist group rarely conducts or claims attacks in Afghanistan independently; instead it contributes to attacks by the Taliban and its partner then decides how to claim responsibility. But, by al-Qaeda’s own admission, “the Taliban almost does not need us.”[25] The Taliban’s greatest strength is its ability to capitalize on widespread local grievances and the Afghan government’s lack of legitimacy. It has ample Afghan personnel, and it controls or contests at least 44 percent of Afghanistan’s districts.[26] Even those estimates vastly understate the Taliban’s influence.[27] In addition, at times, especially during the 1990s, the Taliban needed funds from al-Qaeda.[28] That is no longer the case. The Taliban’s coffers are well-stocked through its relations with various patrons, including Pakistan,[29] Iran, and Russia,[30] as well as through its involvement in the drug trade in Afghanistan.[31] It also garners funds locally from extortion and protection rackets.[32] Furthermore, it enjoys substantial support from donor networks in the Gulf.[33] Thus, to the extent that al-Qaeda provides the Taliban with resources, they are not pivotal to the Taliban’s financial health. While al-Qaeda and the Taliban share antipathy towards the Islamic State, there are no indications that the Taliban has needed al-Qaeda’s assistance in forcibly challenging the Islamic State’s local affiliate, the Islamic State in the Khorasan.[34] Nonetheless, some in the Taliban still have a soft spot for al-Qaeda. As recently as 2015, al-Qaeda operated a massive training facility in Kandahar until it was destroyed by the United States.[35] Whether the facility was an anomaly or an indication that the Taliban remains willing to offer al-Qaeda operating space in its territory remains unclear. In addition, the Haqqani Network faction of the Taliban has long been close to al-Qaeda.[36] They have conducted joint operations and al-Qaeda has benefited from Haqqani protection. The Haqqanis’ support for al-Qaida is more important than ever since the faction’s leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani, ascended to the number two spot in the Taliban in 2015. Mostly Benefits with Few Costs for al-Qaeda Through its alliance with the Taliban, al-Qaeda participates in the insurgency in Afghanistan, thereby maintaining a foothold in a campaign against the United States with symbolic importance in the broader global jihadist movement as the site of the defeat of the Soviet Union in 1989. But, as discussed, its involvement is selective, and the Taliban does not rely on al-Qaeda, which limits its losses and the resources it must invest in the effort. This arrangement works well for al-Qaeda because the insurgency in Afghanistan is not its top priority. In recent years, some of its skilled military and explosives experts have even left Afghanistan for Syria.[37] By Ayman al-Zawahiri’s own admission, Afghanistan is on the periphery of the larger battle in which Iraq and Syria command more importance.[38] Since the Islamic State’s emergence, al-Qaeda has garnered additional benefits from its alliance with the Taliban. Al-Qaeda sought to discredit the Islamic State’s claims to have formed a caliphate with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the caliph. It did so by touting the Taliban’s leader as the “true” leader of the faithful.[39] This effort initially backfired in the wake of humiliating revelations in 2015 that Mullah Omar had died in 2013.[40] Nonetheless, al-Qaeda stuck with the approach, hailing the Taliban as the only theologically legitimate alternative to the Islamic State.[41] Prospects Going Forward The alliance between these two movements has long defied the apparent cost-benefit calculation, suggesting that their ties run deeper,[42] especially after 17 years of fighting together. Their bond was once attributed primarily to the personal relationship between Mullah Omar and Bin Laden.[43] Thus, Bin Laden’s death in 2011 and the revelation of Mullah Omar’s 2013 death seemed to be as an opening for the Taliban to break with al-Qaeda.[44] Once again, in defiance of predictions, the alliance persisted. However, Zawahiri does not enjoy the same standing as Bin Laden with the Taliban or even among al-Qaeda’s other allies.[45] Mullah Omar’s successors have suffered from their own legitimacy shortfalls. Consequently, they have sought to navigate Zawahiri’s declarations of bayat carefully. Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour publicly accepted Zawahiri’s pledge,[46] only to subsequently remove the announcement from the Taliban’s website. The Taliban’s current leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada has not publicly endorsed Zawahiri’s most recent pledge.[47] The Taliban has also undertaken some rhetorical maneuvers to distance itself from al-Qaeda publicly. Most notably, the Taliban’s current leader pledged that the group will not allow Afghanistan to be used for attacks on other countries.[48] While proponents of negotiations are encouraged by the move, al-Qaeda is probably relatively untroubled by such declarations. It does not and never has felt compelled to consult the Taliban about its operations outside of Afghanistan: It is beyond the scope of their alliance. Moreover, the Taliban’s rhetorical steps have been uneven and contradictory; it has also issued statements in recent years seemingly touting ties with al-Qaeda.[49] With the obvious exception of the rupture with the Islamic State, al-Qaeda’s other alliances have also proven resilient. Its affiliates remained loyal despite efforts by the Islamic State to entice them. Al-Qaeda has also sustained a web of relationships with other militant groups, such as the Pakistani Taliban and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, in Afghanistan and Pakistan that have allowed it to survive the past 17 years. Implications for Negotiations There is renewed hope for negotiations since President Donald Trump announced a willingness to engage in direct talks with the Taliban.[50] However, it is hard to imagine the United States being satisfied with a negotiated settlement that does not include the Taliban abdicating al-Qaeda. How much of a stumbling block does this pose? In my experience, officials working on Afghanistan tend to be more optimistic about the prospects of persuading the Taliban to sever ties with al-Qaeda than those working on counter-terrorism. While the cost-benefit analysis offered above seemingly favors the interpretation of former, history is with the latter. Determining the Taliban’s view is difficult because proponents of negotiations within the Taliban are likely the same individuals who would like to break ties with al-Qaeda anyway, so their views on the topic may not represent important factions within the Taliban. Conversely, at least some of those within the Taliban who oppose negotiations would probably also reject renouncing al-Qaeda. In other words, Taliban leadership will have to strike a difficult, perhaps impossible, balance between these two positions.[51] At the same time, Taliban leaders have to be vigilant to avoid fragmentation: a major hurdle to serious negotiations and an eventual political settlement.[52] Though the Taliban has shown remarkable unity to date, Mullah Omar’s successors do not enjoy the same levels of loyalty and deference from Taliban members as he did. The Taliban lost power because its revered founding leader refused to relinquish al-Qaeda. While the insurgency in Afghanistan is certainly not about protecting al-Qaeda, reversing Mullah Omar’s 2001 positon will not be a small feat for any Taliban leader, especially one whose grasp on the various factions within the organization is not fully secure. One British official recently shared his view with me that the Taliban is holding on to severing ties with al-Qaeda as a bargaining chip, which it expects to exchange only for a major concession from the United States. If this is correct, the key question becomes: What is Washington is willing concede? Unfortunately, America’s inability to drive a wedge between al-Qaeda and the Taliban is not an anomaly. It is indicative of a larger failure to prevent or disrupt alliances between militant groups, despite the centrality of such relationships in the threat to the United States since 2001. In the case of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, this failure has been particularly costly. Tricia Bacon is an assistant professor at American University’s School of Public Affairs, fellow at Fordham University's Center for National Security, and non-resident fellow at George Washington’s Program on Extremism. She is the author of Why Terrorist Groups Form International Alliances (University of Pennsylvania, 2018). She was previously a counterterrorism analyst at the U.S. State Department from 2003 to 2013.  

3. The Long Aftermath of 9/11: How Terrorism Doesn’t End

By Martha Crenshaw When American leaders declared a global war on terror in 2001, they warned that victory was distant and elusive. But it is doubtful that any of them foresaw that 17 years later, American and allied troops would still be in Afghanistan facing a resurgent Taliban in the longest war in American history. Nor is it likely that they expected that American counterterrorism operations would be underway in 76 countries by 2017, or that through fiscal year 2018 the cost of the war on terror would be $5.6 trillion.[53] Certainly no one would have thought that in 2014 an “Islamic State” would conquer sizable territory in Syria and Iraq and institute a caliphate governed by its own intolerant version of Islamic law. Indeed, it is clear that jihadist terrorism is lasting much longer than previous waves or cycles of terrorism.[54] Although the 9/11 attacks precipitated the “Global War on Terror,” the jihadist trend had started long before. Its origins lie in the 1980s resistance to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and Abdullah Azzam’s famous appeal to Sunni Muslims worldwide to join in jihad to expel the infidel occupiers. The organization behind the 9/11 attacks and the original target of the war on terrorism was al-Qaeda. Legally, the justification for American military action in the war on terror is the threat from al-Qaeda. But al-Qaeda is no longer the unitary actor it was on 9/11, and it also has a major challenger for overall jihadist primacy in its former partner, the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Each has affiliates and followers around the world.[55] The threat has thus been dispersed. There is no single monolithic jihadist adversary. Yet it is the fragmented and shifting character of jihadism that makes it so persistent and so hard to combat. Relationships among the different actors behind global jihadism are fluid and variable. These actors include a bewildering variety of individuals acting on inspiration, social networks, underground conspiracies, foreign fighters, civil war rebels, dissident splinter factions, franchise operations, loose inter-group alliances, and organizational mergers.[56] Their connections flow easily across national borders. Groups constantly align and realign themselves as friends or rivals as they change their strategic expectations about the future of the conflict in which they are involved. They are often embedded in local struggles and compete or cooperate with nationalists or separatists. Jihadists may be united in an overall belief that violence is both necessary and justified to bring about the liberation of Muslim lands from foreign oppression and restore a just order founded on original principles of Islam. But they are divided along lines of what is permissible in the struggle, the appropriate targets, the best tactics and timing, and where to fight. Is the most dangerous opponent the local government — the “near enemy” — or the United States and its Western allies — the “far enemy”? Is it permissible to target fellow Muslims, especially Sunnis? Should civilians be attacked? How important is unity among jihadist groups? These complicated and often obscure interactions among jihadist militants make it hard for governments or international institutions to understand the adversary or predict what will happen. Even with the best intelligence, governments operate under conditions of high uncertainty. Control of outcomes is impossible. Interventions to overthrow authoritarian governments, for example, result in the emergence of multiple contenders for power, among them diehard jihadists who are likely to gain ascendancy over other less experienced and less well-armed groups. The consequences of counterterrorist measures are often unexpected, unintended, and even counterproductive. Actions intended to defeat or undermine a single organization have “ricochet” effects on other groups, often upsetting the balance of power among them. Sometimes government repression stimulates cooperation that strengthens the jihadist movement. But governments most often seek to sow dissension in the ranks — causing splintering that leads to more violence and escalation of the conflict. Offers to negotiate might attract some relatively moderate groups but provoke the more extreme to heightened violence. Even if a group is defeated within the boundaries of one state, it may simply be displaced to a weaker neighbor, or the struggle can be globalized if losing civil war rebels turn to transnational terrorism. The United States, al-Qaeda, and the Islamic State in Syria There are numerous examples of how interactions among militant groups have impeded the effectiveness of counterterrorism efforts. Consider American policy toward al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Syria.[57] Al-Nusra was founded as an outpost of the Islamic State of Iraq, then nominally a branch of al-Qaeda central. Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq recognized the Syrian civil war as a golden opportunity for jihadist expansion. Although the mainstream Syrian resistance to the Assad regime was ambivalent toward any group linked to al-Qaeda, its presence in the opposition in effect tainted the whole enterprise. At the least, it gave Assad and later his Russian patrons an excuse for condemning all opposition as jihadist extremism. At most, it was the decisive factor that ensured Western support to the rebels would be limited. When Assad responded to the initial popular uprisings with indiscriminate brutality, jihadists gained credibility. Their fighting prowess also helped. As the conflict intensified al-Nusra’s military contribution became increasingly important. Thus, when in December 2012 the United States declared al-Nusra a “foreign terrorist organization,” even committed secular nationalists came to its defense.[58] U.S. efforts to provide covert assistance exclusively to non-jihadist forces were frequently stymied or diverted due to lack of knowledge of what was going on and inability to monitor the activities of sponsored groups. Congress approved nonlethal assistance in 2013 and a Department of Defense train-and-equip mission for vetted Syrian opposition groups in 2014. The Pentagon’s effort was abandoned in 2015, and the CIA initiative was cancelled in the summer of 2017 after a cost of about $1 billion.[59] The programs suffered from diversions of supplies, defections, and deadly losses to al-Nusra attacks. Shortly after these aid programs got under way and al-Nusra was declared the enemy, al-Qaeda and the Islamic State parted ways, with al-Nusra remaining loyal to al-Qaeda. Over time American aid to its nationalist competitors probably made al-Nusra more extreme, but the Islamic State was much more ruthless and ambitious. It also exhibited remarkable military capability in seizing Fallujah and Ramadi in early 2014 and then Mosul in June. With this surprise victory, the Islamic State declared the establishment of a caliphate in the occupied parts of Syria and Iraq, thus becoming a global rival to al-Qaeda. The United States and its allies began airstrikes against the Islamic State, justifying them in terms of defending Iraq as requested.  An impressive “Global Coalition to Defeat ISIL” assembled. Shortly thereafter, the United States began airstrikes that reportedly hit al-Nusra bases in Idlib province, although the attacks were justified by reference to a mysterious Khorasan Group, described as an external operations branch of al-Qaeda engaged in planning attacks against the West and thus a direct threat to U.S. security.[60] The attacks may have weakened al-Nusra but they also apparently served to deepen loyalty among Syrian jihadists, including the Ahrar al-Sham group, an ally of Turkey as of 2015.[61] The offensive also deepened al-Nusra’s hostility toward the American-supported resistance (at the time the Free Syrian Army and the Kurds). Consequently, al-Nusra embarked on a military campaign against selected U.S.-backed groups, even those that had prudently restricted their attacks to the Islamic State.[62] Paradoxically, the fact that U.S. air strikes targeted al-Nusra generated resentment among the general body of Syrian resistance fighters. At the same time, predictably, the damage inflicted by U.S. strikes on Islamic State command and control systems advantaged its rivals, both Ahrar al-Sham and al-Nusra. The offensive against the Islamic State was also a boon to the regime and its allies. After Russia intervened in the fall of 2015, shifting patterns of military escalation and negotiation offers split the resistance and further divided Ahrar al-Sham from al-Nusra, which was excluded from the political process initiated late in 2016 with a ceasefire offer guaranteed by Russia and Turkey.[63] The United States did not participate directly in these initiatives, which were led by Russia, Iran, the Assad regime, and Turkey, but it supported a negotiated solution to the conflict, preferably through U.N. sponsorship. For al-Nusra, its battlefield strength was no longer the strongest card on the table if negotiations and politics replaced fighting.[64] Organizational twists and turns followed. In July 2016, al-Nusra claimed to have repudiated its affiliation with al-Qaeda and renamed itself the Front for the Conquest of the Levant. In January 2017, it rebranded itself again as the Liberation of the Levant organization (Hayat Tahrir al-Sham), proclaimed as an entirely new entity constituted by the merger of smaller groups and breakaway factions with the dominant al-Nusra. Soon it was engaged in a public dispute with al-Qaeda over the break, as Zawahiri criticized the former al-Nusra’s assumption that separating from al-Qaeda would reduce American pressure. Indeed, the United States continued to define the new rebranded Hayat Tahrir al-Sham as an al-Nusra alias and thus still a branch of al-Qaeda, although experts are divided as to whether the split is phony or genuine.[65] It is hard to escape the conclusion that American decision-makers failed to understand why al-Nusra was valuable to the non-jihadist resistance, how the group’s leaders might be ambivalent about the affiliation with al-Qaeda, or when tactical alliances could be sustained across ideological lines. At the same time, the Islamic State was steadily disintegrating under military assault in Iraq and Syria. By the fall of 2017 it had lost almost all the territory it once held, although it was still capable of mounting terrorist attacks within Syria, controlling a small pocket of territory, and maintaining an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 fighters in Syria and Iraq as well as external branches, such as those in North Africa, Egypt, and Afghanistan. An unknown number of the many foreign fighters recruited to ISIL also relocated outside Syria and Iraq. The decline of the Islamic State advantaged other Islamists such as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham/al-Nusra (now concentrated in Idlib province, the last holdout of the armed opposition to Assad) and Ahrar al-Sham (now part of a Turkish-organized coalition of resistance groups). The erosion of the Islamic State also served the interests of the Syrian regime and its Iranian and Russian supporters, and by early 2018 the United States had admitted that the government and its allies were winning. The Frustrations of Counterterrorism in North Africa and the Sahel Counterterrorism in Africa has proved frustrating for the United States as well as others concerned with regional stability, not only because of difficulties in dealing with partner governments but also because of the complexity and volatility of the jihadist universe. In August 2018, the U.S. military announced plans to draw down its forces in Africa, where special operations forces have been deployed to aid local governments in combatting jihadist terrorists and insurgents in order to prevent their becoming a direct threat to U.S security. According to The New York Times, roughly 1,200 U.S. special operations troops are on missions in Africa, out of 7,300 worldwide.[66] The initiative began at much lower levels when a Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership led by Washington was first established in 2005. The policy change followed the decision to focus on threats from states, rather than non-state terrorists. In announcing a new national security strategy in January 2018, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis explained “We will continue to prosecute the campaign against terrorists, but great-power competition — not terrorism — is now the primary focus of U.S. national security.”[67]  The shift also came in the wake of a deadly attack by the Islamic State of the Greater Sahara on American forces in Niger in the fall of 2017. The history of jihadism in North Africa began well before 9/11. A network of Islamist and jihadist groups evolved from thwarted democratic participation and subsequent civil war in Algeria in the 1990s to cross-border expansion into the Sahel region, particularly into Mali.[68] The center is al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, which is loyal to al-Qaeda central. The much smaller Islamic State unit developed from a splinter of AQIM. Like al-Nusra in Syria, AQIM has rebranded itself as a more inclusive organization. Indeed, both groups appear to be trying to absorb themselves into larger more heterogeneous entities that are more acceptable to local populations. It is hard to know whether these structural adaptations are opportunistic attempts to disguise and conceal intentions and evade retaliation or whether they represent genuine ideological moderation and accommodation to circumstances. AQIM started as a local Algerian rebel organization, although it was tied to global jihadism through the participation of returned Afghan war veterans. Its primary aim was to overthrow the Algerian government.[69] In 2006, it formally signed on as an al-Qaeda franchise, owing in part to its defeat by the Algerian state through a combination of repression and “national reconciliation” initiatives. In addition, the 2003 American invasion of Iraq had inspired a new generation of volunteers for the jihadist cause. By 2011 a powerful AQIM faction in the south of Algeria, its aspirations blocked at home but enriched by lucrative smuggling and kidnapping operations, moved across the border into Mali and formed alliances with dissatisfied local separatists in the north.[70] It remains unclear as to whether the southern faction broke off from the parent organization or acted as a recalcitrant subordinate, especially since the two later reunited. The shift to Mali was aided by the spillover of the Libyan civil war, which erupted following the 2011 overthrow of Qaddafi by NATO forces. State collapse and disorder provided an abundance of weaponry and fighters and offered the prospect of safe haven. The weakness of the Malian state also facilitated the displacement.  The situation became so dire that in January 2013, France intervened at Mali’s request. A U.N. peacekeeping mission was also deployed.[71] Once its authority was more or less re-established, Mali entered into peace negotiations with the non-jihadist separatist groups. These twin military and political pressures stimulated complex organizational realignments in the jihadist network.[72] The renegade southern faction that led the incursion into Mali rejoined AQIM in 2015. The move probably reflected vulnerability to both American and French air strikes as well as disappointment over the fact that Al Qaeda central had not awarded the official recognition that the southern branch had sought. The reunification was also a response to the conclusion of a peace agreement in Mali that excluded jihadists.[73] Moreover, jihadists could maintain fighting capacity by retreating into the chaos of Libya. The organizational reintegration process was marked by a series of terrorist attacks on restaurants, hotels, and beaches frequented by foreigners and tourists. Targets were located in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Ivory Coast. Tellingly, an attack on the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako in November 2015 was timed to coincide with the meeting of the official committee responsible for implementing the peace accord from which jihadists were excluded. AQIM was now definitively a pan-Sahel problem, and in February 2016 the five Sahel countries formed a regional force to combat terrorism (Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, and Mauritania).[74] Further jihadist reorganization followed. In March 2017, a video announced the establishment of a supposedly new organization with an anodyne name, the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (acronym JNIM). It was supposedly led not by AQIM, the major player, but by the former leader of the Ansar Dine group, an AQIM ally composed largely of Tuareg separatists from Mali. Al-Qaeda officially approved the new cooperative venture. In September 2018 JNIM became the latest addition to the American FTO roster.[75] Its immediate predecessor, designated in May, was the rival Islamic State in the Greater Sahara. The Saharan Islamic State branch had split from AQIM in spring 2015. The main Islamic State organization had already established a major base in Libya, attracting the defection of senior leaders from local Al Qaeda linked groups. After a protracted struggle, the Government of National Accord significantly assisted by United States air support drove the Islamic State out of its stronghold in Sirte in late 2016. The expulsion reduced the Islamic State presence in Libya but in turn may have allowed more space for AQIM. In March 2018, the first U.S. attack on Al Qaeda targets in Libya killed yet another high-ranking commander, while drone strikes continued to target the Islamic State.[76] Conclusion The convoluted inter-organizational dynamics that help perpetuate jihadist militancy are likely to persist, even as the United States withdraws from its foreign commitments. The question is the extent to which this possibly diluted but still potent form of jihadism threatens American and international security. Certainly, al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and their friends and affiliates are a source of serious instability in states lacking both a robust security apparatus and political legitimacy. It is not outside the realm of possibility that jihadist groups could prevail in present or future civil wars. This threat would likely spark outside military intervention, yet again. The jihadists’ capacity for directing complex mass-casualty terrorist attacks outside their base areas (as opposed to inspiring sporadic amateur “homegrown” terrorism) has not recently been demonstrated, but it could be revived if groups possess secure bases and are persuaded by the old al-Qaeda argument that the far enemy is the obstacle to the defense of Muslims worldwide. Martha Crenshaw is a Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University.  She is the co-author of Countering Terrorism (Brookings, 2017).   

4. With Us and Against Us: Understanding the Mixed Record of U.S. Partners on Counter-Terrorism Cooperation Since 9/11

By Stephen Tankel Nine days after the 9/11 attacks, the anniversary of which we mark today, President George W. Bush gave an address in front of the U.S. Congress. He declared, “This is the world’s fight. This is civilization’s fight. This is the fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom. We ask every nation to join us.”[77] It was a clarion call for cooperation, but one that also came with an explicit threat. In the same address, Bush famously drew a line in the sand, saying, “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” No government, other than the Taliban-led regime in Afghanistan, seriously entertained siding with al-Qaeda. Yet aligning with America in the “War on Terror” often has not translated to unity of action and purpose, or even effective cooperation. Most partner nations, especially in regions where the terrorists who threaten America are most concentrated, both help and hinder U.S. counter-terrorism efforts. Put another way, they are both with and against the United States. Yet, working with these countries is, for the most part, unavoidable. As the 9/11 Commission Report observed, “Practically every aspect of U.S. counterterrorism strategy relies on international cooperation.”[78] As inter-state competition displaces terrorism as the primary U.S. national security priority, getting more out of partner nations will be critical if the United States is going to do more with less when it comes to counter-terrorism. A core challenge for the United States is to consolidate cooperation where it is good, mitigate risks where it is bad, and get the most out of the space in between. This will require U.S. policymakers and practitioners to devote the same amount of attention and resources to understanding America’s partners as they do to understanding America’s enemies. In my most recent book, With Us and Against Us: How America’s Partners Help and Hinder the War on Terror, I analyze the factors that shape counter-terrorism cooperation between the United States and partner nations in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa.[79] Combatting al-Qaeda, the Islamic State (ISIL), and affiliated and associated terrorist groups has required the United States to adapt longstanding relationships with some countries in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa — and to forge new ones with others. If one considers the totality of U.S. counter-terrorism objectives writ large since 9/11, America has been asking for more over the past 17 years than it did before. The United States has also been seeking more from the countries in the aforementioned regions than ever before. In many cases, the United States is seeking cooperation against terrorists who operate on its partner nations’ territory. When it comes to these partnerships, the dynamics of traditional state-to-state alliances interact with the relations that exist between the partner nation and the terrorist group in question. Alliance dynamics include the nature of the U.S. bilateral relationship with the partner in question, and the instruments of statecraft it can bring to bear. State-to-terrorist relations, on the other hand, are a function of both how a state perceives the nature of a given terrorist threat and qualifies it relative to other threats, and how useful it believes the terrorist group to be. The interplay of these two relationships helps to determine the level and type of counter-terrorism cooperation that exists between the United States and a partner nation in four different areas: partner-led counter-terrorism operations that target terrorists or curtail illegal activities that support them; tactical cooperation, which includes the provision of access, intelligence cooperation, and coordination on detainees; regional cooperation, such as through coalitions or diplomatic initiatives; and “countering violent extremism” programs designed to address radicalization and recruitment.  Managing Expectations Because the United States cannot deploy combat troops to every country where terrorists operate, it works by, with, and through partner nations to take the fight to the enemy. Various factors influence whether a partner will expend effort and resources on a counter-terrorism campaign, including its capacity, strategic culture, and the popularity of the terrorists’ cause. A partner’s relationship with a terrorist group or infrastructure is the most critical factor. Where the United States and its partner share the same threat perceptions and both treat a terrorist group as a belligerent, strong bilateral relations and the provision of security assistance can augment and improve the partner’s counter-terrorism operations. However, the United States has often been unable to keep its partners from adopting repressive counter-terrorism approaches that violate the rule of law and fuel terrorist recruitment. In cases where a partner views a terrorist group as useful and nonthreatening, America’s use of incentives or coercion can sometimes move the needle when it comes to these types of counter-terrorism operations. However, such tactics cannot entirely overcome the dynamics related to terrorist-state relations. And while it may seem like a stretch to use the term “partner” when talking about a state that has positive relations with a terrorist group, Pakistan and Yemen did become critical counter-terrorism partners following the 9/11 attacks. The reasons why a partner does or does not conduct robust counter-terrorism operations targeting terrorist groups or infrastructure matter — or at least they should — when it comes to how the United States uses its instruments of statecraft. If resource shortages are a genuine problem for a state that is sincerely committed to conducting counter-terrorism operations, then capacity building might help it become a more effective partner. Conversely, if a state does not consider a terrorist group to be a threat, then pouring in aid is unlikely to make any difference unless its threat perception changes. This is even truer for states that consider a terrorist group to be useful in some way. Traditional alliance dynamics and instruments of statecraft — such as foreign assistance — are most useful for optimizing counter-terrorism cooperation when it comes to access for basing, troop presence, supply lines, over-flight, and drone strikes. These dynamics are also important for intelligence cooperation and coordination on detainees. Notably, these elements, which fall under the umbrella of tactical cooperation, are the most widespread. The United States cooperates on intelligence, coordinates on detainees, and seeks access from allies and partner nations around the world, regardless of whether terrorists operate on or near their territory. Critically, the absence of shared threat perceptions does not preclude tactical cooperation. States may provide access or limited intelligence cooperation even in cases where their position toward a terrorist group or infrastructure makes domestic counter-terrorism efforts unlikely. Sometimes, pre-existing agreements regarding access or longstanding relationships between intelligence agencies help to facilitate ongoing cooperation. Providing access or intelligence cooperation also enables a partner to service its relationship with the United States (and perhaps keep assistance flowing) without acting against its core interests by conducting counter-terrorism operations, committing to regional efforts, or undertaking painful domestic reforms that it does not wish to pursue. Indeed, American officials are often reluctant to press partners in these areas lest they jeopardize access or intelligence cooperation. Of course, stating that traditional alliance dynamics and instruments of statecraft are most useful for optimizing tactical cooperation does not mean that threat perceptions are moot. They still matter, more in some cases than others. If the United States and another country share common threat perceptions, this can enhance these aspects of tactical cooperation. Indeed, some cooperation is even possible in cases where alliance dynamics are weak or nonexistent. For example, the United States cooperated with Syria after 9/11 on rendition and limited intelligence sharing. Conversely, sharing a belligerent position toward a terrorist group does not guarantee tactical cooperation. Algeria and the United States both prioritized counter-terrorism after 9/11, but the Algerian government was unwilling to provide access in large part because of its history of anti-colonialism. Similarly, for years after 9/11, Algerian intelligence officers treated their American colleagues more as counterintelligence threats than counter-terrorism partners. Since 9/11, accomplishing U.S. counter-terrorism objectives has increasingly necessitated contributions from allies and partners to regional counter-terrorism missions, military coalitions, stabilization of conflict zones, and diplomatic initiatives to settle conflicts that enable terrorists to operate freely. A country’s relationship with the United States can be a major determinant of whether and how it cooperates on regional issues. However, whether or not participants deliver often depends heavily on their threat perceptions and capabilities. States may “free ride” in cases where they perceive a threat but believe they can sit back and allow the United States or other countries to do the heavy lifting. Partner nations also sometimes calibrate contributions to a regional initiative based on whether or not they believe robust participation will help or hinder their ability to compete with a regional rival. Take, for example, the anti-ISIL coalition: Many of the key regional players were more invested in toppling the Syrian regime or pursuing other agendas than they were in taking down the jihadist group. As ISIL has lost territory, competition among regional actors has fueled struggles over liberated areas and complicated attempts to build on military gains. One of the many lessons the United States has learned since 9/11 is that it cannot kill its way out of the terrorism problem. Thus, it has attempted, often unsuccessfully, to counter radicalization and jihadist recruitment in countries with large Muslim populations. These efforts fall under the umbrella of countering violent extremism (CVE). Some U.S. officials and counter-terrorism experts have argued for narrowing the scope of CVE initiatives to directly focus on keeping people at risk of executing or supporting terrorist violence from doing so. Others insist on the need for a more wide-ranging approach that includes CVE-relevant activities to address myriad societal risk factors, including poor governance, corruption, inadequate rule of law, economic underperformance, and underinvestment in education and infrastructure. Experts and scholars are beginning to make progress in terms of how to assess, monitor, and evaluate CVE programs. Yet measuring a partner nation’s cooperation on CVE has been and remains difficult for multiple reasons. To begin with, there is no standard set of methods for measurement. And, while data from the United States is hard to find, it is even harder to find data from foreign governments. Then there is the persistent disagreement over which factors contribute to radicalization or recruitment. Finally, it remains challenging to demonstrate conclusively why something — in this case an individual becoming radicalized or joining a terrorist group — does not occur. Nevertheless, it is possible to make two observations. First, partner nations, at least ones in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia, appear more willing to implement direct or CVE-specific initiatives than they are to embrace indirect or CVE-relevant reforms related to governance, rule of law, or other structural factors. Second, governments in these regions that implement CVE-specific programs often undercut their value by actively restricting space for civil society organizations, which most experts contend should play a crucial role in countering radicalization and recruitment. These governments increasingly are adopting overly broad definitions of terrorism and violent extremism in order to repress these organizations. Know Your Enemies and Your Partners America already had plenty of counter-terrorism instruments at its disposal on 9/11. In the past 17 years, it has expanded its toolkit substantially. The United States has improved its existing capabilities, especially in the areas of intelligence and surveillance, and unleashed new ones, such as the use of drones to launch missile strikes. Yet, despite these advances, counter-terrorism efforts cannot be conducted unilaterally if they are to be both successful and sustainable. This has always been true, and takes on added importance as the United States transitions from prioritizing counter-terrorism to concentrating on great-power competition. Most partners simultaneously help and hinder the U.S. pursuit of its counter-terrorism objectives. Getting the most out of cooperation with other countries, knowing when to shrink or sever partnerships, and recognizing countries worthy of greater investment necessitates that policymakers have realistic expectations about what U.S. partners can or are willing to offer. It is critical to understand the security paradigm that drives a partner’s decision-making, how relations with the terrorist groups that are the target of cooperation fit into that paradigm, and how U.S. policies influence the political and security challenges that a given partner faces. Stephen Tankel is an associate professor at American University, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a senior editor at War on the Rocks, and the author of With Us and Against Us: How America’s Partners Help and Hinder the War on Terror.  

5. What Progress Has America Made after 17 Years of Global Counter-Terrorism Efforts?

By Michael P. Dempsey As we approach the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, it’s an opportune moment to stand back and assess both the progress America has achieved in its counter-terrorism fight and the critical work that remains to be done. In examining the campaign’s progress, I believe that it’s worthwhile to look across several broad mission categories to determine whether America is proceeding along a path that will significantly reduce the terrorist threat, or whether it might be time to adjust key elements of the current approach. Protecting the Homeland As a starting point, in the years since 9/11 there has thankfully been no repetition of a centrally directed, large-scale terrorist attack inside the United States, which is a great accomplishment in and of itself, and a credit to the exceptional work of America’s military, intelligence, and law enforcement services. To be sure, the homeland threat has not been entirely eliminated. In the past 17 years, more than 400 Americans and others living inside the United States have been charged with participating in terrorism-related activities, and more than 100 Americans have been killed in various attacks.[80] However, the success in forestalling a second major externally directed attack within the homeland is, in my view, a major achievement. In the nearly two decades since 9/11, America’s homeland defense capabilities have improved by an order of magnitude. Much of this progress is attributable to an increased focus by government agencies on the terrorism threat, as well as a cultural shift within a few key agencies, especially the FBI,[81] to emphasize attack prevention rather than prosecution after the fact.[82] There also has been an exponential increase in collaboration between federal law enforcement, intelligence agencies, and their local partners, especially in sharing new identification and collection technologies, travel information, and threat reporting. So, although there is still critical work to do, especially in trying to prevent lone wolf, jihadist-inspired attacks and in balancing the government’s need to collect potentially sensitive information with the privacy rights of every American citizen, it’s clear that the multi-year effort to harden the homeland from major terrorist attacks has made significant progress. Seizing the Battlefield Initiative Only a few years ago, al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate held considerable territory in northwestern Syria,[83] and the group’s affiliates in both Yemen and Somalia held large swaths of terrain in both countries. The Islamic State, meanwhile, was on the march in Syria and then Iraq, capturing Mosul, threatening Erbil, and even triggering concerns in the West about an eventual assault on Baghdad.[84] That situation has, thankfully, been largely reversed, and the American military, along with its coalition partners, has dealt a series of major battlefield blows to both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. In the fight against al-Qaeda, for example, the United States has succeeded in eliminating several key leaders, including Osama bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki, Abu Yaha al-Libi (its second in command), and reportedly last month, Ibrahim al-Asiri, the group’s infamous chief bomb maker. Asiri’s removal is especially significant because of his unique technical skills and creativity, and his central involvement in operations ranging from the attempted “underwear bombing” aboard an airliner flying from Amsterdam to Detroit in 2009, to his reported efforts to devise increasingly complex bombs and embed them inside electronic equipment capable of defeating airline detection systems.[85] U.S. and coalition efforts to contain and roll back al-Qaeda’s franchises and allies have also made significant gains. In Somalia, for example, al-Shabab has suffered several setbacks, including losing the important port cities of Kismayo and Baware to the combined military operations of African Union and Somali security forces, backed by U.S. airstrikes.[86] Illustrative of America’s heavy engagement in Somalia, the U.S. military has already reportedly conducted nearly two dozen airstrikes against Al Shabab in 2018, which is on pace to meet or exceed last year’s total.[87] Moreover, in Yemen, al-Qaeda now controls only about half of the territory it controlled at its peak in 2015. In April 2016, the group lost the important port city of Mukalla to Yemeni government forces assisted by troops from the United Arab Emirates.[88] Meanwhile, in the fight against the self-professed Islamic State, the United States and its allies have made great strides across a broad front. In Iraq and Syria, the U.S-led coalition has virtually eliminated the Islamic State’s physical caliphate, dramatically reduced its financial resources, and killed thousands of the group’s fighters, as well as many of its key leaders. The coalition has also reduced to a trickle the flow of foreign fighters entering the Islamic State’s ranks in Iraq and Syria and, with the seizure of Mosul and Raqqa, significantly curtailed the group’s social media outreach.[89] At the same time, the United States and its allies have inflicted considerable pain on the Islamic State’s overseas affiliates, particularly its branches in Afghanistan (where the affiliate’s senior leader was killed last month),[90] Libya, Mali, and Yemen. Restricting the Terrorists’ Ability to Adapt and Regroup Even as America and its allies have seized the battlefield momentum, there are worrisome signs that al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are rebuilding, shifting tactics, and potentially preparing for a resurgence. Although al-Qaeda has suffered military setbacks, lost territory, and maintained a lower profile in recent years, terrorism experts note that the group is rebuilding quietly and is methodically bolstering its various branches. These experts note that al-Qaeda has deliberately avoided staging high profile attacks in the West so that the Islamic State would receive most of America’s military attention, allowing al-Qaeda to operate below the radar, especially in Syria, while fortifying its strength. Indeed, the latest estimates are that al-Qaeda still maintains an expansive global network of affiliates, and has managed to secure the loyalty of well over 10,000 followers in Syria alone (with most concentrated in Idlib Province, which is now under siege by Russian and Syrian state forces). The group reportedly also retains several thousand supporters in both Yemen and Somalia. And while my experience suggests that personnel estimates for groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are notoriously unreliable, the broad trends do highlight a worrisome fact — that even in the face of crippling setbacks, these groups are still able to attract and retain followers.[91] As for the Islamic State, while it no longer controls significant territory in Iraq and Syria, it maintains a small presence in the Middle Euphrates River Valley in Syria, and is slowly expanding its presence in Diyala, Salah ad-Din, and Kirkuk in Iraq.[92] Meanwhile in Libya, the Islamic State has lost control of Sirte and oil rich areas of the country, but in recent months has established cells around Tripoli and has carved out a significant presence in southern Libya. The Islamic State has also been more active operationally in recent months, launching a series of attacks across the globe that have killed hundreds and wounded many hundreds more. These attacks have occurred in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, the Sinai, and in Syria. It’s also noteworthy that even after the fall of the caliphate, not one Islamic State branch has renounced their pledge of fealty to the group.[93] Somewhat surprisingly, the United Nations reports that many of the foreign fighters that flocked to the Islamic State’s banners in Iraq and Syria in recent years have largely remained there even after the caliphate’s fall, with recent data suggesting a lower than anticipated return of foreign fighters to their countries of origin.[94] This lack of movement has, on the one hand, provided the Islamic State with residual strength in Iraq and Syria. On the other hand, a potential flood of battle-hardened Islamic State fighters returning to Western Europe and North America has been a key worry of Western intelligence services for most of the past decade, so this latest information that they are staying put is actually welcome news. It’s also evident that the Islamic State has altered its tactical approach over the past several months, avoiding direct, set-piece engagements with U.S. and allied forces, and instead resorting to isolated suicide attacks and hit-and-run operations. This allows the group to avoid casualties while also remaining militarily relevant.[95] On balance, then, it’s fair to say that while the United States has clearly regained the battlefield initiative from both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, these groups remain wily, adaptive, and lethal, and neither shows any interest in ceding the field anytime soon. Draining the Swamp The question of whether America is removing terrorists from the battlefield faster than they are being replaced has formed the backdrop to every counter-terrorism policy discussion since 9/11, and remains just as relevant today as it was 17 years ago. Unfortunately, there are reasons to worry about current trends. First, the underlying conditions that have fueled the appeal of extremism for the past few decades — fear within vulnerable Sunni communities about the rise of Shia political power, the accompanying proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the collapse of local governing authority in countries from Afghanistan to Yemen, a lack of political space for young people and an accompanying rise in authoritarianism in key countries such as Egypt, and chronically high youth unemployment rates (approaching 30 percent) throughout the Middle East[96] — show no signs of improvement. In fact, in most instances, the trends are decidedly negative. These conditions are the kindling that will keep the extremist fire burning indefinitely. A corollary challenge emanating from this chaos is a growing population-displacement and refugee crisis, which is severely straining governments from Turkey to Jordan, and which may over time increase the appeal of the extremists’ message to segments of the displaced population that remain outside of a formal education process and have no viable employment opportunities. The West’s response to this humanitarian crisis has thus far been largely disjointed and ineffective. Reports about the lack of progress in rebuilding devastated Sunni communities in both Syria and Iraq are especially worrisome,[97] as a key element of the extremist recruiting pitch for years has been that they could offer better basic social services than the central government, and that only they could defend vulnerable Sunni communities. In my view, therefore, any effective long-term campaign to drain the swamp of potential al-Qaeda and Islamic State recruits will have to include programs to improve the quality of life and sense of security for communities devastated by the last several years of fighting. At the moment, that type of tailored assistance seems unlikely. Avoiding Unforced Errors Regardless of where one lands in the debate over whether the United States should have invaded Iraq in 2003, there is no doubt that the invasion gave rise to al-Qaeda in Iraq the following year and lit a match to a combustible region. Similarly, while there were many legitimate reasons to draw down U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011, there is also little doubt that the reduced U.S. footprint facilitated the sudden rise of the Islamic State, fueled of course by the onset of the so-called Arab Spring, the start of the Syrian civil war next door, and the unexpected collapse of the Iraqi military only three years later. And while there was certainly a case to be made for removing Libyan President Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, several of the follow-on effects were quite severe, including the creation of a safe haven for the Islamic State along the coast, and the spillover of the Libyan conflict into sub-Saharan Africa. Thankfully, there have been noticeably fewer foreign policy actions over the past few years that have inadvertently complicated our counter-terrorism campaign on this scale, though there are some issues today that if not handled wisely could fall into the category of major unforced errors. For example, Western policymakers need to be extremely careful in their public rhetoric and actions to avoid creating the perception that the West’s fight against Islamic terrorists is actually a war against all Muslims. Also, Western leaders need to think through the full range of issues involved in determining the final disposition of foreign fighters held in captivity. Some key allies, for example, are likely to be pressured by their political leaders to halt counter-terrorism cooperation with the United States if, as has been reported in the press, the White House decides to send a small number of foreign fighters currently held in Syria to Guantanamo. There is also a growing risk of serious long-term reputational damage to America from its association with the type of incident that occurred last month in Yemen, where, as was widely reported, a busload of Yemeni children were killed by a Saudi-led coalition airstrike.[98] America’s military support to the Saudi campaign in Yemen, which is mainly limited to aerial refueling and targeting training, is nonetheless widely criticized in the Middle East — as well as by prominent international observers — for exacerbating the country’s humanitarian nightmare. According to the United Nations, nearly 9 million Yemenis are now on the brink of starvation in what it describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.[99] Therefore, America’s continuing link to the Saudi-led bombing campaign, whether fair or unfair, risks undercutting critical efforts to win hearts and minds in the global fight against extremism, and it would, in my view, behoove U.S. policymakers to redouble their efforts to help end this conflict. A final potential unforced error is the grinding conflict in Afghanistan, which continues to require the commitment of more than 10,000 American troops at a cost of more than $40 billion annually. In many ways, the conflict in Afghanistan is no longer central to the global counter-terrorism struggle, as al-Qaeda’s primary focus is in Syria and with its non-South Asian affiliates, and the Islamic State has at most a few thousand fighters in Afghanistan, located mainly in Nangarhar Province near the border with Pakistan. It’s also evident that the Taliban and the Islamic State hate each other, and press reports suggest that more Islamic State fighters have been killed by the Taliban than by Afghan security forces. The idea, therefore, of the Taliban taking over Kabul and allowing the Islamic State to establish a safe haven or al-Qaeda shifting the bulk of its fighters from Syria back to Afghanistan, seems highly unlikely. The remaining terrorists in Afghanistan are still a patchwork of groups focused primarily on local and regional grievances, thus far with no demonstrated ability or intent to operate internationally.[100] So, while there are many legitimate non-terrorism related reasons to maintain a U.S. military footprint in Afghanistan, U.S. policymakers will need to carefully consider in the coming months whether the long-term terrorist threat there still merits the current commitment of U.S. troops and intelligence resources, or whether the U.S. would be better off redeploying some of these precious resources elsewhere. Laying the Groundwork for Long-Term Success? Along these lines, a final metric to examine is whether the current strategy for countering terrorism is sustainable over the long haul. While there is little doubt that that the United States military, law enforcement, and intelligence services are capable of carrying on this fight for the next few years, there are a few worrisome signs to consider. The cost of this fight is, by any measure, staggering. According to a recent report by the Stimson Center, the United States since 9/11 has on average spent approximately $186 billion per year on counter-terrorism funding (and nearly $3 trillion total) since 2002, an amount equal to about 15 percent of the government’s total discretionary spending.[101] That level of spending may become harder to sustain in the future given America’s growing national debt, and highlights an urgent need to increase efficiencies, avoid unnecessary mission duplication, and enhance burden sharing with our allies in this fight. It also brings to mind a warning from physicist Ernest Rutherford who once wryly remarked that, “We haven’t got the money, so we’ll have to think.” Meanwhile, the tremendous monetary commitment does not capture the total cost of this conflict. In particular, it does not take into account the enormous time and attention U.S. policymakers have had to devote to this issue over several years, and the myriad ways it has shaped America’s relationships with countries across the globe. In fact, as critics have noted, it’s fair to question whether the current counter-terrorism emphasis not only influences U.S. foreign policy, but distorts it and subordinates in its pursuit other critical U.S. interests such as democracy and human rights promotion.[102] While America can certainly bear the cost of the global counter-terrorism campaign at the moment, U.S. policymakers would be wise to constantly question whether there are options for driving down costs, increasing efficiencies, and bolstering its coalition’s contribution to this fight — particularly at a time when military competition with peer states such as China and Russia is on the rise. Lessons Learned America’s counter-terrorism campaign has come a long way from the frantic and frightening days immediately after 9/11. And while there is considerable work left to do and some key adjustments to be made, we have certainly learned important lessons that that will help U.S. policymakers to formulate a more tailored and effective counter-terrorism strategy going forward. We have learned, for example, about the enduring lethality and resiliency of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, and the urgent requirement to deny them secure territory in which they can train fighters, plan attacks, raise revenue, and expand their online messaging efforts. We have learned about the enormous benefit of working closely with allies, especially from majority Muslim countries such as Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, who have deep expertise about the extremist threat and considerable ground truth to share. We have learned about the utility of empowering partners to spearhead offensive operations with U.S. military and intelligence backing. In this vein, it is critical going forward to maintain close relations with partners such as the Iraqi Special Forces and the Syrian Democratic Forces, allies that have borne the brunt of fighting and are essential to our effort to keep pressure on al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria. We have also learned about the need for a more proactive counter-radicalization strategy, especially online, that focuses primarily on the timeframe before an individual embraces the jihadists’ message and becomes committed to the terrorist cause. And we have learned about the need to formulate a cost-effective, integrated counter-terrorism strategy that begins to address the underlying causes of radicalization, especially in the Middle East, and which carefully balances the terrorism threat with other U.S. security priorities. Fully implementing these hard-earned lessons will not be easy, but will be critical to our eventual success. In the end, the past 17 years of America’s global counter-terrorism campaign have taught us that only with a creative, inclusive, flexible, and sustained approach will we be able to effectively tackle this challenge, and provide a more secure future for all Americans. Michael P. Dempsey is the national intelligence fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a fellowship sponsored by the U.S. government. He is the former acting director of national intelligence. All opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.  

6. Retrospect and Prospect: On Endless War

By David A. Brown, Tim Hoyt, and Craig Whiteside There is great benefit in thinking about your own country’s struggles while listening to someone else’s, particularly at a conference inspired by the attacks on 9/11 and conducted annually since. At the annual International Counterterrorism conference held this past week at the IDC-Herzilya,[103] we attended a panel titled, “Israel and Gaza: Hudna or Victory?” Hudna is an Arabic word meaning “cease fire,” but the Israelis at this conference understood it more as a “time-out.”[104] The panel consisted of Israeli security officials and politicians debating whether it was a good idea to negotiate with their opponents in order to stop recent border clashes and the periodic rocket, mortar, and flaming kite attacks directed at civilian targets in Israel. Member of Knesset Ksenia Svetlova, from the Israeli center-left Zionist Union party,[105] pithily summed up her perception of the government overtures in this way: “This is not an Israeli victory but a victory for radical Islam: Radical Islam - One, World - Zero.”[106] The body language of the former military official on the panel, whose experience in Gaza led him to argue for the benefits of hudna, made it obvious that the politician’s sound bite had found a tender spot. After all, who wants to be associated with an effort seen by some to appease terrorists, especially from the left side of the political spectrum? In a related observation, the outgoing U.S. commander of Afghanistan recently remarked that “it’s time for this war to end.”[107] This might be interpreted in many ways, but it is difficult not to think that it reflects the universal angst over the failure of the United States and its partners to achieve conflict termination in the larger war against jihadist militants. The conference forced the three of us — faculty of the U.S. Naval War College — to borrow from naval theorist Mahan and ask questions of retrospection and prospection:[108] How do we assess the evolution of our thinking and practice of counterterrorism since 9/11? What do those influences look like today in execution? How will the conflict be evaluated in ten years time? Retrospect Following the 9/11 attacks, successive U.S. administrations have promulgated three consistent objectives: First, to prevent additional mass casualty attacks on our homeland. Second, to find and punish those responsible. And third, to shatter the larger transnational terrorist movement’s capability and capacity to be a future threat. These reasonable objectives contrast with some of the associated rhetoric surrounding the "war on terror," often obscuring these objectives and seeking more expansive ones including eliminating terrorism writ large, eliminating “state-sponsored” terrorism, democratizing large parts of the Islamic world, and the attainment of perfect security for Americans at home and abroad. Ignoring the political rhetoric for the time being, and any corrosive effects it might have on clarity of purpose, we offer an objective evaluation of how the U.S. fared in achieving these three aims. To stop another mass casualty terrorist attack, the United States has reorganized its internal security institutions and upgraded law enforcement and both domestic and international intelligence capabilities.  While these severely complicate jihadist efforts to carry out mass casualty attacks on the United States, there are economic and social costs for this increased surveillance and government infringements on liberty.  In the pursuit of this quest, our political leaders have committed significant errors, such as invading Iraq, ostensibly to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to jihadist groups. Yet in a narrow but important sense, this concerted effort to prevent a large attack has been impressive and successful with a small residual risk. The hunt for the perpetrators, off to a good start in 2002, took longer than expected but largely achieved the objective in the end when Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011. However, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who leads al-Qaeda, remains at large. Jihadist replacement of leaders with effective replacements, and the rise of the scion of Bin Laden have undercut perceptions of this success.[109] Furthermore, the use of torture to obtain information about terror attacks and the location of leaders has undermined future efforts. The United States and its partners have not only failed to cripple the global jihadist movement, the problem is orders of magnitude worse since 9/11. Although America’s counter-terrorism campaign has restricted jihadist capability to conduct major attacks in the United States, the same cannot be said for Europe, where large terrorist attacks by Islamic State operatives have killed scores of people and injured hundreds. The split between al-Qaeda and Islamic State in 2013 has complicated the picture for intelligence collection, forcing analysts to look in too many directions. Leaders from both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State still exert control over their respective franchises, although in a degraded manner. The networks and affiliates are disaggregated, often focused on local sovereignty designs, and while nominally dedicated to global jihad are practically focused on influencing local Muslim populations.[110] Worryingly, this metastasizing jihadist movement is proving to be an adaptive enemy, operating in a globalized age that has dispersed impressive and cheap technological means to help them in their fight against states. Our evaluation of the attainment of these objectives fall in descending order, from mostly achieved for the first two to an insufficient grade for the last. Both the failure to manage the growth of the global jihadist movement, and the realization that even the destruction of the caliphate has not ended the campaign, inspires the frustration of politicians, practitioners, scholars, journalists, and voters. Worse, the passing scores on the first two objectives are only interim evaluations, not final ones. They require unending maintenance and attention. The resulting disillusionment, compounded by unforced errors that have made the conflict more expansive and expensive, is a serious issue that will continue to have profound consequences if unaddressed by our country’s leaders. To understand the source of this frustration, we present a metaphor to understand the challenges of combatting terrorism. Like analogies, there are many metaphors, and none are perfect, but this one is ours. The Problem with Pythons Florida has a bit of a Burmese python problem, as odd as that might seem. In an age of globalization, imported pet pythons somehow escaped into the Everglades, particularly in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in 1992. They have expanded into an estimated population in the tens to hundreds of thousands — not exactly a small margin of error but a reflection of the difficulty in assessing the threat.[111] Described as an apex predator, the python’s breeding habits and voracious diet has been linked to the extinction of marsh hares and the devastation of small mammal populations in the Everglades. The stated goal of the scientists and policymakers tasked with winning “the war” on pythons is to reduce the environmental impact to “a manageable level.”[112] One scientist remarked that while there were other invasive species in Florida, Burmese pythons are “especially unnerving,” and “the idea that this giant snake that doesn’t belong here, is here, just really is in people’s hearts and minds.” All of these phrases should sound familiar for those who study counterinsurgency and terror. Much like the futility of trying to stop the growth of the python population, our failure to reduce the scale of global jihadism is more obvious than ever, with each of the successive “waves” growing larger and larger since the late 1970s.[113] A decade ago, the Islamic State of Iraq had a few thousand members. More recently, the Pentagon was claiming they had killed over 60,000 members.[114] The Islamic State has new franchises all over the world and an end-strength measured in tens of thousands. Like the jihadist problem, the origin of the python problem might be interesting but it is not instructive in creating any solution. Burmese pythons have adapted to their new environment, are almost impossible to find, and while posing little direct threat to humans are in the process of drastically affecting a delicate ecosystem with unknown consequences. Efforts to open up hunting of pythons by politicians are making a laughably small impact on the problem.[115] In essence, these dynamics are very similar to our current effort to reduce terrorism. All analogies and metaphors have their weakness, and this one suffers from a significant one: unlike pythons, terrorists kill people in increasing numbers with worrisome trends.[116] In an age characterized by the rapid transfer of technology, and despite exhortations by some that terrorism is a relatively insignificant problem, the risk of a large-scale terror attack is commensurately increasing.[117] Our past failures are eroding resolve to face up to and try to prevent this future attack, and this is compounded by the looming deficit crisis — some of it fueled by these same costly failures — that will naturally limit our ability to act. The rise of other risks to international cooperation and norms (dare we say an international order) will further complicate and distract from the risk of terrorism.[118] How will we get through the next decade without another massive loss of innocent life? Prospect and the Future of Endless War There are three factors that we think will determine the future trajectory of global efforts to reduce terror acts and associated loss of life and property. The first will center on whether a shared understanding and more realistic appraisal of the nature of the conflict can be attained. This failure is at the root of wasted effort, mistakes, and disillusionment. The second factor will depend on the management of scarce resources to continue prosecuting the war against jihadi actors in an era of multiplying threats. Finally, the outcome will be determined by the ability of policymakers to unify an international coalition to defeat members of the global jihadist movement, which while divided at the moment, still march to the beat of the same drum. War on Terror, or War in Error? The irony about a conference on terror in the 21st century is that you will rarely find the word “war” mentioned. In fact, most conventional definitions — including one long proposed by the conference organizer, Boaz Ganor — specifically exclude attacks on military targets as terrorism.[119] Proponents of this definition desire increased cooperation among international actors and are fearful of delegitimizing what some might call freedom fighters rebelling against brutal oppression. This is the problem in Syria, where critics of groups fighting Assad’s criminal attacks on his own population deliberately elide them with jihadist opportunists, who have quite separate political objectives. As a consequence of this exclusion of attacks on military targets — which often includes police and government workers, even experts get confused about what is terrorism and what is not.[120] Considering that insurgents always use terror in their campaigns to overtake the state, the line is always blurred. [121] The mistake of the Bush administration of terming the struggle as a “War on Terror” produced a distaste for thinking of the struggle as war, which in retrospect it has become — either due to our mistakes or because it was inevitable. Whichever the case, this is now a war, and describing it as such is a much better use of the word than the ubiquitous use of “hybrid war,” “political warfare,” “cyber war,” “economic war,” “the war on drugs,” and so on, when it is doubtful that anything related to war/warfare is happening in any of these constructs. The current effort to defeat the jihadis is a war in almost every sense, fought between military components with sizeable asymmetric power imbalances but nonetheless the power to control territory and populations and inflict violence on one another. It is common to think that the enemy’s strategy is to use terror to achieve their end state. The reality is not this simple. Instead, jihadists use terrorism against civilians and military targets as an integrated strategy of attrition/exhaustion/provocation. We refuse to accept this new reality and continue to misread our jihadi opponents, their objectives, and their relative success in achieving modest success to date. Any focus on the defeat of the caliphate,[122] and not the shocking fact that one was created in the first place by tens of thousands of locals and global migrants,[123] is a good example of this failure to understand. Governments exist in large part to protect its citizens from harm. Failure to do this has large repercussions for politicians. Kori Schake, a member of Bush’s National Security Council, told a panel dissecting the motives behind the Iraq invasion this year that rational arguments against invading Iraq were overcome by a palpable fear of an even larger terrorist attack, one that politicians of both parties in both branches were eager to prevent.[124] Accordingly, they overwhelmingly passed an authorization for the use of military force in 2002.[125] Sixteen years later, we still cannot accept the reality of the war we are fighting, and three administrations have used this law to justify war against Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.[126] We are not executing a series of isolated military strikes with drones, but an extended and significant campaigns with no end in sight. Crocodiles Closer to the Canoe? Governments have to set priorities to protect their citizens, and efficiently allocate resources in order to protect its citizens and secure their welfare. The Trump administration’s new strategy directives reflect a desire to reshape a balance where the prosecution of the war against jihadist groups is sublimated in every sense to the need to counter a China increasingly acting in a “hegemonic” manner — not just regionally but also globally.[127] This move has been applauded for realistically and belatedly addressing the rise China as a geopolitical threat to the United States’ position as unchallenged global leader.  Fears that we are over-invested in the fight against jihadist groups, at the expense of attention to China or Russia, are valid and reasonable concerns addressed in the new National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy. That being said, it could be just as much a mistake to understand China as a threat to the United States, as opposed to a competitor for political and economic influence.[128] While the competition for resources is always a zero-sum game, risk assessment is not. The probability of a Chinese threat to U.S. citizens, in an era of nuclear deterrence, is lower than the probability of a successful terror attack on U.S. soil, even if it would be much deadlier. Even if we were to decide to actively contest Chinese island building in the South China Sea, as well as influence efforts in South Asia and Africa, it is extremely unclear as to what we could actually do to stop what is a natural increase in influence due to their rising economic power. Furthermore, it is possible that China’s obtuse and clumsy efforts to use coercive tactics against South China Sea neighbors and political influence to manipulate internal political considerations in countries like Australia will inspire a natural and increasingly common backlash.[129] The dilemma of dealing with a rising China is an example of the strategic planning concept former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld popularized of “known knowns,” etc.[130] Despite indications of China’s growing power and new willingness to use it, there is little indication yet of how this will affect the current international order — one that has benefited China to a large degree and may continue to do so. This would function as a “known unknown.” In contrast, the jihadist threat is a “known known,” with their intentions telegraphed and their determination to fulfill the establishment of the caliphate proven. Without discounting the importance of a new shared awareness that China could develop into a serious threat to stability and the U.S. position as an indispensible leader of the global community, we cannot fail to deal with the “known known.” Certainly, the lessons of chasing uncertain futures should be familiar enough to give us pause. Coalitions of the Willing, and Able The initial response to the establishment of the caliphate in 2014 was uncertain, dividing those who urged rollback from those who advised containment.[131] Subsequent terrorist attacks around the world inspired a slow shift to rollback as the preferred option, and today the self-proclaimed caliphate is no more. Despite this achievement, there has been only limited commitment to the reconstruction necessary to prevent an Islamic State resurgence.[132] States are still largely focused on perceived threats against their specific country, and retain a parochial attitude in approaching the jihadi groups that might be organizationally divided, but follow the same ideology. This well-articulated doctrine clearly defines the enemy, the strategy, and the acceptable tactics for engagement.[133] Despite significant efforts by the United Nations Counter Terrorism Executive Directorate, this lack of unity of the targets of terrorism will likely increase thanks to a U.S. administration that embraces a go-it-alone approach and disdain for the benefits of international cooperation and unified action.[134] The only thing preventing this to date are the efforts of individual diplomats and administration figures dedicated to reducing the threat of terrorism.[135] An important point that came up in the counterterrorism conference was a plea for countries to take responsibility for their citizens that committed terror acts in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere. Despite the new understanding of the dangers of allowing jihadists to build new networks around the world, countries have increased citizenship revocation for foreign terrorist fighters to avoid bringing them home.[136] To avoid the hassles and risk of repatriating, prosecuting, detaining, rehabilitating, and reintegrating these individuals, countries are passing the buck and contributing to the building of the future fifth wave of global jihad. One United Nations representative at the conference admitted that Russia was taking the lead on repatriating the children of foreign terrorist fighters to grandparents in their country, in an ironic contrast to several liberal democracies.[137] While countries are cooperating in this collective action problem, the absence of leadership from the United States is problematic.[138] We end this analysis by presenting a possible black swan related to the fight against jihadist foes. The United States and others have largely ignored Chinese actions concerning its Uighur population, Muslims who live in the Western province of Xinjiang. Reports that over a million Uighurs have been interned and subject to reeducation because of their religious beliefs could be the inspiration for the unity and support the jihadis have tried so hard to win, especially if the repression inspires an uprising.[139] Anyone entertaining a bit of schadenfreude over these Chinese missteps has failed to learn the lessons of 9/11, and of life in our globalized and ever interconnected world. The Uighur issue might start as a Chinese problem, but it will not end as a strictly Chinese problem. Conclusions How do we think the scorecard on these three factors will look in a decade? It is too early to predict but we are not off to a good start. A lack of confidence in our own values due to past mistakes and shameful violations of our own values are fueling an inclination to reduce our efforts against groups that use terror because of a belief that we are the cause of this increase in terror.[140] Just as the invasion of Iraq was an overreaction inspired by fear, our possible disengagement from the fight against violent extremists could end up as an overreaction to a failure to make an impact on the level of terror violence, and used by populist politicians to justify retrenchment. Western polities are divided and nonchalantly discuss possibilities of civil war, and focus on identity at the cost of unity.[141] Distaste for concepts like limited war against the jihadists, meaning limited objectives as well as limited resources, could force us to use illogical constructs like victory to judge success, much like the Israeli politician calling the negotiations with Hamas a defeat in the global war on terror. Until our politicians embrace these distinctions, or at least refrain from using them against their government opponents, we will never understand the war that we have been fighting, a war that will continue. This war plays out in fits and spurts, and the intensity of it ebbs and flows. The anniversary of 9/11 is a great time to conduct introspection; our governments owe us some real talk on what will continue to be a long struggle to reduce terror attacks around the world. David A. Brown is the executive director of the Advanced Naval Strategist Program and co-director of the Center on Irregular Warfare and Armed Groups. Tim Hoyt is the John Nicholas Brown Chair of Counterterrorism, a professor of strategy and policy, and the acting director of the Advanced Strategist Program  Craig Whiteside is a professor of national security affairs.   All three are faculty members of the U.S. Naval War College. The opinions are the views of the authors and do not reflect any official policy or view of the U.S. government.  

7. Another Year of the War in Afghanistan

By A. Trevor Thrall and Erik Goepner In August 2017, President Donald Trump rubberstamped his predecessors’ failed policies when he announced America’s recommitment to the mission in Afghanistan. In his speech, Trump made the same promises of victory and signed on to the same set of goals outlined many times by President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama: Our troops will fight to win. We will fight to win. From now on, victory will have a clear definition:  attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing Al Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan, and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge.[142] Trump’s plan for victory in Afghanistan was dead on arrival. Based on the same faulty premises about the threat of terrorism and the benefits of military action, Trump’s Afghanistan campaign has done little to make Americans safer. None of this is news. By the time Trump made his announcement last year, the fundamental indicators of failure in Afghanistan had been easy to see for quite some time. Why has the United States embraced the same feckless strategy over 17 years and three presidents? The answer is simple: Washington’s continued embrace of a host of strategic myths. The safe haven fallacy has promoted unwarranted concern over the threat of future terrorism. When Trump asked why the United States needed to stay in Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense James Mattis responded, “to prevent a bomb from going off in Times Square.”[143] And indeed, many argue that the failure of terrorists to launch a second 9/11-style attack proves the value of continued American efforts in Afghanistan and military action elsewhere. In his August 2017 speech, Trump made it clear that this argument was central to his decision to extend the American commitment to Afghanistan, noting, The consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable.  9/11, the worst terrorist attack in our history, was planned and directed from Afghanistan because that country was ruled by a government that gave comfort and shelter to terrorists.  A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists, including ISIS and al Qaeda, would instantly fill, just as happened before September 11th.[144] Despite its popularity in Washington,[145] the safe haven argument is overblown.[146] The most important base of operations for the 9/11 terrorists was not Afghanistan, but the United States. As the 9/11 commission report describes, all of the hijackers entered the United States legally,[147] where they received their technical (pilot) training, not in some clandestine Afghan camp. Without the ability to carry out their preparations here in the United States, the 9/11 attack might not have occurred. Post-9/11 security reforms have made it far more difficult for terrorists to enter the United States, and they now are unable to access such sophisticated training without raising suspicion. These efforts, not the campaign in Afghanistan, have been the most effective in curtailing the ability of would-be terrorists to carry out attacks on U.S. soil. More generally, the safe haven fallacy is an argument for endless war based on unwarranted worst-case scenario assumptions. To worry about an attack from Afghanistan, a capable terrorist group must have room to operate there safely, must decide a major attack on the U.S. homeland is a good idea, and must figure out a way to carry out that attack from Afghanistan — 7,000 miles from the American homeland — without the sort of support within the United States that al-Qaeda enjoyed in 2001. And all of this must occur without the United States detecting and disrupting the plot. Though the defense establishment gets paid to plan for trouble, this series of events is so unlikely it does not justify the occupation of Afghanistan today or tomorrow. If the United States left Afghanistan and the Taliban took control again, why would they provide support to Al Qaeda, the Islamic State, or some other group with plans to repeat 9/11? The Taliban did not attack the United States, and they certainly did not benefit from al-Qaeda’s strike on the United States. Moreover, leaving Afghanistan does not mean the United States has to ignore what is happening there. Intelligence can provide early warning should events someday point toward the possibility that a major attack on the United States is becoming more likely. At that point the United States could intervene in a more limited fashion to deal with gathering threats. The belief that terrorism and the conflicts and animosities which give rise to it can be eradicated is the second myth propagating the effort in Afghanistan.[148] Trump’s promise to obliterate the self-proclaimed Islamic State and crush al-Qaeda, while emotionally satisfying, is strategically misguided. The roots of terrorism, like the causes of war, run too deep for even a superpower to do much about.[149] Defeating al-Qaeda and the Islamic State will not put an end to jihadist terrorism because the organizations themselves are simply the symptoms of underlying political dynamics and fundamental social and cultural conflicts, not their cause. Declaring war on these symptoms and intervening in nations riven by conflict is a recipe for failure. The evidence indicates America is further from defeating jihadist groups than it was on Sept. 12, 2001. Despite 17 years in Afghanistan, almost as long in Iraq, as well as drone strikes and special operations missions in Syria, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, the Philippines, and Mali, the State Department reports that the number of Islamist-inspired terrorist groups has tripled since 2001,[150] while the number of fighters has risen from approximately 32,000 to more than 100,000.[151] In Afghanistan alone, there are as many as 20 such groups operating.[152] And though no one is suggesting that American intervention is the only important factor, it seems more likely that America’s presence in Afghanistan is making things worse than making things better when it comes to eliminating the threat. Finally, American military and political leaders wrongly believe that the key to “victory” in Afghanistan is merely a question of convincing the Taliban of American resolve. In contrast to Obama, Trump promised that the American presence in Afghanistan would be condition-based, not time limited, in an effort to pressure the Taliban to negotiate. As a Pentagon report from December 2017 put it, "The objective of the campaign is to convince the Taliban that they cannot win on the battlefield.”[153] With fewer troops on the ground than during the Obama surge, the notion that Trump’s approach is going to produce more leverage is fantastical. Today the Taliban control, contest, or influence more territory than at any point since they were ejected from power in 2001.[154] Making things even worse, the current Afghan government is a disaster. Not only is the government incapable of protecting its own people without help from the United States, Freedom House assesses Afghans as “not free,” the same rating from the Taliban days, and in terms of corruption, Afghanistan ranks fourth worst in the global system.[155] Simply put, nothing the United States is doing will encourage the Taliban to change its course, regardless of how much resolve Trump and his generals have. The failures of America’s war on terror are obvious at this point — even to the president. During his August 2017 speech, Trump began by noting that he shared the public’s frustration with the costly and prolonged stalemate and that his first instinct was to pull American troops out of Afghanistan.[156] As we remember the victims of 9/11 and honor the millions who have served in the war that followed, it is past time for the United States to find its way out of Afghanistan. Trevor Thrall is an associate professor in the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.  Erik Goepner (Colonel, U.S. Air Force, Retired) commanded military units in Afghanistan and Iraq, and he is currently an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute.   Image: Michael Foran [post_title] => Policy Roundtable: 17 Years After September 11 [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => policy-roundtable-17-years-after-september-11 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-09-11 12:42:34 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-09-11 16:42:34 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?post_type=roundtable&p=716 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => roundtable [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => To understand what has gone both right and wrong since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, we have convened a roundtable of some of this country’s foremost experts on terrorism, insurgency, and strategy. [pubinfo] => [issue] => [quotes] => [style] => roundtable [type] => Policy [style_label] => Roundtable [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 11 [1] => 202 [2] => 187 [3] => 155 [4] => 206 [5] => 204 [6] => 205 [7] => 203 [8] => 207 [9] => 208 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] “Twin Towers Demolished, Pentagon Hit in Terrorist Attacks,” Fox News, Sept. 12, 2001, http://www.foxnews.com/story/2001/09/12/twin-towers-demolished-pentagon-hit-in-terrorist-attacks.html [2] Stephen Tankel, With Us and Against Us: How America’s Partners Help and Hinder the War on Terror (New York: Columbia, 2018). [3] “A Timeline of the U.S. War in Afghanistan,” Council on Foreign Relations, https://www.cfr.org/timeline/us-war-afghanistan. [4] Steve Coll, “We Can’t Win in Afghanistan Because We Don’t Know Why We’re There,” New York Times, Jan. 26, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/26/opinion/sunday/united-states-afghanistan-win.html. [5] Michael P. Dempsey, “No Longer a Haven for International Terrorists,” New York Times, Dec. 3, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/03/opinion/no-longer-a-haven-for-international-terrorists.html. [6] Dexter Filkins, The Forever War, (New York: Penguin Random House, 2009). [7] Tricia Bacon, “Is the Enemy of My Enemy My Friend?,” Security Studies 27, no. 3 (2018), https://doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2017.1416813. [8] Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, An Enemy We Created: The Myth of the Taliban / Al-Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan, 1970–2010 (London: Hurst, 2012). [9] Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, The Age of Sacred Terror: Radical Islam’s War Against America (New York: Penguin Random House, 2002). [10] Atiyah abd al-Rahman (aka Mahmud), “Government Exhibit 421,” June 19, 2010, Letter retrieved from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, https://www.longwarjournal.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/EXHIBIT-421-ENG-TRANS-EX-420-76C5764D-1.pdf; Thomas Joscelyn, “Zawahiri Calls on Muslims to Support Taliban, Reject Islamic State,” FDD's Long War Journal, Aug. 21, 2016, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2016/08/zawahiri-calls-on-muslims-to-support-taliban-reject-islamic-state.php. [11] “Undated letter re Afghanistan,” Letter retrieved from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, declassified May 15, 2015, https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/ubl/english/Undated%20letter%20re%20Afghanistan.pdf. [12] “Twenty-second report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team submitted pursuant to resolution 2368 (2017) concerning ISIL (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals and entities,” United Nations, July 27, 2018, http://undocs.org/S/2018/705. [13] Steve Coll, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (New York: Penguin, 2004); “Cable from U.S. Embassy Islamabad to Secretary of State,” U.S. Department of State, Dec. 22, 1998, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB253/19981222.pdf; Zachary Laub, “The Taliban in Afghanistan,” Council on Foreign Relations, July 4, 2014, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/taliban-afghanistan. [14] “Cable from U.S. Embassy Islamabad to Secretary of State,” U.S. Department of State, Sept. 24, 1998, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB97/tal26.pdf. [15] “Cable from U.S. Embassy Islamabad to Secretary of State,” U.S. Department of State, Sept. 14, 1998, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB134/Doc 6.pdf; “Strains Surface Between Taliban and Bin Ladin,” Central Intelligence Agency, January 1999, https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/368942-1999-01-strains-surface-between-taliban-and-bin.html. [16] “Cable from U.S. Embassy Islamabad to Secretary of State,” U.S. Department of State, Dec. 30, 1998, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB134/Doc 6.pdf; Osama Bin Laden, “Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders,” World Islamic Front Statement, Feb. 23, 1998, https://fas.org/irp/world/para/docs/980223-fatwa.htm; van Linschoten and Kuehn, An Enemy We Created. [17] "SITREP 6: Pakistan/Afghanistan Reaction to U.S. Strikes," U.S. Embassy (Islamabad), Aug. 25, 1998,  https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB134/Doc%204.pdf; "SITREP 7: Pakistan/Afghanistan Reaction to U.S. Strikes," U.S. Embassy (Islamabad), Aug. 26, 1998, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB134/Doc%205.pdf. [18] “Taliban Commander Reveals Anger at Al Qaeda, Dim Hopes for Victory,” TOLOnews, July 11, 2012, https://www.tolonews.com/afghanistan/taliban-commander-reveals-anger-al-qaeda-dim-hopes-victory. [19] “GTD Search Results,” Global Terrorism Database, accessed Sept. 9, 2018, https://www.start.umd.edu/gtd/search/Results.aspx?page=1&casualties_type=b&casualties_max=&dtp2=all&country=4&perpetrator=20029,40325&expanded=no&charttype=line&chart=overtime&ob=GTDID&od=desc - results-table. [20] “Afghanistan Taliban Holding Firm on Bin Ladin for Now,” Central Intelligence Agency, Mar. 23, 2001, https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/368972-2001-03-23-afghanistan-taliban-holding-firm-on.html. [21] Anand Gopal, No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes (New York: Henry Holt, 2014). [22] Michael Semple, “The Taliban Need Help to Break Their Al-Qaida Ties,” Guardian, Apr. 30, 2012, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/apr/30/taliban-al-qaida-ties. [23] Michael Semple, Conversation with the author, Sept. 4, 2018, London. [24] Jason Burke, “Bin Laden Files Show Al-Qaida and Taliban Leaders in Close Contact,” Guardian, Apr. 29, 2012, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/apr/29/bin-laden-al-qaida-taliban-contact; Atiyah abd al-Rahman (aka Mahmud), “Government Exhibit 421,” June 19, 2010, Letter retrieved from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, https://www.longwarjournal.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/EXHIBIT-421-ENG-TRANS-EX-420-76C5764D-1.pdf; Barbara Starr and Zachary Cohen, “US Official: High-Level Al Qaeda Commander Killed in Afghanistan,” CNN, Dec. 5, 2017, https://www.cnn.com/2017/12/05/politics/us-kills-high-level-al-qaeda-commander-omar-bin-khatab/index.html. [25] “Summary of the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Author Unknown, Letter retrieved from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, declassified May 20, 2015, https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/ubl/english/Summary on situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.pdf. [26] Rod Nordland, Ash Ngu, and Fahim Abed, “How the U.S. Government Misleads the Public on Afghanistan,” New York Times, Sept. 8, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/09/08/world/asia/us-misleads-on-afghanistan.html; “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress,” Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, July 30, 2018, https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/quarterlyreports/2018-07-30qr.pdf. [27] Ashley Jackson, “Life under the Taliban Shadow Government,” ODI, June 2018, https://www.odi.org/publications/11144-life-under-taliban-shadow-government. [28] “Afghanistan Taliban Holding Firm on Bin Ladin for Now.” [29] Steve Coll, Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan (New York: Penguin Random House, 2018). [30] Aziz Amin Ahmadzai, “Iran’s Support for the Taliban Brings It to a Crossroads With Afghanistan,” Diplomat, May 21, 2018, https://thediplomat.com/2018/05/irans-support-for-the-taliban-brings-it-to-a-crossroads-with-afghanistan/. [31] Mujib Mashal, “Afghan Taliban Awash in Heroin Cash, a Troubling Turn for War,” New York Times, Oct. 29, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/29/world/asia/opium-heroin-afghanistan-taliban.html. [32] Gabriel Dominguez, “How the Taliban Get Their Money” Deutsche Welle, Jan. 21, 2016, https://www.dw.com/en/how-the-taliban-get-their-money/a-18995315. [33] Carlotta Gall, “Saudis Bankroll Taliban, Even as King Officially Supports Afghan Government,” New York Times, Dec. 6, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/06/world/asia/saudi-arabia-afghanistan.html. [34] Ayaz Gul, “Taliban Says IS ‘Purged’ From Northern Afghan Province,” VOA News, Aug. 1, 2018, https://www.voanews.com/a/taliban-says-islamic-state-eliminated-from-northern-afghan-province/4508922.html. [35] Dan Lamothe, “‘Probably the Largest’ Al-Qaeda Training Camp Ever Destroyed in Afghanistan,” Washington Post, Oct. 30, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2015/10/30/probably-the-largest-al-qaeda-training-camp-ever-destroyed-in-afghanistan/. [36] Vahid Brown and Don Rassler, Fountainhead of Jihad: The Haqqani Nexus, 1973–2012 (London: Hurst, 2013); Barbara Elias-Sanborn, ed., “The Haqqani History: Bin Ladin's Advocate Inside the Taliban,” National Security Archive, Sept. 11, 2012, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB389/. [37] “Twenty-second report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team”; Wesley Morgan, “Whatever Happened to Al Qaeda in Afghanistan?,” POLITICO, Aug. 15, 2018, https://politi.co/2Bl3t8u. [38] Ayman al-Zawahiri, “Letter to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (translated),” July 9, 2005, https://ctc.usma.edu/app/uploads/2013/10/Zawahiris-Letter-to-Zarqawi-Translation.pdf. [39] Thomas Jocelyn, “Ayman al Zawahiri swears allegiance to the Taliban’s new leader,” FDD’s Long War Journal, June 11, 2016, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2016/06/ayman-al-zawahiri-swears-allegiance-to-the-talibans-new-leader.php. [40] Don Melvin, “Taliban Admit Mullah Omar Died in 2013,” CNN, Aug. 31, 2015, https://www.cnn.com/2015/08/31/asia/taliban-mullah-omar-death/index.html. [41] Jack Moore, “Al-Qaeda’s Zawahiri Calls on Supporters to Reject ISIS and Support Taliban,” Newsweek, Aug. 22, 2016, https://www.newsweek.com/al-qaedas-zawahiri-calls-supporters-reject-isis-and-support-taliban-492337. [42] Barbara Elias, “Know Thine Enemy,” Foreign Affairs, Nov. 2, 2009, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/pakistan/2009-11-02/know-thine-enemy. [43] Douglas Frantz and David Rohde, “A NATION CHALLENGED: THE BOND; How Bin Laden and Taliban Forged Jihad Ties,” New York Times, Nov. 22, 2001, https://www.nytimes.com/2001/11/22/world/a-nation-challenged-the-bond-how-bin-laden-and-taliban-forged-jihad-ties.html. [44] Coll, Directorate S. [45] “The Al-Qaeda-Taliban Nexus,” Council on Foreign Relations, Nov. 24, 2009, https://www.cfr.org/expert-roundup/al-qaeda-taliban-nexus; Tricia Bacon and Elizabeth Grimm Arsenault, “Did Bin Laden’s Death Help the Islamic State?” Washington Post, May 2, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2018/05/02/did-bin-ladens-death-help-the-islamic-state/. [46] Bill Roggio, “Full Statement of Mullah Mansour Accepting Al Qaeda’s Oath of Allegiance,” FDD's Long War Journal, Aug. 14, 2015, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/08/full-statement-of-mullah-mansour-accepting-al-qaedas-oath-of-allegiance.php. [47] Thomas Joscelyn, “Ayman Al Zawahiri Swears Allegiance to the Taliban’s New Leader,” FDD’s Long War Journal, June 11, 2016, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2016/06/ayman-al-zawahiri-swears-allegiance-to-the-talibans-new-leader.php. [48] Abdulqahar Balkhi, “Message of Felicitation of the Esteemed Amir-Ul-Momineen, Shiekh-Ul-Hadith Hibatullah Akhundzada, (May Allah Protect Him), on the Occasion of Eid-Ul-Adha – Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” Aug. 30, 2017, https://alemarah-english.com/?p=19352. [49] Thomas Joscelyn and Bill Roggio, “Taliban Rejects Peace Talks, Emphasizes Alliance with Al Qaeda in New Video,” FDD’s Long War Journal, Dec. 9, 2016, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2016/12/taliban-rejects-peace-talks-emphasizes-alliance-with-al-qaeda-in-new-video.php. [50] Mujib Mashal and Eric Schmitt, “White House Orders Direct Taliban Talks to Jump-Start Afghan Negotiations” New York Times, July 15, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/15/world/asia/afghanistan-taliban-direct-negotiations.html. [51] Michael Semple,“Top Priorities for New Afghan Taliban Chief,” CNN, May 25, 2016, https://www.cnn.com/2016/05/24/opinions/challenges-for-next-taliban-leader/index.html. [52] Theo Farrell and Michael Semple, “Making Peace with the Taliban,” Survival 57, no. 6 (2015), https://doi.org/10.1080/00396338.2015.1116157. [53]For figures on these costs, see Brown University Watson Institute Costs of War Project, https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/. [54] David Rapoport originated the idea of “waves” of terrorism. See his article “The Fourth Wave: September 11 in the History of Terrorism,” Current History, 100 (December 2001), http://www.currenthistory.com/Article.php?ID=226. [55] Barak Mendelsohn, The Al-Qaeda Franchise: The Expansion of al-Qaeda and its Consequences (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016); Camille Tawil, Brothers in Arms: The Story of Al-Qa’ida and the Arab Jihadists (London: Saqi Books, 2010; translated from the 2007 Arabic edition). [56] See the Stanford University Center for International Security and Cooperation Mapping Militants Project, mappingmilitants.stanford.edu. The website has detailed profiles of the militant groups mentioned in this analysis as well as diagrams of their relationships. The sources for the profiles are fully cited. For the most recent profile updates email crenshaw@stanford.edu. See also Martha Crenshaw, “Transnational Jihadism & Civil Wars,” Daedalus, 146, no. 4 (Fall 2017), https://doi.org/10.1162/DAED_a_00459. [57] For a comprehensive account upon which many of the following observations are based see Charles Lister, The Syrian Jihad: Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and the Evolution of an Insurgency (London: Hurst Publishers, 2015); and “Hayat Tahrir al-Sham: to Unite or to Divide the Ranks?” in How Al-Qaeda Survived Drones, Uprisings, and the Islamic State: The Nature of the Current Threat, ed. Aaron Y. Zelin (Washington, DC: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2017). [58] Michael R. Gordon and Anne Barnard, “U.S. Places Militant Syrian Rebel Group on List of Terrorist Organizations,” New York Times, Dec. 10, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/11/world/middleeast/us-designates-syrian-al-nusra-front-as-terrorist-group.html. [59] Mark MazzettiAdam Goldman, and Michael S. Schmidt, “Behind the Sudden Death of a $1 Billion Secret C.I.A. War in Syria,” New York Times, Aug. 2, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/02/world/middleeast/cia-syria-rebel-arm-train-trump.html. [60] Karen DeYoung, Liz Sly, and Missy Ryan,” US airstrikes target Al-Qaeda faction in Syria,” Washington Post, Nov. 6, 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2014/11/06/d860ef47-40fa-4f85-8753-0d9de0a6830b_story.html?utm_term=.1d09add13f39. [61] See the profile of Ahrar Al-Sham on the website Mapping Militant Organizations, mappingmilitants.stanford.edu. [62] DeYoung, et al., “US airstrikes”; and Lister, The Syrian Jihad. [63] As the organization evolved and the military situation grew more desperate, the al-Nusra group, in its new form as HTS, agreed to cooperate with Turkey, thus leading to more internal disputes and splits. See Akil Hussein, “Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham’s Deal with Turkey Further Alienates It from Other Jihadists,” The Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, (November 2017), https://syria.chathamhouse.org/research/hayat-tahrir-al-shams-deal-with-turkey-further-alienates-it-from-other-jihadists. [64] For an account of the evolution of al-Nusra, see the profile on the website Mapping Militant Organizations, mappingmilitants.stanford.edu. On its transformation into HTS, see also Tore Refslund Hamming and Pieter Van Ostaeyen, “The True Story of al-Qaeda’s Demise and Resurgence in Syria,” Lawfare, April 8, 2018, https://www.lawfareblog.com/true-story-al-qaedas-demise-and-resurgence-syria. [65] Charles Lister, “How al-Qa`ida Lost Control of its Syrian Affiliate: The Inside Story,” CTC Sentinel 11, no. 2 (February 2018), https://ctc.usma.edu/al-qaida-lost-control-syrian-affiliate-inside-story/. [66] Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Prepares to Reduce Troops and Shed Missions in Africa,” New York Times, Aug. 1, 2018,  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/01/world/africa/us-withdraw-troops-africa.html. [67] Speech at Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies quoted in Dan Lamothe, “Mattis Unveils new Strategy Focused on Russia and China, Takes Congress to Task for Budget Impasse,” Washington Post, Jan. 19, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2018/01/19/mattis-calls-for-urgent-change-to-counter-russia-and-china-in-new-pentagon-strategy/?utm_term=.bd234c8cc0e5. [68] For an overview see Christopher S. Chivvis and Andrew Liepman, North Africa’s Menace: AQIM’s Evolution and the U.S. Policy Response (Santa Monica: Rand, 2013) and Marc Mémier, “AQMI et Al-Mourabitoun: le djihad sahélien réunifié?” Etudes de l’Ifri, 2017, http://base.afrique-gouvernance.net/docs/memier_aqmi_et_al-mourabitoun_fr_2017.compressed.pdf. See also Sergei Boeke, “Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb: Terrorism, insurgency, or organized crime?” Small Wars & Insurgencies 27, no. 5 (2016), https://doi.org/10.1080/09592318.2016.1208280. [69] An analysis of the violent competition among the rebel groups in the Algerian civil war leading up to the 2006 merger is found in Mohammed M. Hafez, “Fratricidal Rebels: Ideological Extremity and Warring Factionalism in Civil Wars,” Terrorism and Political Violence 29, no. 6 (2017), https://doi.org/10.1080/09546553.2017.1389726. [70] See Chivvis and Liepman, North Africa’s Menace; and Mémier, “AQMI et Al-Mourabitoun,.”  See also Samuel L. Aronson, “AQIM’s Threat to Western Interests in the Sahel,” CTC Sentinel 7, no. 4 (April 2014), https://ctc.usma.edu/aqims-threat-to-western-interests-in-the-sahel/. [71] See David J. Francis, “The regional impact of the armed conflict and French intervention in Mali,” Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre Report (April 2013), http://www.operationspaix.net/DATA/DOCUMENT/7911~v~The_regional_impact_of_the_armed_conflict_and_French_intervention_in_Mali.pdf. [72] For a theoretical account of how AQIM has survived through fragmentation, also well-informed by primary sources, see Adib Bencherif, “From Resilience to Fragmentation: Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Jihadist Group Modularity,” Terrorism and Political Violence (2017), https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09546553.2017.1351956. [73] See commentary by the International Crisis Group, “The Sahel: Mali’s Crumbling Peace Process and the Spreading Jihadist Threat,” March 1, 2017, https://www.crisisgroup.org/africa/west-africa/mali/sahel-malis-crumbling-peace-process-and-spreading-jihadist-threat. [74] On the difficulties faced by the task force see, “Finding the Right Role for the G5 Sahel Joint Force,” International Crisis Group Report No. 258, Dec. 12, 2017, https://www.crisisgroup.org/africa/west-africa/burkina-faso/258-force-du-g5-sahel-trouver-sa-place-dans-lembouteillage-securitaire. [75] “State Department Terrorist Designation of Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM),” State Department, Sept. 5, 2018, https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2018/09/285705.htm. [76] Eric Schmitt, “Under Trump, U.S. Launched 8 Airstrikes Against ISIS in Libya. It Disclosed 4,” New York Times, March 8, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/08/world/africa/us-airstrikes-isis-libya.html. Also Declan Walsh and Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Strikes Qaeda Target in Southern Libya, Expanding Shadow War There,” New York Times, March 25, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/25/world/middleeast/us-bombs-qaeda-libya.html. [77] “Transcript of President Bush’s Address to a Joint Session of Congress on Thursday Night, September 20, 2001,” CNN, Sept. 21, 2001, http://edition.cnn.com/2001/US/09/20/gen.bush.transcript/. [78] National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, The 9-11 Commission Report (Washington, DC: Norton, 2004), 379. [79] Stephen Tankel, With Us and Against Us: How America’s Partners Help and Hinder the War on Terror (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018). [80] Peter Bergen, Albert Ford, Alyssa Sims, and David Sterman, “Terrorism in America After 9/11: Part I. Terrorism Cases: 2001-Today,” New America, accessed September 9, 2018, https://www.newamerica.org/in-depth/terrorism-in-america/part-i-overview-terrorism-cases-2001-today/. [81] Robert S. Mueller,III, “FBI Headquarters Press Availability on the FBI’s Reorganization: Re-Engineering the FBI for Today’s World,” FBI, May 29, 2002, https://www.fbi.gov/news/speeches/fbi-headquarters-press-availability-on-the-fbis-reorganization-re-engineering-the-fbi-for-todays-world. [82] “FBI Focus to Shift to Terrorism Prevention,” CNN, May 29, 2002, http://edition.cnn.com/2002/US/05/29/fbi.direction/. [83] Charles Lister, “Al Qaeda Is About to Establish an Emirate in Northern Syria,” Foreign Policy, May 4, 2016, https://foreignpolicy.com/2016/05/04/al-qaeda-is-about-to-establish-an-emirate-in-northern-syria/. [84] Cameron Glenn, “Timeline: The Rise, Spread and Fall of the Islamic State,” Wilson Center, June 1, 2018, https://www.wilsoncenter.org/article/timeline-the-rise-spread-and-fall-the-islamic-state. [85] Ryan Pickrell, “Al Qaeda Terrorist Considered ‘probably the Most Sophisticated Terrorist Bomb-Maker on the Planet’ Was Killed by US Drone Strike, US Officials Confirm,” Business Insider, Aug. 20, 2018, https://www.businessinsider.com/top-al-qaeda-bomb-maker-ibrahim-al-asiri-killed-in-us-drone-strike-2018-8. [86] “Who Are Somalia’s Al-Shabab?,” BBC News, Dec. 22, 2017, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-15336689. [87] Bill Roggio and Alexandra Gutowski, “US Military on Track to Match Record 2017 for Airstrikes in Somalia,” FDDs Long War Journal, Aug. 29, 2018, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2018/08/shabaab-strike-mogadishu.php. [88] “Yemeni Forces Retake City from Al-Qaeda,” BBC News, Apr. 25, 2016, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-36128614. [89] Alex Hollings, “Mattis, Dunford Weigh in on ‘annihilating’ ISIS and How Far We’ve Already Come,” NEWSREP, May 23, 2017, https://thenewsrep.com/81860/mattis-dunford-weigh-in-on-annihilating-isis-and-how-far-weve-already-come/. [90] Ryan Browne and Eli Watkins, “US Forces Confirm Death of ISIS Leader in Afghanistan,” CNN, Sept. 3, 2018, https://www.cnn.com/2018/09/02/politics/isis-leader-killed-afghanistan. [91] Bruce Hoffman, “Al-Qaeda’s Resurrection,” Council on Foreign Relations, Mar. 6, 2018, https://www.cfr.org/expert-brief/al-qaedas-resurrection. [92] Hassan Hassan, “ISIS Is Ready for a Resurgence,” Atlantic, Aug. 26, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/08/baghdadi-recording-iraq-syria-terrorism/568471/. [93] Michael Dempsey, “The Islamic State Threat Hasn’t Gone Away,” Axios, July 31, 2018, https://www.axios.com/the-islamic-state-threat-hasnt-gone-away-f57adb1b-6fe4-4f4d-8bd4-589be98f9eba.html. [94] Richard Hall, “UN Says 30,000 ISIS Fighters Remain in Iraq and Syria,” National, Aug. 14, 2018, https://www.thenational.ae/world/mena/un-says-30-000-isis-fighters-remain-in-iraq-and-syria-1.759695. See also “Twenty-second report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team submitted pursuant to resolution 2368 (2017) concerning ISIL (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals and entities,” United Nations, July 27, 2018, http://undocs.org/S/2018/705. [95] Michael P. 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[155] “Freedom in the World 2018,” Freedom House, https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2018/afghanistan; Corruption Perceptions Index 2017 in Afghanistan, Transparency International, https://www.transparency.org/country/AFG. [156] “Remarks by President Trump on the Strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia.” ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => Contents [contents] => 1. Introduction: A Most Infamous Day: Marking the 17th Anniversary of the 9/11 Attacks, by Ryan Evans 2. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: The Alliance that Started the Forever War, By Tricia Bacon 3. The Long Aftermath of 9/11: How Terrorism Doesn’t End, by Martha Crenshaw 4. With Us and Against Us: Understanding the Mixed Record of U.S. Partners on Counter-Terrorism Cooperation Since 9/11, by Stephen Tankel 5. What Progress Has America Made after 17 Years of Global Counter-Terrorism Efforts? by Michael P. Dempsey 6. Retrospect and Prospect: On Endless War, by David A. Brown, Tim Hoyt, and Craig Whiteside 7. Another Year of the War in Afghanistan, by A. Trevor Thrall and Erik Goepner ) ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 517 [post_author] => 155 [post_date] => 2018-03-20 15:47:43 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-03-20 19:47:43 [post_content] =>

1. Introduction: Change or More of the Same? The Future of the Jihadist Movement

By Stephen Tankel In summer 2010, the National Intelligence Council organized a small, one-day conference with Europe-based academics to get their read on possible futures for the jihadist movement. I was one of the approximately twenty participants. Osama Bin Laden was still alive, but the core al-Qaeda organization was beginning to come under rising pressure in Pakistan as a result of increasingly intense drone strikes. Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) was degraded thanks to the surge of U.S. forces and the Sunni Awakening. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was emerging as the most dangerous jihadist group in the world. We looked for trends and debated the future of the core of the al-Qaeda organization in Afghanistan and Pakistan, whether AQAP might take up the mantle of leadership and what that would augur, and who could emerge as the next bin Laden, among other things. Today, with the core of the so-called Islamic State (ISIL) increasingly squeezed in Syria and Iraq the jihadist movement may be facing an even bigger inflection point. Will al-Qaeda be able to regenerate and fill the void? Could another group — perhaps an ISIL or al-Qaeda affiliate, or maybe an independent actor — take the reins? Or might we witness the atomization of the jihadist movement after years in which ISIL and al-Qaeda became its competing lodestars? In either case, what would this mean for the long-running fault line between globalism and nationalism? And what of the 40,000-plus foreign fighters who flocked to Syria and Iraq, or the technological advances that ISIL exploited to recruit them and direct or inspire attacks around the world?[1] To help clarify the problem, we brought together three scholar-practitioners — Kim Cragin, Josh Geltzer, and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross — to weigh in on what lies ahead for the jihadist movement and the threats its adherents pose. Evolution of the Jihadist Movement: A Brief History Any assessment of where the jihadist movement might go, must account for how it has evolved to date. Despite their pretensions to universalism, jihadists have often disagreed over issues such as which enemy to prioritize, where to fight, and whether it is appropriate to attack fellow Muslims. The two main currents in the jihadist movement before 9/11 were revolutionary and pan-Islamic. Revolutionaries prioritized changing the political order in their own homelands by overthrowing the ruling powers. Pan-Islamic jihadists were focused on defending the umma — the worldwide community of Muslims — and liberating all occupied Muslim lands. Al-Qaeda was one of the few truly multinational jihadist groups that existed prior to 9/11. It developed its concept of global jihad while based in Sudan during the first half of the 1990s and then in Afghanistan for the latter half. Al-Qaeda’s global jihadist ideology prioritized attacks against the United States as the first step in a larger plan to create the conditions for toppling apostate regimes in the Arab world. Bin Laden and his inner circle believed that as long as the United States could project power into the region, it would be able to pressure Muslim countries to bend to its will and keep jihadists from toppling local regimes.[2] Driving America out of the region would enable jihadists to confront local regimes directly and inspire the youth to rise up and join these revolutions. At that point, al-Qaeda leaders believed that regimes in the Middle East and Persian Gulf would collapse. Numerous groups expanded their enemy hierarchies after 9/11. While jihadists who had previously been pan-Islamic began pursuing revolutionary action, some revolutionary groups grafted pan-Islamic or global jihad onto their preexisting local agendas. The U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq contributed to this phenomenon, muddying the waters between pan-Islamic jihad against non-Muslim invaders and global jihad against the United States specifically.[3] Al-Qaeda also evolved. Its leaders refined and expanded their organization’s rationale for action, blending takfiri thought, which justifies attacking apostate Muslims, with the requirement to fight the United States and its Western allies.[4] Being more overt about its revolutionary tendencies helped al-Qaeda reduce the barriers to alliances with other organizations. This became increasingly important once al-Qaeda started adding affiliates. As a result, although bin Laden continued to prioritize the United States, al-Qaeda increasingly boasted an agenda that made less of a distinction between local and global enemies.[5] By 2011, analysts worried more about some of al-Qaeda’s affiliates, especially AQAP, than they did about the core organization, which was under significant pressure in Pakistan as a result of U.S. drone strikes. Initially, it appeared that successful political transitions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen following the Arab Spring would undermine the jihadist narrative that violence was a necessary handmaiden for revolution or that the United States was willing to prop up autocratic regimes.[6] Yet, far from being a death knell, the revolutions ushered in by the Arab Spring reinvigorated the jihadist movement. The weakening or outright removal of police states created space for mobilization in places where jihadists had previously had little room to maneuver and enabled a level of activity unforeseen hitherto. As the Arab Spring gained steam in 2011, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who took the reins of al-Qaeda after bin Laden was killed, directed AQI to form a group and deploy it across the border into Syria.[7] Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of AQI, sent a contingent of battle-hardened fighters to form Jabhat al-Nusra (JN).[8] It became one of the most effective rebel groups in the Syrian conflict. In April 2013, al-Baghdadi issued a statement officially absorbing JN and renaming his organization the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIL).[9] The move both revealed and exacerbated a rift between the two groups. JN prioritized jihad against the Assad regime in Syria, was willing to cooperate with other rebel groups to realize this objective, and pursued a population-centric approach. ISIL sought to use Syria as a launching pad for a renewed offensive in Iraq and remained committed to the old AQI strategy of intimidation and sectarian provocation that sought to pit Sunnis and Shiites against one another. Before long, ISIL controlled substantial territory in Syria. These battlefield successes, combined with a mastery of social media, helped ISIL attract the lion’s share of foreign fighters in Syria.[10] In June, four months after al-Qaeda disowned it, ISIL launched its major military offensive in Iraq that captured the country’s second largest city, Mosul. Afterward, al-Baghdadi announced the reestablishment of the caliphate and declared himself the leader of the umma.[11] Numerous jihadist groups — some of them previously loyal to al-Qaeda — offered their allegiance. Although primarily focused on building its proto-state, ISIL also used the territory as a base for launching international terrorist attacks. Indeed, as Kim Cragin points out below, the group conducted more external operations — attacks conducted outside Syria, Iraq, or its 25 so-called provinces (used interchangeably with affiliates) — than the al-Qaeda network (AQN) did during a similar time period in its heyday. ISIL’s ability to conduct external operations has diminished since the group lost Mosul in July 2017 and its fighters fled Raqqa, Syria the following October.[12] These losses have also called into question the wisdom of ISIL’s aggressive approach, fueled speculation about whether al-Qaeda will resume the titular leadership mantel of the jihadist movement, and ignited debates about the nature of the jihadist threat in the years to come. Looking Ahead: The Future of the Jihadist Movement All three contributors to this roundtable point out ways in which the essence of the jihadist movement remains largely unchanged, while simultaneously identifying various factors that are shaping its ongoing evolution. Each essay has its own take on which elements will be the most critical. Four issues are worth highlighting:
  1. The Local and Geopolitical Terrain: Analysts have worried for years about jihadists’ access to ungoverned or poorly-governed territory that could be used for training, communications, and operational planning. As Daveed Gartenstein-Ross observes, although ISIL has lost most of its territory in Iraq and Syria, jihadist safe havens and enclaves have grown more numerous since 9/11, especially in countries roiled by the so-called Arab Spring. Josh Geltzer also points out that the core ISIL organization is not yet defeated. Eradicating it is likely to prove challenging, in large part because of the continuing complexities of the overall dynamic in Iraq and Syria. Both authors also sound the warning about Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) — al-Qaeda’s erstwhile affiliate in Syria — and the dangers that other al-Qaeda and ISIL affiliates continue to pose because of their ability to exploit both local grievances and grinding conflicts in weak states. Kim Cragin foresees no end to these ongoing conflicts. She argues the status quo is likely to remain in places where al-Qaeda or ISIL affiliates operate, with the important caveat that veteran foreign fighters will bring new tactical knowledge to these conflicts that could make regional groups even more lethal and push them towards greater brutality. Cragin contends a more dramatic impact from foreign fighters will likely be felt in many of the Muslim majority countries where ISIL and al-Qaeda do not have affiliates.
  2. Tensions in the Movement: Scholars identified two fault lines that have defined the jihadist movement. One is between centralization and decentralization, and the other is between globalism and nationalism.[13] Just as al-Qaeda affiliates have thrived even with the core of the organization under enormous pressure, it is unlikely that the fate of ISIL affiliates rests entirely on ISIL’s fortunes in Syria and Iraq. Moreover, Geltzer contends that as ISIL’s core loses territorial control, it is possible that some of its affiliates will distance themselves from the central organization. Gartenstein-Ross argues forcefully that analysts should not be too eager to view such a development as evidence of decentralization within the wider movement. Despite the difficulties the core organizations of al-Qaeda and ISIL are each facing, he asserts that the trend within the jihadist movement has been toward centralization. Global jihadism has simultaneously continued to spread according to Gartenstein-Ross. Most groups likely will continue to fixate primarily on regional objectives, but more of them have also adopted a transnational vision and continue to engage in transnational activities even if they do not prioritize attacks against Western targets. The spread of foreign fighters, which Cragin documents, could reinforce this trend.
  3. Technology and Foreign Fighters: According to Cragin, the most immediate threat to the West — North America, Western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand — depends on foreign fighter returnees, specifically whether they are motivated and able to conduct attacks or recruit another generation of Western jihadists. As Cragin notes, foreign fighters have conducted the majority of external operations directed by ISIL leaders. Gartenstein-Ross and Geltzer zero in on how jihadists take advantage of technological advances to enable these operations. Jihadists have combined mastery of social media with the use of end-to-end encryption, which is often inaccessible to governments, to radicalize new adherents, mobilize them, and provide the kind of assistance to remote operatives that physical terrorist networks used to provide in person.
  4. Leadership of the Movement: All three contributors to this roundtable posit that ISIL and al-Qaeda appear poised to remain key players in the jihadist movement, even if some of their affiliates may be better positioned in the near term. Their respective leaders — al-Zawahiri of al-Qaeda and al-Baghdadi of ISIL — both lay claim to leadership of the movement. The competition is not simply organizational. Al-Qaeda leaders have criticized ISIL for splintering the movement, declaring a Caliphate that did not have staying power, and pursuing a brutal, takfiri strategy that has often included attacking other mujahideen (Muslim holy warriors). Al-Zawahiri lacks charisma and has struggled to motivate followers like bin Laden did, but ISIL’s losses in Iraq and Syria create space for al-Qaeda to reclaim its vanguard position. As Cragin notes, al-Qaeda has taken more of a population-centric approach and sought to present itself as a less virulent alternative to ISIL. Geltzer and Gartenstein-Ross identify various developments, such as the fortunes of HTS in Syria and its relationship with al-Qaeda’s core, which could influence whether al-Qaeda is successful in its bid to retake the titular mantle of the jihadist movement. Geltzer also posits that ISIL’s ingenuity and pioneering use of the Internet may have paved the way for a new jihadist group to capture some of the jihadist “market share” by combining online technologies with a compelling narrative and a leadership capable of inspiring followers.
Although plenty of us who came together that summer day in 2010 noted the potential for instability in the Middle East — not exactly a bold prediction — no one foresaw the Arab revolutions that would begin months later or the effects they would have on the jihadist movement. Nor did anyone predict that, within a half decade, a former soccer enthusiast in Iraq who had done time in a U.S.-administered prison camp would command the most powerful jihadist group the world had ever seen and declare himself the leader of the Caliphate.[14] What we tried to do, and what the three authors of the following essays have done so well, is to identify the trends and factors that could inform the trajectory of the jihadist movement. Then, like now, major actors in the movement were under strain, but the fundamentals suggested the jihadist threat would not disappear any time soon.   Stephen Tankel, an associate editor at the Texas National Security Review, is an assistant professor at American University, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New America Security, and a senior editor at War on the Rocks. His new book — With Us and Against Us: How America’s Partners Help and Hinder the War on Terror — will be published in May 2018.

2. The Riptide: How Foreign Fighter Returnees Could Shape the Jihadist Movement

By R. Kim Cragin “Confused.” That’s how one senior Turkish official recently described the attitudes of foreign terrorist fighters being held in detention centers under his purview.[15] It also seems to be an apt description of the post-territorial Islamic State (ISIL) as well as the wider jihadist movement. To understand how the movement might evolve in the future, it’s helpful to look to the past. Until the mid-1980s, jihadists often pursued their objectives — the creation of a caliphate to be governed by sharia (or Islamic law, strictly interpreted) — in their home countries. This changed after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Foreign fighters from around the world traveled to Afghanistan to fight against the Soviet forces and in doing so globalized the jihadist movement. Arguably, just as these “Arab Afghans” guided the jihadist movement for the past three decades, the future of the movement rests with a new generation of foreign terrorist fighters from Syria and Iraq. Two individuals currently claim leadership over the jihadist movement: Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda, and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIL. Two other individuals have also considerably influenced the direction of the movement: Abu Musab al-Suri and Abu Bakr Naji. In his book, Call for Global Islamic Resistance, al-Suri wrote that underground organizations, like al-Qaeda, had failed to mobilize Muslim populations. He also rejected open confrontation — or large-scale insurgencies — because, according to al-Suri, the United States had demonstrated its ability to succeed against the mujahideen (Islamic holy warriors) under these circumstances.[16] Al-Suri concluded that the mujahideen should combine open confrontation in a limited number of Muslim countries with a “leaderless resistance” in the West.[17] In al-Suri’s vision, jihadists residing outside Muslim countries should not become foreign terrorist fighters, but rather stay home and join that leaderless resistance.[18] Another jihadist ideologue, Muhammad Khalil al-Hakaymah, with the nom de guerre Abu Bakr Naji, articulated a contrasting strategy to al-Suri’s in his book Management of Savagery. Naji argued that jihadists should work to instill chaos in all Muslim countries. Then, as regimes collapse, they should take control and re-establish order by imposing Islamic law.[19] In order for Naji’s strategy to be successful, it requires support from all jihadists and therefore he urges those living outside Muslim countries to travel to conflict zones and become foreign terrorist fighters. ISIL adopted components of both Naji’s and al-Suri’s strategies. In keeping with Naji’s direction to create chaos, the group’s fighters exacerbated tensions between Sunni, Shiite, and Christian populations in both Syria and Iraq. They took control of territory, city-by-city, implementing Islamic law as they went along, most notably in Raqqa and Mosul. ISIL leadership also encouraged its fighters outside Syria and Iraq — based in their so-called provinces like Libya, Egypt, and Yemen — to mimic this approach.[20] Then, following al-Suri’s advice, ISIL extolled its sympathizers via social media[21] to either join the fight in Syria as foreign terrorist fighters or undertake attacks wherever possible, essentially advocating for a leaderless resistance in the West:[22]
If the infidels have shut the door of hijrah [travel to Syria and Iraq] in your faces, then open the door of jihad in theirs. Make your deed a source of their regret. Truly, the smallest act you do in their lands is more beloved to us than the biggest act done here [in Syria]; it is more effective for us and more harmful to them. If one of you wishes and strives to reach the lands of the Islamic State, then each of us wishes to be in your place to make examples of the crusaders, day and night, scaring them and terrorizing them until every neighbor fears his neighbor.[23]
This combined strategy — chaos, open confrontation, and leaderless resistance — was successful between June 2014 and June 2017. While ISIL’s territorial gains within Iraq and Syria have been well documented, it is perhaps less well-known that ISIL has been more aggressive in its violence against the West than al-Qaeda. Indeed, ISIL conducted more external operations — attacks conducted outside Syria, Iraq, or its 25 so-called provinces — from 2015 to 2017 than the al-Qaeda network (AQN) did during a similar period from 2008 to 2010. ISIL’s “inspired” operations, which fall into the category of a leaderless resistance, make up a significant proportion of the total number of its operations: 37 percent (or 273 external operations). Inspired attacks do not exceed those directed by ISIL leaders, however, which make up 55 percent of the total. Further, of those external operations directed by ISIL leaders, foreign fighter returnees conducted most of them.[24] All of this changed after ISIL’s loss of Mosul in July 2017 and, in particular, after ISIL fighters fled Raqqa in October 2017.[25] Not only did ISIL lose territorial control in Iraq and Syria, but its ability to conduct external operations also diminished. Between December 2016 (the height of its influence and reach) and December 2017, the number of external operations directed, enabled, or inspired by ISIL dropped by 30 per cent.[26] Thus, like al-Qaeda’s previous efforts in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, and Iraq, ISIL’s recent losses call its basic strategy into question. Of course, Ayman al-Zawahiri and other al-Qaeda leaders have always disputed the wisdom of ISIL’s strategy. They also have criticized Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi for splintering the jihadist movement.[27] In September 2015, for example, al-Zawahiri issued a series of speeches in which he drew distinctions between al-Qaeda and ISIL. Al-Zawahiri stipulated that (1) al-Qaeda supported ISIL fighters’ efforts to attack Shi’a Muslims and secularists, but not other mujahideen; and (2) al-Qaeda supported ISIL fighters’ efforts to help Muslims globally, but not if it meant encouraging defections from al-Qaeda’s ranks.[28] In this context, al-Qaeda leaders have attempted to set themselves up as a less virulent alternative to ISIL, albeit also with questionable success. Both Naji and al-Suri remain influential thinkers with al-Qaeda and ISIL, as well as in the wider jihadist movement. Yet neither strategist has cracked the code on how to achieve victory. As we have seen, al-Qaeda and ISIL are at odds over the direction the movement should take. And they continue to compete with one another to lead it. This brings us back to the “confusion” personified by those foreign terrorist fighters who left Syria after the fall of Raqqa and are now languishing in Turkey’s detention centers with nowhere else to go. The future of the jihadist movement likely rests in the hands of these veteran foreign terrorist fighters. Foreign Fighters: The Past and Future Vanguard Historically, after similar conflicts in Afghanistan and Bosnia, veteran foreign fighters have chosen to either return home or join likeminded mujahideen in third countries.[29] Of those who returned home, some reintegrated peacefully. But most did not.[30] They established local terrorist cells, sent resources to other mujahideen in ongoing conflicts, and recruited others to support the jihadist movement.[31] The Afghan veterans were integral to the expansion of al-Qaeda’s network, including al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), Jemaah Islamiyya (JI) in Indonesia, and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).[32] Veterans of the wars in Bosnia and Iraq similarly contributed to the rapid expansion of ISIL worldwide, including its recruitment of foreign fighters.[33] It is therefore likely that we will see a similar pattern with the veterans of the more recent conflicts in Syria and Iraq. The most immediate threat posed by the jihadist movement to the West — North America, Western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand — depends on the willingness and ability of these foreign fighter returnees to participate in local attacks for ISIL or al-Qaeda. The United States government has estimated that 40,000 individuals left their home countries and travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight.[34] Approximately 14,910 foreign terrorist fighters have already departed these battlefields.[35] Significant numbers have returned home through smuggling networks or have been deported by Turkey: 980 foreign fighters have returned to Tunisia; 900 to Saudi Arabia; 850 to Russia; 830 to Indonesia; 550 to France; 500 to Jordan; and 300 to Germany.[36] Only 36 per cent of these are in prison.[37] The rest remain a potential threat for either participating in an ISIL-directed attack locally, an al-Qaeda attack, or creating local terrorist cells of their own. Beyond external operations in the West, some of the veteran fighters from Syria and Iraq have already relocated to other conflict zones, such as Libya, Egypt, Afghanistan, Yemen, and the southern Philippines. Tunisian security officials have noted the presence of ISIL training camps in Libya. Some of the trainers, reportedly, are foreign fighter veterans.[38] Other veteran fighters have taken on leadership positions in the so-called ISIL provinces. Bahraini national Turki al-Ban’ali reportedly moved from Mosul to Libya to take on the role of emir of ISIL in Libya.[39] Abu-Hajir al-Hashimi, the once-leader of the Islamic State-Sinai (now deceased), had been an officer in the Iraqi army before joining ISIL and eventually moving to Egypt.[40] Thus, we are already beginning to see foreign terrorist fighters depart Syria and Iraq to participate in other conflicts. Based on historical patterns and current realities, some of these relocating foreign fighters will re-join al-Qaeda and others will attach themselves to local ISIL affiliates. We will likely witness in-fighting between al-Qaeda and ISIL factions in these areas of conflict for a period of time. But, given their common worldview, it is also likely that a certain degree of cooperation will exist on the ground. The veteran foreign fighters will bring new tactical knowledge to conflicts — e.g., in the use of unmanned aerial vehicles — and will push local groups toward the brutal tactics sensationalized by ISIL. But, for the most part, the status quo will remain in these ongoing conflicts. Thus, the most dramatic shift will likely be felt beyond these conflict zones: in the West and even more so in many of the Muslim majority countries where ISIL and al-Qaeda do not have affiliates. The future of the jihadist movement in the rest of the world will not depend on al-Qaeda versus the ISIL, nor the writings of one ideologue versus another. But rather, over the next three to five years, many of these veteran foreign fighters will attempt to persuade others to join their cause. As in the past, this recruitment will take place in prisons, prayer groups, mosques, and universities. Veteran foreign fighters will continue to reach out on social media. And, as in the past, they will be successful. The question is how successful. The answer will depend on the success or failure of re-integration and de-radicalization programs for the foreign fighter returnees and their families. Some countries have begun to implement such programs, but most of them are nascent, leaving the prospects of de-radicalizing veteran foreign terrorist fighters uncertain.[41] It will also depend on counter-terrorism cooperation worldwide. Interpol has begun to assist law enforcement agencies around the world in their efforts to monitor foreign terrorist fighters as they attempt to return home or relocate to other countries.[42] But this cooperation, too, has only recently begun to accelerate in the international community, primarily due to the passage of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2396 in December 2017.[43] Other, wider factors will matter too. For example, attitudes toward and treatment of Muslim minorities in the West, as well as in other countries such as Myanmar, India, and Thailand, will be an important determinant.[44] Thus, in this wider context, the future direction of the jihadist movement over the next three to five years depends both on the behavior of foreign fighter veterans and on the global response to them in the wake of ISIL’s territorial defeat today.   R. Kim Cragin, Ph.D. is a senior research fellow at the National Defense University. She is a widely published expert on counterterrorism, foreign fighters, and terrorist group adaptation. Cragin recently left a position as senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation and also has taught as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and the University of Maryland. The opinions expressed here represent her own views and are not those of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government

3. We Squeezed the Balloon: As ISIL Collapses, Jihadism Remains in a Growth Phase

By Daveed Gartenstein-Ross The Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIL) has rapidly imploded since the latter half of 2017, yet despite this fact, global jihadism remains a potent force. Since the Arab Spring first began in late 2010, jihadism has experienced a rapid growth phase that continues today. In addition to jihadists continuing to fight on Syria’s front lines, major battlefields where these militants have recently controlled territory, or threaten to, include Afghanistan, Libya, Mali, the Philippines, Somalia, and Yemen. Despite this, ISIL’s implosion has left many wondering about the future of the jihadist movement. In order to understand where it is headed, we must consider three factors: First, the geopolitical backdrop against which jihadism continues to thrive. Second, the fact that violent non-state actors are currently doing a very effective job of exploiting technological advances. And third, the present state of two major fault lines in the jihadist movement that have come to define how we understand it: centralization vs. decentralization, and globalism vs. nationalism in regional militant groups. Similar to what happens when one squeezes a balloon, the caliphate’s collapse has displaced jihadists, their ideology, and the threats they pose, into other places. Yet, though aspects of the jihadist movement continue to evolve, we should not be too quick to declare that its essence has changed. While defeating ISIL as a territorial entity was necessary for various pragmatic and moral reasons, it unfortunately does not signal the beginning of the end of global jihadism — a movement that is dedicated to overthrowing existing political orders and replacing them with a transnational political Islamic entity, and that will act transnationally to advance this goal[45]  — as a significant strategic threat. Indeed, even as the caliphate has fallen, global jihadism has continued to spread. Room for Growth: The Geopolitical Context For years, the existence of ungoverned spaces used to enable training, communications, operational planning, and other organizational functions have factored heavily in analysts’ evaluation of jihadist threats. These ungoverned spaces and jihadist safe havens have increased in number since the time of the 9/11 attacks, especially in countries touched by the Arab Spring. Even after ISIL’s collapse as a territorial entity, Sunni jihadist groups continue to control a significant swath of territory in Syria. Indeed, even ISIL’s collapse may end up being less devastating to the group than it initially appeared would be the case, as Turkey’s invasion of the Kurdish enclave of Afrin has distracted ISIL’s foes, whose attention is now focused more on fighting one another than it is on mopping up the remainder of the caliphate and preventing its resurgence.[46] While ISIL is the group we most associate with holding territory in Syria, many different jihadist groups now hold or contest areas of the country. In Libya, the government was never able to reestablish its writ after the fall of Muammar Qaddafi’s regime in 2011. Jihadists have predictably exploited this situation. ISIL succeeded in capturing and holding the city of Sirte for months, while other jihadist groups have experienced even more sustained success. The Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade (ASMB) and the Mujahedin Shura Council (MSC), an umbrella organization in which ASMB plays a leading role, have seized control of the eastern coastal city of Derna. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb officially endorsed the MSC in July 2015.[47] Jihadists also have significant operating space in Yemen despite the United States escalating its kinetic campaign against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. As the New York Times recently reported, “the threat of a terrorist attack — with the most commonly feared target a commercial airliner — emanating from the chaotic, ungoverned spaces of Yemen remains high on the government’s list of terrorism concerns.”[48] Both Mali and Somalia face burgeoning jihadist-led insurgencies. In Somalia, African Union forces have already begun to reduce their numbers, bolstering the jihadist group al-Shabaab’s hopes that it could again become the dominant military force in southern Somalia. In the place where the “global war on terror” first began — Afghanistan/Pakistan — not only has the Taliban been gaining ground militarily, but available evidence, including the discovery of a 30-square-mile al-Qaeda training facility near Kandahar, suggests that the Taliban has not severed its ties to al-Qaeda.[49] ISIL has also established a foothold in Afghanistan, where it has been responsible for a string of mass-casualty terrorist attacks.[50] Although it doesn’t fit the mold of other safe havens, which are typically made possible by operating in ungoverned spaces, Turkey deserves a mention here. In recent years, U.S. officials have been alarmed by Turkey’s growing willingness to shelter violent jihadists, including those connected to al-Qaeda.[51] In addition to ungoverned spaces and safe havens, jihadism has experienced significant growth in areas where it had previously been a marginal movement at best. Prior to the outbreak of the Arab Spring, analysts held that Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak had defeated the country’s militant Islamic groups after they overplayed their hand in the 1997 Luxor massacre.[52] Today, jihadism has powerfully reemerged, and there are more frequent attacks than ever before by militant groups like ISIL’s Wilayat Sinai, including the devastating November 2017 attack on a Sufi mosque in northern Sinai that claimed over 300 lives.[53] In countries like Tunisia and Jordan, jihadism has moved from an afterthought to a first-order strategic concern. Meanwhile, the jihadist resurgence from South to Southeast Asia — most dramatically underscored last year by the months-long capture of the Philippine city of Marawi by a regional ISIL affiliate — represents a reversal of one of the major success stories of the post-9/11 era. Early Adopters: Taking Advantage of Technology Jihadists’ ability to leverage technological advances, especially in the communications space, is another reason that their movement remains strong. Technology has historically had an ambiguous impact on sub-state violence. On the one hand, states can leverage new advances, including for surveillance purposes and gathering information from local populations.[54] On the other hand, militant groups can capitalize on these same platforms. Many key recent advances appear to, on the whole, favor jihadists. The world has witnessed breakthroughs across so many spheres, including social media and encrypted end-to-end communication, that exploiting new advances has seemingly proven easier for those who would use these technologies for the more straightforward task of destruction than for those who want to use them to protect. An early sign of jihadists’ growing ability to take advantage of new technologies was the way ISIL combined a deft exploitation of social media with breakthroughs in DIY video production techniques to craft slick and effective propaganda that helped drive a record number of foreign fighters to the Syria-Iraq theater.[55] The suspension of pro-ISIL social media accounts by service providers later reduced, but did not eliminate, the yield that ISIL received from this platform.[56] By the time states caught up, ISIL had already found other creative ways to exploit new technologies. For example, the post-Edward Snowden boom in end-to-end encryption allowed ISIL to craft digital methods of providing the same assistances to remote operatives that physical terrorist networks once provided in person.[57] Over the past few years, Syria-based ISIL operatives have found recruits online, spurred them to action, and have played an intimate role in the conceptualization, target selection, timing, and execution of attacks. They have also used encrypted communication platforms to assist in bomb-making techniques. Virtual planners have even helped operatives who got cold feet, literally coaching them right up until the moment they blew themselves up. In a July 2016 suicide bombing outside a concert in Ansbach, Germany, attacker Mohammad Daleel told the virtual planner with whom he was communicating that he found the security measures outside the concert daunting. The Long War Journal reports their ensuing conversation:
The unnamed operative told Daleel … to look for an appropriate place to put his bomb and then try to “disappear into the crowd.” The jihadist egged Daleel on, saying the asylum-seeker should “break through police cordons,” run away and “do it.”   “Pray for me,” Daleel wrote at one point. “You do not know what is happening with me right now,” Daleel typed, in an apparent moment of doubt.   “Forget the festival and go over to the restaurant,” the handler responded. “Hey man, what is going on with you? Even if just two people were killed, I would do it. Trust in Allah and walk straight up to the restaurant.”[58]
And that is what Daleel did. He walked into a wine bar and blew himself up, injuring 15 people. Had Daleel not been communicating with a virtual planner up until the moment of the attack, his fears and uncertainty very likely would have prevented him from completing his terrorist mission. The virtual planner model has helped transform lone attackers, relying solely on the internet for inspiration, guidance, and planning, from the bungling wannabes of a decade ago into something much more dangerous.[59] The operatives who are recruited and coached by virtual planners have been seamlessly incorporated into jihadist groups’ global strategy in a way that “lone wolves” never were before. There are also technological advances that jihadist groups haven’t yet employed in Western countries, but that they have already begun using in Iraq and Syria. In January 2017, researchers from West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center and Harvard University’s Belfer Center published an article examining documents discovered by the Iraqi military that shed light on ISIL’s program for developing and enhancing its unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capabilities.[60] They found that ISIL had “a formal, institutionalized, and resourced drone unit as early as 2015,” and that the group was already planning on using UAVs in an offensive capacity at that time. And ISIL did indeed use UAVs for military purposes. BuzzFeed’s Mike Giglio did some of the most valuable embedded reporting from Iraq on the campaign to push ISIL from its territorial stronghold. In a report published in June 2017, he graphically described ISIL’s use of UAVs against Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Force fighters with whom he was embedded:
ISIS drones swarm overhead as the battalion’s convoy pushes into the outskirts of western Mosul the next morning. One after another they drop grenades, wreaking havoc as soldiers fire their weapons wildly into the sky. From one of the Humvees, I watch as the battalion’s portly cook makes his lunch rounds in an armored truck, driving up and down the convoy to deliver Styrofoam boxes of food. The drones track him, dropping grenades as soldiers gather to collect the boxes. They are remotely piloted by militants who weave in and out of civilian neighborhoods on motorbikes to take cover from airstrikes. ISIS also uses the video feeds on the drones to coordinate mortars and car bombs. On the front lines, its fighters are standing their ground, and soldiers at the head of the convoy can hear them shouting, “Allahu Akbar.”[61]
In January, Russian forces in Syria destroyed a swarm of 13 improvised UAVs as they approached the Khmeimim airbase and Tartus naval facility to carry out an attack. Though no Russian forces were killed, this fact should not cause undue complacency. As militant groups innovate, their early attempts to try out new tactics often appear to result in failures, but they would be better understood as steps in the learning process. Moreover, the Russian investigation of the UAVs revealed their impressive range. The UAVs were “launched from a site more than 50 kilometres (31 miles) distant from their targets,” and could strike a target 62 miles away.[62] Although jihadists currently seem to be getting more out of new technologies than states do, relative to their respective capabilities, states may be able to gain the upper hand in the future. But for now, the efficacy of militant groups continues to rise, and for every new app or tech toy that we stop to admire, someone else is wondering how they can use it to wreak havoc. Inside the Jihadist Movement: Assessing its Fault Lines New communications technologies contribute to a general sense of interconnectedness, which is a crucial component of globalization. At the same time, this interconnectedness is highly relevant to the jihadist movement, as it fundamentally relates to two key fault lines within that movement that have defined how we understand it: centralization vs. decentralization, and globalism vs. localism.[63] In the past, analysts have been too eager to discern trends toward decentralization and localism that, if true, would work to America’s advantage.[64] Similar perceptions have arisen from some recent high-profile internal disputes involving core al-Qaeda members, as well as the fall of ISIL’s territorial caliphate. But caution is warranted before concluding that the essence of the jihadist movement has now definitively shifted toward a decentralized or locally-focused entity. Centralization vs. Decentralization Analysts have consistently tended to underestimate the role of senior leadership in providing strategic direction to jihadist groups, leading them to conclude that these groups are highly decentralized. Before ISIL’s rise as an independent entity, al-Qaeda — as the world’s preeminent transnational jihadist group — stood at the center of this debate. Its senior leadership was generally underestimated, in part, because al-Qaeda does not fit scholars’ top-down leadership model.[65] When ISIL essentially controlled its own state, it better accorded with this model. It remains to be seen, however, how analysts will assess the relevance of ISIL’s core leadership to its affiliates now that the group has lost most of its territory. Another reason that analysts may have a tendency to view the jihadist movement as decentralized is that state officials frequently disparage or downplay the role of jihadist groups’ senior leadership — either as part of information operations (IO) campaigns or due to sincere belief — dismissing them as irrelevant, disconnected, unable to communicate, and the like. These official portrayals have an impact on scholarly and analytic perceptions of organizational dynamics.[66] For al-Qaeda, although it has evolved somewhat over time, the group’s current organizational structure reflects the strategic vision of its founders. From the outset, al-Qaeda adopted an organizational design wherein the group’s senior leadership outlined a strategic course, empowered mid-level commanders to execute the strategy as they saw fit, and even encouraged “terrorist entrepreneurs” to pitch them on new plots. This latter characteristic spurred scholar Bruce Hoffman to note that bin Laden often “operated as a venture capitalist” in his running of al-Qaeda.[67] This concept of “centralization of decision and decentralization of execution,” as it has been described,[68] remains relevant today, and indeed, has enabled al-Qaeda to maintain organizational and strategic coherence even in the face of considerable challenges, both external and internal. But al-Qaeda’s decision to adopt new affiliates created an organizational challenge in terms of maintaining strategic coherence that did not exist at the group’s founding. Although the implications of these new affiliates are discussed below, it is worth stating here that the foundational principle of centralization of decision and decentralization of execution would prove important in incorporating them into the group’s broader organizational plans. Even in times of great duress, al-Qaeda has always viewed some form of leadership over the jihadist movement as essential, so as not to leave the movement rudderless. Even when al-Qaeda was at its nadir in November 2002 — when the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan had displaced it from the safe haven it previously enjoyed, and when U.S.-led kinetic operations were constantly taking important al-Qaeda leaders off the battlefield — the organization rejected Abu Musab al-Suri’s proposal to move to a leaderless model of jihad.[69] Of course, the fact that it sees itself as a centralized organization does not mean that al-Qaeda’s senior leadership is influential throughout the network in practice. Since 9/11, two specific obstacles to al-Qaeda’s senior leadership maintaining strategic coherence have arisen. First, the group has expanded geographically, taking on new affiliates at the same time that its senior leadership has remained targeted and thus constrained. Second, these affiliates have grown financially independent of al-Qaeda’s leadership, making loyalty and allegiance important tools by which al-Qaeda Central attempts to maintain organizational and strategic cohesion. Al-Qaeda’s leaders have built enduring relationships with jihadists across the globe over the decades. These personal relationships — which are often solidified on the battlefield, or through marriage and extended family networks — serve as a binding force, and as a buffer against disobedience. Allegiance to the organization’s brand and mission serves as another crucial source of organizational cohesion — and also provides al-Qaeda Central with indirect coercive power, because jihadist groups that defect or clash with al-Qaeda’s leadership may be unable to benefit from relationships with al-Qaeda-aligned regional jihadist groups. For example, both al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al-Shabaab in Somalia helped to bolster Boko Haram organizationally when the Nigerian government cracked down on the insurgent group in 2009. Boko Haram’s later defection to ISIL in 2015 may have impeded its ability to be succored by al-Qaeda-aligned jihadist organizations when a four-country offensive targeted the Nigerian jihadist group beginning that year. Al-Qaeda is not the only transnational jihadist organization to face internal challenges. Before losing its Syria/Iraq territorial stronghold, ISIL operated in a highly centralized fashion, similar to al-Qaeda in pre-9/11 Afghanistan. The evidence about ISIL’s relations with its affiliates across the globe is less robust than the information about how it governed in its caliphate territory. But it is clear that the organization possessed the means to wield some coercive power over those groups, including the ability to provide or withhold funding, and to authorize or withdraw the right of these affiliates to associate themselves with its soaring brand. But ISIL’s decline as a territorial entity will challenge its ability to maintain a strategically coherent organization. This raises two key questions when it comes to the relevance of ISIL’s core leadership. First, have the group’s leaders taken the necessary preparations to ensure that affiliates fit into their strategic plans, even as the caliphate itself drastically declines? Second, will key affiliates defect from the organization, risking a spiral of defections and weakening ISIL Core’s ability to maintain control? It remains to be seen what will come of the organizational challenges that both al-Qaeda and ISIL currently confront. Yet the current difficulties that confront both groups do not change the fact that the discernible trend within the jihadist movement over the past 20 years has been toward centralization rather than decentralization. Many jihadist groups fighting in conflicts in Chechnya, Nigeria, the Philippines, Somalia, and elsewhere were previously only loosely connected to transnational jihadism as an organizational matter. Today, these regional groups are overtly aligned with transnational ones. Conversely, there are no jihadist theaters where local, independent groups have supplanted transnational jihadists militarily. As previously alluded to, new communications technologies have accelerated the trend toward centralization by allowing greater interconnectedness. Conversely, new communications platforms also allow a multiplicity of voices to be heard where once messaging could be more tightly controlled. Global vs. National Focus A second fault line runs between globally focused jihadist movements and nationalist jihadist movements. Global and local agendas and strategies have existed simultaneously within the jihadist movement for years, sometimes clashing with one another. Yet, if we zoom out of the particulars of current controversies and instead examine the broad sweep of the movement, we can see an overall trend toward globalism rather than nationalism among jihadist groups, just as we see a trend toward centralization. For example, an increasing number of jihadist groups act in accordance with their professed transnational vision when the opportunity arises, by aiding jihadists whose primary focus is outside their own theater. This has been true in the relationship among Boko Haram, AQIM, and al-Shabaab. It can also be seen in the jihadist foreign fighters who leave their homes for far-flung theaters where they lack any real connection to local dynamics. A “global focus” should not be conflated, as is sometimes the case, with whether a given group is trying to attack Western countries at the moment. Rather, when determining whether a group is globally focused, it is more relevant to look for the combination of a transnational vision and transnational activities, rather than simply gauging whether it prioritizes Western targets. When al-Qaeda embraced a “far-enemy” focused military strategy in the 1990s, it was motivated by the assessment that Islamists could only topple local regimes and establish Islamic emirates if they first crippled the West, or forced Western disengagement from the Middle East and North Africa. Otherwise, al-Qaeda strategists thought, Western states would step in, provide military, economic, and intelligence support, and prevent these “near enemy” regimes from falling. The far-enemy strategy was thus a means to an end, rather than an unalterable commitment to prioritizing attacks against the West. Furthermore, there is zero evidence that since adding affiliates, al-Qaeda’s senior leadership disapproved of the local objectives of AQIM, al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent. Indeed, for any transnational jihadist group’s senior leadership, it is vital that local branches are tailored to concerns, grievances, and aspirations that resonate in that theater, even as their activities fit into the mother group’s broader ambitions. The events of the Arab Spring shifted jihadists’ calculus, as it demonstrated that Western states would not necessarily step in to save autocratic regimes. Indeed, in the case of Libya, Western governments actually intervened to topple Qaddafi. ISIL’s ability to control significant territory for years despite foolishly making enemies at every turn further underscored new opportunities for jihadists in the region.[70] It would be in the United States’ interest if regional groups eschewed all aspects of a global jihadist agenda and instead focused on local conflicts in places like Yemen or Somalia. But we should not overestimate our ability to bring this about, nor should we assume that jihadist groups, left to their own devises, will naturally choose to focus exclusively on local agendas. The increasingly globalized world we inhabit outside the jihadist context, the diffusion of secure communications technology, and greater adoption of a pan-Islamic identity across multiple regions all support the trend toward a global focus, even as regional groups also tailor their strategies and activities to local preferences. Writing about the “ideological hybridization” of jihadist organizations in 2009, Thomas Hegghammer observed that “the distinction between near enemy and far enemy groups seems less and less relevant.” The process of ideological hybridization, Hegghammer concluded, had “the result that the enemy hierarchies of many jihadist groups are becoming more unclear or heterogeneous than they used to be.”[71] Hegghammer’s hybridization thesis still has significant explanatory power today. Conclusion The collapse of ISIL’s caliphate was an important achievement for numerous reasons. ISIL was using the territory it controlled to plan large-scale terrorist attacks across the world, was brutalizing the population under its yoke, openly boasted of how it had instituted sex slavery, and adopted genocidal policies toward the Yazidis and other religious minorities. The fact that it no longer controls its own state is a positive development. Yet ISIL Core, although still an important player, does not represent the jihadist movement as a whole. At key inflection points like this one, the majority of analysts have sometimes misread the movement’s future direction.[72] When the Arab Spring began, many assessed that the revolutions would likely harm the jihadist movement. Likewise, analysts overestimated the likelihood that ISIL, once it split from al-Qaeda, would attract major al-Qaeda branches into its orbit. Today, ISIL’s precipitous decline should be understood in the context of a larger movement that remains dynamic, adaptable, and dangerous, and that has significantly grown in strength since the Arab Spring revolutions. If Western countries are to turn ISIL’s territorial defeat into a lasting strategic success, their leaders must correctly interpret where the movement goes from here. Three factors are helping to define its future and enable its resiliency and lethality: a geopolitical environment favorable to jihadist groups, technological advances they can leverage, and a trend toward centralization and a global focus. Together, these factors help to explain why, almost 17 years after the 9/11 attacks, “victory” in the War on Terror — or even a path to or concept of victory — remains elusive.   Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Chief Executive Officer of the private firm Valens Global. Previous positions that Gartenstein-Ross has held include Senior Advisor to the Director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Community Partnerships, Fellow at Google’s think tank Jigsaw, and Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University. The author or volume editor of twenty-three books and monographs, Gartenstein-Ross holds a Ph.D. in World Politics from The Catholic University of America and a J.D. from the New York University School of Law.

4. ISIL, al-Qaeda, and What Goes Viral Next: Why Tomorrow’s Jihadist Movement Might Not Look so Different from Today’s

By Joshua Geltzer Since the summer of 2014, when the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) swept across Syria and into Iraq, the group’s core, with its expansive territorial safe haven and legions of fighters, has generally been considered the world’s preeminent jihadist terrorist threat.[73] This remained the case even as longer-simmering jihadist threats — such as those posed by al-Qaeda in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region and by al-Shabaab in East Africa — persisted and evolved, and as the global jihadist movement grew more complex and varied.[74] It is too soon to declare the threat posed by ISIL’s core a thing of the past.[75] But the group has lost and continues to lose much of the territory that it once controlled in Syria and Iraq.[76]  That territorial control not only provided time and space for plotting terrorist attacks in the region and beyond,[77] but also fueled the group’s global messaging, which in turn filled its ranks with foreign fighters and incited violence by those who never travelled to Syria or Iraq and instead opted to remain at home, attacking those whom the group deemed its enemies. With the core of ISIL increasingly squeezed in Syria and Iraq and debates rising about whether al-Qaeda can leverage this opportunity to retake market share, what lies ahead for the various strands of the jihadist movement and the threats they pose? Geographically, Syria is likely to remain a major focus: ISIL is still a threat there, and al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate has sown the seeds of a long-term threat with which the West has yet to grapple sufficiently.  Organizationally, ISIL and al-Qaeda appear poised to remain key players, even if their affiliates — for ISIL, in places like Libya and Egypt; for al-Qaeda, in locations like Syria and Yemen — may prove better situated to continue the fight than either organization’s embattled core. On the technological front, ISIL has shown the way for other jihadists who might rise to present their own global threats via the Internet. Mission Still Not Accomplished: ISIL’s Core Isn’t Defeated Yet As tempting as it may be to treat ISIL’s core as defeated and focus instead on other terrorist threats, it is simply too soon to declare “mission accomplished” in Iraq and Syria. To be sure, ISIL is losing geography, fighters, and resources as the U.S.-led coalition’s campaign against it continues and even appears to be accelerating.[78] But, as I recently suggested elsewhere, the last mile of defeating a terrorist group can be the hardest one, a lesson the United States learned all too well from the lingering remnants of ISIL’s predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq.[79] ISIL is down but not out, especially in Syria where it remains a more robust fighting force than in Iraq. The group is estimated to retain thousands of fighters, and the area in which those fighters appear to be making their next stand — the Euphrates River Valley — will likely challenge the reach of the Counter-ISIL Coalition, given the lack of a previous ground presence there, the possibility of greater sympathy and even support for ISIL among the local population, and the continuing complexities of the overall dynamic in Syria, including rising tensions between Turkey and the Kurds.[80] This dynamic includes a number of dissonant elements: an Assad regime that has an opportunity to reassert control over an increasing swath of the country, a patron regime in Moscow that wants to see a return on the investment it made by backing the Assad regime, a government in Tehran that seeks to be more assertive regionally while also coping with increasingly vocal discontent at home, and subnational Syrian actors, like the Kurds, who are aiming for at least a greater degree of autonomy in Syria when it emerges from the devastating conflict that continues there. In addition, Washington’s own approach to these and other key actors (like Baghdad and Erbil) has involved the deliberate perpetuation of strategic ambiguities that have enabled crucial progress in the fight against ISIL but are ultimately unsustainable.[81] Truly defeating a terrorist group is hard enough under the best of circumstances. In this tremendously challenging scenario, it is all the more difficult. So, for the moment, ISIL’s core remains a formidable piece of the overall jihadist picture, and one unlikely to be eradicated imminently given the enduring complexities surrounding counterterrorism efforts against the group. The challenges presented by ISIL extend beyond the shrinking but persistent and still formidable remnants of its core in Syria and Iraq. The group lays claim to officially recognized affiliates as well as less formally acknowledged networks worldwide.[82] ISIL-Libya, which once exerted such control over the coastal city of Sirte that it could hold flag-waving parades down its major boulevards, is among its most lethal affiliates.[83] Another is ISIL-Sinai, which is believed responsible for bringing down Metrojet Flight 9268 in October 2015, killing 224 in the deadliest bombing of a civil airliner since Pan Am Flight 103 exploded above Lockerbie in 1988.[84] It is simply too soon to project reliably the trajectories of these and other ISIL affiliates. ISIL-Libya, for example, appears largely cleared from Sirte, thanks in part to U.S. air power, but the group is assessed to retain hundreds of fighters elsewhere in the country.[85] Meanwhile, ISIL-Sinai is thought to be responsible for killing more than 300 worshippers at a mosque in November 2017 in the affiliate’s deadliest attack yet.[86] Whether these particular ISIL affiliates are waxing or waning depends in part on the counterterrorism pressure that they will face in coming months and years.  Regardless, neither affiliate appears likely to recede swiftly, and each might well prove to remain on the rise. Overall, while ISIL has attempted to provide some coherence to its global organization, it seems unlikely that the fates of the group’s affiliates will entirely stand or fall with ISIL’s trajectory in Syria and Iraq. From West Africa to Southeast Asia, ISIL affiliates have worked assiduously to build redundancies into the group’s overall system, such that many individual affiliates have their own local leadership, recruiting pipeline, and operational networks.[87] Success has been uneven. But at least some of ISIL’s affiliates will continue, for the foreseeable future, to pose a threat to carry out attacks, galvanize followers, and even seize new territory no matter how the group’s core is faring. Indeed, the prominence of these affiliates may be set to rise, as the organization as a whole attempts to compensate for setbacks in Syria and Iraq by boosting the prominence of ISIL’s presence elsewhere. That may mean not only augmented messaging focused on ISIL outside Syria and Iraq but also increased violence, as those outposts attempt to sustain the group’s relevance through terrorist attacks and potentially through the establishment of new safe havens. It is also possible that, as ISIL’s core loses territorial control, certain ISIL affiliates will distance themselves from the central organization. This may be particularly appealing for the affiliates whose existence predated ISIL’s formation, such as the portion of Boko Haram that became ISIL’s West African affiliate.[88] For such affiliates to splinter from the global ISIL organization could weaken them or at least create opportunities for counterterrorism forces to make gains against them, thanks to reduced financing, renunciations by discontented members, and general strategic and tactical drift. At the same time, for those affiliates that can turn to regionally focused grievances and exploit them effectively, there is the possibility of gaining traction and strength. It is further possible that Washington would no longer see them as a Western problem, thus leading the United States to lose focus on the threat that they pose — a seriously shortsighted and potentially dangerous miscalculation.[89] One can also imagine, with its territory in Syria and Iraq shrinking, ISIL becoming even less centralized of an organization than it already is. Characterizing a terrorist group’s level of centralization is susceptible to oversimplification. For example, while ISIL’s Internet-based messaging has certain central themes that are repeated in languages worldwide, its operational direction over the tactics of specific terrorist attacks is famously decentralized.  That said, overall one might expect ISIL’s core in Syria and Iraq to become increasingly focused on simply surviving and thus decreasingly able to align global messaging, seed leaders for new affiliates and networks, and otherwise provide general direction to the group’s far-flung pockets of fighters. That, in turn, may lead ISIL affiliates to experiment with new attack tactics, new ways of interacting with local populations, and new messaging themes — perhaps even finding success that is then ripe for emulation and replication across ISIL’s other affiliates. Al-Qaeda: Laying the Foundations for a Resurgent Threat ISIL is not the only serious terrorist threat emanating from Syria today. Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria — now calling itself Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) — may continue to rebrand itself periodically and to spar publicly with al-Qaeda’s overall leader Ayman al-Zawahiri,[90] but its essence remains unchanging:[91] It is a jihadist terrorist organization committed to using violence to pursue “a transnational jihadi project.”[92] HTS — which, to reiterate, should be understood at its core as “al-Qaeda in Syria,” regardless of what its relationship to al-Zawahiri happens to be at the moment — is increasingly marked by more than just its violent ambition. The group has consolidated control in Idlib Province and swelled its ranks.[93] Meanwhile, the continuing multisided violence, humanitarian catastrophe, and lack of governance in huge swaths of Syria have limited the counterterrorism pressure being applied on the group. This combination of enjoying a physical safe haven, boasting sizable numbers, and facing minimal governmental pressure have produced for HTS a literal “Qaeda” or “base” of the type that Osama bin Laden once worked assiduously to establish in Afghanistan, only to see it lost to the United States-led military campaign launched in the wake of 9/11. HTS appears to be exhibiting both greater strategic patience and greater tactical patience than bin Laden. Strategically, it is insinuating itself for the long haul in the Syrian population and local power structures. Tactically, the group appears to be looking toward large-scale terrorist attacks in the West once those become feasible — when that would be remains uncertain and deeply worrisome — rather than prioritizing smaller-scale operations, like ISIL has done, that are more readily achievable. But, if HTS is not yet the preeminent global terrorist threat today, then it might well be tomorrow. With ISIL losing literal and figurative ground in Syria, HTS may be poised to gain ground elsewhere in the country and to take advantage of having a safe haven essentially on the shores of the Mediterranean to pose a terrorist threat stretching into Europe and beyond. While HTS’s fundamental commitment to the basic jihadist agenda is clear, the precise balance among the group’s long-term priorities is less so. For example, it is unclear how the group’s aims within Syria will be prioritized in relation to its objectives in the broader region as well as globally. How HTS strikes that balance is likely to determine how quickly the group uses — and thus risks — the base that it has built in Syria in service of pursuing terrorist attacks elsewhere. It may also affect its role within the broader al-Qaeda organization. If HTS seeks to exercise leadership over that global organization, then it may need to find ways to reverse its recent acrimony with al-Zawahiri.[94] In contrast, if the group is satisfied with a near-term focus on Syria, then there may be little urgency in reestablishing harmony across al-Qaeda’s various franchises. Either way, policymakers in the United States and elsewhere would be wise to regard the threat posed by HTS — with its safe haven and potentially widespread global credibility among jihadists — as urgent. Outside of Syria, al-Qaeda’s affiliates continue to pose serious threats, especially those in areas rife with ongoing conflict and lacking in credible governance. That is especially true of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). As outgoing National Counterterrorism Center Director Nick Rasmussen recently commented, Yemen “continues to be one of the most frustrating theaters in our work right now.”[95] Much as for HTS in Syria, the continuing violence and lack of effective governance in Yemen allow AQAP physical and political space to plot attacks, recruit fighters, and stockpile resources.[96] Making things even more complicated, nowhere are the lines between allegiance to al-Qaeda and allegiance to ISIL more blurred than in Yemen,[97] suggesting that, should ISIL wane in global popularity with the loss of territory in Syria and Iraq, AQAP may stand to gain recruits from ISIL defectors.  So, too, does al-Qaeda’s affiliate in East Africa, al-Shabaab, which was reportedly behind Somalia’s worst terrorist attack ever in October 2017, which killed more than 500 people.[98]  And al-Qaeda continues to fester elsewhere as well, from Mali to India. The draw of al-Qaeda to jihadists never fully waned, even as ISIL surged to prominence. And should that surge be reversed as ISIL suffers continued setbacks in the heartland of its self-declared caliphate, al-Qaeda stands to gain from those whose allegiance could easily be reversed. While al-Qaeda’s senior leadership, presumed to be in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, appears largely isolated and focused primarily on survival,[99] al-Zawahiri and other top figures retain meaningful resonance for key influencers among al-Qaeda’s global followers and therefore represent their own continuing threat.[100] Even as other al-Qaeda affiliates, such as AQAP and HTS, have moved toward slicker Internet-disseminated messaging, al-Zawahiri has tended to circulate videos generally reminiscent of those that bin Laden used to share a decade ago, with al-Zawahiri generally speaking in a monotone while gazing, unmoving, at the camera.[101] Nonetheless, the fundamental credibility that al-Zawahiri and other al-Qaeda figures maintain with segments of the jihadist population means that a resurgence in their prominence remains conceivable, especially if they were to adopt a fresher approach to crafting and disseminating their communications. ISIL 2.0 So far, this discussion of the global jihadist threat landscape has had a familiar ring. After all, ISIL and al-Qaeda are the household names of jihadism. It is precisely because those groups have been so successful, not just at establishing their own “brands” but also at coopting local groups from Syria to Nigeria to the Philippines, that ISIL and al-Qaeda, in rather different ways, have become the overwhelmingly dominant franchises of what, beneath the surface, is a multifaceted and complicated jihadist movement.[102] Their dominance of the jihadist marketplace has made it hard for “start-up” groups with similarly global, rather than merely local, ambition to gain comparative traction. If one such group does gain traction, it tends to get quickly targeted by the behemoths — either for cooption or for elimination. Nevertheless, ISIL’s ingenuity has demonstrated to other nascent groups where opportunity does exist to capture some of the jihadist “market share”: through the Internet. While its claim to a physical caliphate helped ISIL to grab attention and gain adherents since its 2014 surge, that message gained swift global traction because of the group’s sophisticated use of social media, file-upload sites, and other modern communications platforms to radicalize and mobilize followers worldwide. That means, on the one hand, that, despite the increasing efforts of technology companies to police their platforms,[103] ISIL will retain something of a virtual safe haven even as its physical safe haven in Syria and Iraq shrinks, allowing the group’s followers a platform to attempt to maintain relevance and exhort violence. But it also means that, because of ISIL’s online pioneering, a new jihadist group — what some have called “ISIS 2.0”[104]— would not need the distribution chain and seed capital normally required to challenge two dominant corporate giants. Instead, that distribution chain already exists in the form of the Internet, and exploiting it in the name of terrorist violence requires little seed capital, as it is available essentially free of charge. What matters more is having a compelling narrative and a leadership capable of inspiring followers based on that narrative. As my former colleague Jen Easterly and I have argued elsewhere, ISIL used the Internet to cultivate a false sense of belonging to a community centered around the group’s purported caliphate. Indeed, rather than mobilizing “lone wolves” as is often suggested, ISIL actually did the opposite: It made vulnerable and disaffected individuals feel that they were not alone because they were part of ISIL’s global community.[105] That sense of connection, initiated through deliberately accessible and even ostentatious online recruitment materials, is particularly dangerous in an era in which those who respond to it can then be shifted to communications platforms using end-to-end encryption inaccessible to governments. It is on those platforms that later stages of radicalization and even operational plotting can ensue.[106] For ISIL, a claim to a physical caliphate that could be marketed online with videos, photographs, and firsthand narratives was at the core of that sense of community with which the group energized the global jihadist movement and seized momentum within it. Generating a movement of that magnitude was no easy feat. It required first articulating an all-consuming worldview, barbaric as it was, and then making that worldview feel both real and compelling to those scattered around the world but potentially drawn to it. Still, there is no reason to think that laying claim to a physical caliphate is the only type of jihadist message that can be carefully cultivated, assiduously marketed, and, ultimately, go viral. Predicting what the next jihadist messaging campaign to go viral might be is ultimately impossible. Maybe that campaign could depend on a resurgence of familiar types of jihadist activity in the physical world, from the establishment of a new purported caliphate to a series of global terrorist attacks. Or it might instead become truly digitized by relying on offensive cyber operations to wreak havoc on computer systems or physical entities like power plants and electric grids, along the way energizing the global following needed to power ISIL 2.0.[107]  Revitalizing a new wave of jihadism through those sorts of cyberattacks, which would be relatively unprecedented for jihadists despite years of warnings,[108] presents a particularly concerning scenario, and one to which U.S. and other policymakers should be paying urgent attention. Regardless of what form it takes, somewhere a young jihadist may already be sitting in front of his or her computer screen, concocting the germ of a messaging campaign that, under the right circumstances, could gain traction. If such a campaign catches fire online, its creator will have ISIL to thank for demonstrating how to revive and refine jihadism for the digital age. Conclusion Across two administrations in Washington, one Democratic and one Republican, the U.S.-led coalition’s campaign against ISIL has featured a number of key elements:[109] a commitment to American leadership, including a major role for the U.S. Military, novel partnerships with state and sub-state actors on the ground, the involvement of a diverse set of coalition countries offering different types of capabilities to the campaign and collectively contributing to the credibility of the effort, and an attempt to minimize noncombatant casualties, even if that effort has at times fallen short in tragic ways.[110] This approach incorporated lessons learned from U.S. counterterrorism efforts since 9/11, while also adapting to the new roles that technology and the distinct features of the Syrian conflict were playing in the terrorist and counterterrorist dynamic emerging in Syria and Iraq. Tomorrow’s jihadist terrorism will not, of course, be identical to today’s. ISIL and al-Qaeda, while dominating the jihadist movement, are themselves changing, and whoever may surge next to prominence in the jihadist movement’s leadership will bring still more changes to that movement.  For policymakers charged with protecting the United States and U.S. interests against jihadist threats, the key will be to learn the right lessons from today’s counterterrorism efforts, while being prepared to adapt to tomorrow’s new challenges. That will require adapting, in particular, to the ever-changing role of technology, from social media sites where terrorist recruitment videos can be disseminated, to end-to-end encrypted platforms on which terrorist plots can be hatched without government awareness, to the next potential wave of technologically enabled terrorist activity, such as offensive cyber operations that cause damage in the physical world. The ways in which ISIL and al-Qaeda continue to evolve and the potential for new actors to use technology in novel ways for terrorist recruitment and incitement will shape the contours of jihadism in the years to come.   Joshua Geltzer is the founding Executive Director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, a Visiting Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center, and an ASU Future of War Fellow in New America’s International Security program. He served in various roles on the National Security Council staff, including as Senior Director for Counterterrorism from 2015 to 2017.  Flickr: Alatele Fr [post_title] => Policy Roundtable: What Is the Future of the Jihadist Movement? [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => policy-roundtable-future-jihadist-movement [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-04-24 12:20:00 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-04-24 16:20:00 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://tnsr.org/?post_type=roundtable&p=517 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => roundtable [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => With ISIL having lost the bulk of its territory in Iraq and Syria, we asked a group of experts what comes next for the jihadist movement. [pubinfo] => [issue] => [quotes] => [style] => roundtable [type] => Policy [style_label] => Roundtable [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 155 [1] => 152 [2] => 153 [3] => 154 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] Karen Parish, “Stopping flow of foreign fighters to ISIS 'will take years,' Army official says,” DoD News, April 6, 2017, https://www.army.mil/article/185550/stopping_flow_of_foreign_fighters_to_isis_will_take_years_army_official_says. [2] John Miller, “Declaration of War Against the Americans: Interview with Osama bin Laden,” ABC News, May 1998, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/binladen/who/interview.html. [3] Thomas Hegghammer, “The Ideological Hybridization of Jihadi Groups,” Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, November 18, 2009, https://www.hudson.org/research/9866-the-ideological-hybridization-of-jihadi-groups. [4] Leah Farrall, “How Al-Qaeda Works,” Foreign Affairs 90, no. 2 (March/April 2011), https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/south-asia/2011-02-20/how-al-qaeda-works. [5] See for example, “Dots on the Letters, as-Sahab’s 2nd Interview with Sheikh Abu Yahya at-Libi, Two Years After His Deliverance from Bagram Prison,” as-Sahab, September 9, 2007, https://scholarship.tricolib.brynmawr.edu/bitstream/handle/10066/5138/AYL20070909.pdf?sequence=3. [6] The NATO-led intervention in Libya also showed that the West would intervene to protect Muslim civilians. [7] William McCants, The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State (Kindle Edition: St. Martin's Press, 2015), 85. [8] Cole Bunzel, From Paper State to Caliphate: The Ideology of the Islamic State (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2014). [9] Abū Bakr al-Baghdādī, “Wa-bashshir al-mu’minīn,” via Jihadology, April 9, 2013, http://jihadology.net/2013/04/09/al-furqan-media-presents-a-new-audio-message-from-the-islamic-state-of-iraqs-shaykh-abu-bakr-al-%E1%B8%A5ussayni-al-qurayshi-al-baghdadi-announcement-of-the-islamic-state-of-iraq-an/. [10] “20,000 Foreign Fighters Flock to Syria, Iraq to Join Terrorists,” CBS News, Feb. 10, 2015, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/ap-20000-foreign-fighters-flock-to-syria-iraq-to-join-terrorists/. [11] “Sunni Rebels Declare New Islamic Caliphate,” Al Jazeera, June 30, 2014, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/06/isil-declares-new-islamic-caliphate-201462917326669749.html. [12] Quentin Sommerville and Riam Dalati, “Raqqa’s Dirty Secret,” BBC News, Nov. 13, 2017, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/raqqas_dirty_secret. [13] Assaf Moghadam and Brian Fishman eds., Fault Lines in Global Jihad: Organizational, Strategic, and Ideological Fissures (London and New York: Routledge, 2011). [14] William McCants, The Believer: How an Introvert with a Passion for Religion and Soccer Became Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Leader of the Islamic State (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2015). [15] Author interviews, Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM), Ankara, Turkey, January 2018. See also R. Kim Cragin, “Foreign Fighter ‘Hot Potato,’” Lawfare, Nov. 26, 2017, https://lawfareblog.com/foreign-fighter-hot-potato. [16] Lia Brynjar, Architect of Global Jihad: The Life of al-Qa’ida Strategist Abu Mus’ab al-Suri (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008). [17] Brynjar, Architect of Global Jihad, 2008. [18] R. Kim Cragin, “Metastases: Exploring the Impact of Foreign Fighters in Conflicts Abroad,” Journal of Strategic Studies Vol. 1, no. 2 (November 2017). [19] Naji Abu Bakr, Management of Savagery: The Most Critical State Through Which the Ummah will Pass, trans. William McCants, unpublished manuscript, 2004. [20] As of December 2017, ISIL had declared 25 provinces in at least 13 countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, Niger, Chad, Nigeria, and Cameroon. (Some dispute exists as to whether or not the southern Philippines and Bangladesh also constitute official ISIL provinces.) It should be noted that ISIL affiliates have not been able to claim and/or hold territory in all 13 of these countries. [21] Jytte Klausen, “Tweeting the Jihad: Social Media Networks of Western Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism Vol. 38, no. 1 (2015): 1, doi:10.1080/1057610X.2014.974948. [22] These messages began to emerge via ISIL fighters and media personalities as early as the fall of 2015, but it became prominent in official ISIL statements in the summer of 2016. For more information see R. Kim Cragin, “The November 2015 Paris Attacks: The Impact of Foreign Fighter Returnees,” Orbis Vol. 61, no. 2 (Spring 2017), https://www.fpri.org/article/2017/03/november-2015-paris-attacks-impact-foreign-fighter-returnees/. [23] Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, “That they Live by Proof,” Statement by ISIL Spokesman, translated and released by al-Hayat Media Center, May 22, 2016. [24] These numbers come from a database of ISIL external operations, attacks inside ISIL provinces, and foreign terrorist fighters maintained by the author at the National Defense University. [25] Quentin Sommerville and Riam Dalati, “Raqqa’s Dirty Secret,” BBC News, Nov. 13, 2017, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/raqqas_dirty_secret. [26] These numbers come from a database of ISIL external operations, attacks inside ISIL provinces, and foreign terrorist fighters maintained by the author at the National Defense University. For more information on trends in ISIL’s external operations, see R. Kim Cragin and Ari Weil, “’Virtual Planners’ in the Arsenal of Islamic State External Operations,” Orbis (forthcoming Spring 2018). [27] Ayman al-Zawahiri, “The Islamic Spring,” issued Sept. 12, 2015, translated and reposted by the SITE Intelligence Group under the title “Zawahiri Incites Lone Wolf Attacks in the U.S. and West, Urges Fighters in Syria, Iraq, to Cooperate with IS Against Enemy Alliance,” Sept. 12, 2015. [28] al-Zawahiri, “The Islamic Spring,” 2015. [29] Thomas Hegghammer, “The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters” International Security Vol. 35, no. 3 (Winter 2010/11): 53-94; Evan F. Kohlmann, Al-Qa’ida’s Jihad in Europe: The Afghan-Bosnian Network (Oxford: Berg, 2004). [30] R. Kim Cragin, “The Challenge of Foreign Fighter Returnees,” Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice Vol. 33, no. 3 (July 2017). [31] Cragin, “The Challenge of Foreign Fighter Returnees,” 2017; see also Cragin, “Metastases,” 2017. [32] Cragin, “Metasteses,” 2017; see also Thomas Hegghammer, Jihad in Saudi Arabia: Violence and Pan-Islamism since 1979 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010); Jean-Pierre Filiu, “The Local and the Global Jihad of al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghrib,” The Middle East Journal Vol. 63, no. 2 (Spring 2009): 213-226. [33] Author interviews in Tunisia, Algeria, Turkey, and Jordan with security officials responsible for countering foreign fighter flows, 2016-2017; see also Cragin, “Metastases,” 2017. [34] Karen Parish, “Stopping flow of foreign fighters to ISIS 'will take years,' Army official says,” DoD News, April 6, 2017, https://www.army.mil/article/185550/stopping_flow_of_foreign_fighters_to_isis_will_take_years_army_official_says. [35] Cragin, “Foreign Fighter ‘Hot Potato,’” 2017. [36] These numbers come from a database of ISIL external operations, attacks inside ISIL provinces, and foreign terrorist fighters maintained by the author at the National Defense University. The information comes from official estimates released by foreign fighters’ countries-of-origin, as well as fieldwork in the respective countries. [37] Cragin, “Foreign Fighter ‘Hot Potato,’” 2017. [38] Author interviews in Tunisia with security officials, September 2017. [39] Mohamed Benahmd, “Daqis and AQIM vie with Killings,” El Khabar, Jan. 22, 2016. [40] Author interviews with Egyptian officials in Washington, D.C., July 2017. [41]  Bart Schuurman and Liesbeth van der Heide, Foreign fighter returnees & the reintegration challenge (Radicalization Awareness Network, 2016). [42] Interpol, “Foreign Terrorist Fighters,” https://www.interpol.int/Crime-areas/Terrorism/Foreign-terrorist-fighters. [43] Threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts, United National Security Council Resolution 2396, Dec. 21, 2017. [44] William Marcellino, Kim Cragin, Joshua Mendelsohn et al., “Measuring the Popular Resonance of Daesh’s Propaganda,” Journal of Strategic Security Vol 10, no. 1 (March 2017), http://scholarcommons.usf.edu/jss/vol10/iss1/4. [45] This definition was formulated during a discussion with analyst Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, who suggested the basic components of how global jihadism can be defined. [46] See Patrick Cockburn, “Inside Syria: With Its Enemies Diverted or Fighting Each Other, Isis is Making a Swift and Deadly Comeback,” The Independent (London), March 4, 2018, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/isis-comeback-syria-ypg-raqqa-kurdish-war-fighting-islamic-state-a8239316.html. [47] See discussion in Thomas Joscelyn, “Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb Backs Jihadists Fighting Islamic State in Derna, Libya,” Long War Journal, July 9, 2015, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/07/al-qaeda-in-the-islamic-maghreb-backs-jihadists-fighting-islamic-state-in-derna-libya.php. [48] Eric Schmitt and Saeed al-Batati, “The U.S. Has Pummeled Al Qaeda in Yemen. But the Threat is Barely Dented,” The New York Times, Dec. 30, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/30/world/middleeast/yemen-al-qaeda-us-terrorism.html. [49] See Dan Lamothe, “‘Probably the Largest’ al-Qaeda Training Camp Ever Destroyed in Afghanistan,” The Washington Post, Oct. 30, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/30/world/middleeast/yemen-al-qaeda-us-terrorism.html. [50] See discussion in, for example, Krishnadev Calamur, “ISIS in Afghanistan is Like a Balloon that Won’t Pop,” The Atlantic, Dec. 28, 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/12/afghanistan-isis/549311/. [51] Joby Warrick, “Double Game? Even as it Battles ISIS, Turkey Gives Other Extremists Shelter,” The Washington Post, July 10, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/double-game-even-as-it-battles-isis-turkey-gives-other-extremists-shelter/2016/07/10/8d6ce040-4053-11e6-a66f-aa6c1883b6b1_story.html?utm_term=.53e6be64a1f6. [52] See discussion in Hassanein Tawfik Ibrahim, “The Rise and Fall of Militant Islamic Groups in Egypt,” in Klejda Mulaj ed., Violent Non-State Actors in World Politics (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010). [53] Declan Walsh and Nour Youssef, “Militants Kill 305 at Sufi Mosque in Egypt’s Deadliest Terrorist Attack,” The New York Times, Nov. 24, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/24/world/middleeast/mosque-attack-egypt.html. [54] One of the most important studies on this issue, by political scientists Jacob Shapiro and Nils Weidmann, used micro-level data from Iraq to compare trends in cellphone network penetration with insurgent violence. The trends in declining violence that Shapiro and Weidmann found suggested to them “that cellphone coverage reduces insurgent violence largely because it enhances voluntary information flow from noncombatants to counterinsurgents by reducing the risks of informing.” Jacob N. Shapiro and Nils B. Weidmann, “Is the Phone Mightier Than the Sword?: Cellphones and Insurgent Violence in Iraq,” International Organization 69:2 (March 2015), 271. [55] See discussion in J.M. Berger and Jonathon Morgan, The ISIS Twitter Census: Defining and Describing the Population of ISIS Supporters on Twitter (Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, 2015), https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/isis_twitter_census_berger_morgan.pdf. [56] J.M. Berger and Heather Perez, The Islamic State’s Diminishing Returns on Twitter: How Suspensions Are Limiting the Social Networks of English-Speaking ISIS Supporters (Washington, DC: George Washington University, 2016), https://cchs.gwu.edu/sites/cchs.gwu.edu/files/downloads/Berger_Occasional Paper.pdf. [57] Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Madeleine Blackman, “ISIL’s Virtual Planners: A Critical Terrorist Innovation,” War on the Rocks, Jan. 4, 2017, https://warontherocks.com/2017/01/isils-virtual-planners-a-critical-terrorist-innovation/. [58] Thomas Joscelyn, “Terror Plots in Germany, France Were ‘Remote-Controlled’ by Islamic State Operatives,” Long War Journal, Sep. 24, 2016, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2016/09/terror-plots-in-germany-france-were-remote-controlled-by-islamic-state-operatives.php. [59] For a good synopsis of the ineffectiveness of DIY terrorism a decade ago, see Emily Hunt, “Virtual Incompetence,” Weekly Standard, Aug. 17, 2006, http://www.weeklystandard.com/virtual-incompetence/article/13724. [60] Don Rassler, Muhammad al-‘Ubaydi and Vera Mironovo, “The Islamic State’s Drone Documents: Management, Acquisitions, and DIY Tradecraft,” CTC Sentinel, Jan. 31, 2017, https://www.scribd.com/document/341828738/CTC-Perspectives-The-Islamic-States-Drone-Documents-Management-Acquisitions-and-DIY-Tradecraft-ctc-usma-Edu. [61] Mike Giglio, “Inside the Fight for Mosul,” Buzzfeed, June 3, 2017, https://www.buzzfeed.com/mikegiglio/on-the-front-lines-of-the-fight-with-isis?utm_term=.jiawaM5Dgk - .yjVGB82YM6. [62] Peter Dockrill, “First-Ever Drone Swarm Attack Has Struck Russian Military Bases, Sources Claim,” Science Alert, Jan. 11, 2018, https://www.sciencealert.com/swarm-home-made-drones-strike-military-base-first-attack-kind-russia-uavs. [63] For an earlier treatment of this topic, see Assaf Moghadam and Brian Fishman eds., Fault Lines in Global Jihad: Organizational, Strategic, and Ideological Fissures (London and New York: Routledge, 2011). [64] See, for example, the discussion in Bruce Hoffman, “Al Qaeda’s Uncertain Future,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 36 (2013), 635-38, in which Hoffman documents at length what can only be described as a kneejerk analytic tendency to see al-Qaeda’s senior leadership as marginalized and irrelevant. [65] For a perceptive account of al-Qaeda’s organizational structure, and how the innovation process for terrorist attacks relates to both top-down and bottom-up organizational dynamics, see Assaf Moghadam, “How Al Qaeda Innovates,” Security Studies 22 (2013), 466-97. [66] See Hoffman, “Al Qaeda’s Uncertain Future,” 638-40. Hoffman dissects a prominent report published by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center (CTC), which accompanied the U.S. government’s release of the first 17 documents taken from Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Nelly Lahoud et al., Letters from Abbottabad: Bin Laden Sidelined? (West Point, NY: Combating Terrorism Center, 2012), https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB410/docs/UBLDocument16.pdf. Hoffman notes that not only were CTC’s full-throated proclamations that bin Laden was of marginal relevance to al-Qaeda affiliates based on only a thin slice of the full Abbottabad cache of materials, but worse, it contradicted previous assessments of the materials, and other available evidence. [67] Bruce Hoffman, “Rethinking Terrorism and Counterterrorism Since 9/11,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 25 (Sep.-Oct. 2002),  309. [68] See Peter Bergen, The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al Qaeda’s Leader (New York: Free Press, 2006), 253 (quoting Nasser al-Bahri); Khalid al-Hammadi, “The Inside Story of al-Qaeda, Part 4,” Al-Quds al-Arabi, March 22, 2005. [69] “The Frightening Evolution of al-Qaida,” Dateline NBC, June 24, 2005, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/8307333/ns/dateline_nbc/t/frightening-evolution-al-qaida/ - .WrAlF63MxTY. [70] See my discussion of ISIL’s over-eagerness to make enemies in Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, “The Islamic State’s Vulnerability,” War on the Rocks, Sep. 17, 2014, https://warontherocks.com/2014/09/the-islamic-states-vulnerability/. [71] Thomas Hegghammer, “The Ideological Hybridization of Jihadi Groups,” Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, Nov. 18, 2009, https://www.hudson.org/research/9866-the-ideological-hybridization-of-jihadi-groups. [72] See discussion in Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, “Interpreting Al Qaeda,” Foreign Policy, Jan. 6, 2014, http://foreignpolicy.com/2014/01/06/interpreting-al-qaeda/. [73] See, for example, Nick Rasmussen, “Opening Remarks,” May, 3, 2017, Center for a New American Security, New Terrorism Threats and Counterterrorism Strategies Conference, https://www.dni.gov/files/NCTC/documents/news_documents/CNASopeningremarks.pdf. [74] See United States Institute of Peace, “The Jihadi Threat: ISIS, Al Qaeda and Beyond,” Dec. 12, 2016, https://www.usip.org/publications/2016/12/jihadi-threat-isis-al-qaeda-and-beyond. [75] See Joshua A. Geltzer, “The Perils of a Post-ISIS Middle East,” The Atlantic, Dec. 27, 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/12/middle-east-isis-syria-kurds-iran-iraq-turkey-trump/549227/ [76] Associated Press, “A Caliphate No More—All the Land ISIS Has Lost in the Past Year,” Nov. 9, 2017, http://www.businessinsider.com/isis-is-on-the-run-caliphate-land-lost-2017-11. [77] See Rukmini Callimachi, “Not ‘Lone Wolves’ After All: How ISIS Guides World’s Terror Plots From Afar,” New York Times, Feb. 4, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/04/world/asia/isis-messaging-app-terror-plot.html. [78] See Andrew Exum, “What Trump Got Right in Foreign Policy in 2017,” The Atlantic, Jan. 4, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/01/trump-foreign-policy/549671/. [79] Geltzer, “Perils.” [80] See Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt, “Officials Eye Euphrates River Valley as Last Stand for ISIS,” New York Times, Aug. 31, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/31/us/politics/isis-military-us-iraq-syria-euphrates.html. [81] Geltzer, “Perils.” [82] See Bardia Rahmani and Andrea Tanco, “ISIS’s Growing Caliphate: Profiles of Affiliates,” The Wilson Center, Feb. 19, 2016, https://www.wilsoncenter.org/article/isiss-growing-caliphate-profiles-affiliates. [83] “ISIS Militants Parade Through Sirte, Libya,” ABC News, Feb. 18, 2015, http://abcnews.go.com/International/photos/photo-isis-militants-parade-sirte-libya-photos-released-29079454. [84] See Bethan McKernan, “ISIS in Egypt: What Is Their Presence in Sinai and Have They Previously Claimed Terror Attacks in the Region?,” Independent, Nov. 24, 2017, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/isis-egypt-sinai-terror-attack-presence-claim-map-insurgency-explained-who-are-they-a8073866.html. [85] Eric Schmitt, “17 ISIS Fighters Reported Killed as U.S. Ends Lull in Libya Airstrikes,” New York Times, Sep. 24, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/24/us/politics/libya-military-strike-isis.html. [86] Tim Lister, “Why the Massacre of Muslims in Sinai Was Too Extreme for al Qaeda,” CNN, Nov. 27, 2017, https://www.cnn.com/2017/11/27/middleeast/egypt-sinai-attack-isis-al-qaeda/index.html. [87] See, for example, Rukmini Callimachi and Eric Schmitt, “Manchester Bomber Met With ISIS Unit in Libya, Officials Say,” New York Times, June 3, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/03/world/middleeast/manchester-bombing-salman-abedi-islamic-state-libya.html. [88] See Phil Stewart, “Boko Haram Fracturing Over Islamic State Ties, U.S. General Warns,” Reuters, June 21, 2016, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-nigeria-boko-haram/boko-haram-fracturing-over-islamic-state-ties-u-s-general-warns-idUSKCN0Z72WT. [89] See generally Jennie M. Easterly and Joshua A. Geltzer, “More Die in Bathtubs than in Terrorism. It’s Still Worth Spending Billions to Fight it,” CNN, May 21, 2017, https://www.cnn.com/2017/05/21/opinions/deadly-bathtub-compared-to-terrorism-opinion-geltzer-easterly/index.html. [90] See Daniel L. Byman, “An al-Qaeda Setback in Syria?,” Lawfare, Dec. 6, 2017, https://www.lawfareblog.com/al-qaeda-setback-syria. [91] Colin P. Clarke, “Al Qaeda in Syria Can Change Its Name, But Not Its Stripes,” The Cipher Brief, March 23, 2017, https://www.rand.org/blog/2017/03/al-qaeda-in-syria-can-change-its-name-but-not-its-stripes.html. [92] Charles Lister, “Al Qaeda Is Starting to Swallow the Syrian Opposition,” Foreign Policy, March 15, 2017, http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/03/15/al-qaeda-is-swallowing-the-syrian-opposition/. [93] See, for example, Suleiman Al-Khalidi, “Jihadist Group Cements Control of Syria’s Idlib Province: Rebels,” Reuters, July 23, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-rebels-idlib/jihadist-group-cements-control-of-syrias-idlib-province-rebels-idUSKBN1A80T1. [94] See Byman, “Setback.” [95] Eric Schmitt and Saeed al-Batati, “The U.S. Has Pummeled Al Qaeda in Yemen. But the Threat Is Barely Dented,” New York Times, Dec. 30, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/30/world/middleeast/yemen-al-qaeda-us-terrorism.html. [96] See Yara Bayoumy et al., “How Saudi Arabia’s War in Yemen Has Made Al Qaeda Stronger—and Richer,” Reuters, Apr. 8, 2016, https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/yemen-aqap/. [97] See Matthew Levitt, “Terrorist ‘Frenemies,’” Politico, Jan. 16, 2015, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/01/isil-terrorist-frenemies-114342. [98] Jason Burke, “Mogadishu Truck Bomb: 500 Casualties in Somalia’s Worst Terrorist Attack,” The Guardian, Oct. 16, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/15/truck-bomb-mogadishu-kills-people-somalia. [99] See Robert Windrem and William M. Arkin, “Why Hasn’t the U.S. Killed Bin Laden’s Wingman Ayman al-Zawahiri,” NBC News, May 17, 2016, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/why-hasn-t-u-s-kill-bin-laden-s-wingman-n574986. [100] See Thomas Joscelyn, “Ayman al Zawahiri Argues Jihadists Can’t Deceive America,” Long War Journal, Oct. 5, 2017, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2017/10/analysis-ayman-al-zawahiri-argues-jihadists-cant-deceive-america.php. [101] See, for example, Thomas Joscelyn, “Ayman al Zawahiri Honors 2 Slain Jihadis in New Video,” Long War Journal, Jan. 17, 2017, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2017/01/ayman-al-zawahiri-honors-2-slain-jihadis-in-new-video.php. [102] There is the intriguing possibility that these two jihadist behemoths might in coming years seek to merge, or more accurately to re-merge, perhaps beginning in a location such as Yemen where the line between them is porous or Syria where the pressure against ISIL has been fierce and sustained.  See Bruce Hoffman, “The Coming ISIS-al Qaeda Merger,” Foreign Affairs, March 29, 2016, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2016-03-29/coming-isis-al-qaeda-merger. [103] See John Mannes, “Facebook, Microsoft, YouTube, and Twitter Form Global Internet Forum To Counter Terrorism,” TechCrunch, June 26, 2017, https://techcrunch.com/2017/06/26/facebook-microsoft-youtube-and-twitter-form-global-internet-forum-to-counter-terrorism/. [104] See, for example, Michael E. O’Hanlon and Sara Allawi, “How To Avoid an ISIS 2.0 in Iraq,” The National Interest, Nov. 18, 2017, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/how-avoid-isis-20-iraq-23259. [105] Jen Easterly and Joshua A. Geltzer, “The Islamic State and the End of Lone-Wolf Terrorism,” Foreign Policy, May 23, 2017, http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/05/23/the-islamic-state-and-the-end-of-lone-wolf-terrorism/. [106] See Callimachi, “Not ‘Lone Wolves.’”. [107] Levi Maxey, “When Terrorists Learn How to Hack,” The Cipher Brief, Dec. 3, 2017, http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/05/23/the-islamic-state-and-the-end-of-lone-wolf-terrorism/. [108] See, for example, Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, “Today’s Rising Terrorist Threat and the Danger to the United States: Reflections on the Tenth Anniversary of The 9/11 Commission Report,” The Bipartisan Policy Center, July 23, 2014, http://bipartisanpolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/default/files/files/ BPC 9-11 Commission.pdf. [109] Brian McKeon, “Trump’s ‘Secret Plan’ to Defeat ISIS Looks a Lot Like Obama’s,” Foreign Policy, May 31, 2017, http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/05/31/trumps-secret-plan-to-defeat-isis-looks-a-lot-like-obamas/. [110] See Azmat Khan and Anand Gopal, “The Uncounted,” The New York Times Magazine, Nov. 16, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/11/16/magazine/uncounted-civilian-casualties-iraq-airstrikes.html. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => Contents [contents] => 1. Introduction, by Stephen Tankel 2. The Riptide: How Foreign Fighter Returnees Could Shape the Jihadist Movement, by R. Kim Cragin 3. We Squeezed the Balloon: As ISIL Collapses, Jihadism Remains in a Growth Phase, by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross 4. ISIL, al-Qaeda, and What Goes Viral Next: Why Tomorrow's Jihadist Movement Might Not Look so Different from Today's, by Joshua Geltzer ) ) ) [post_count] => 2 [current_post] => -1 [in_the_loop] => [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 716 [post_author] => 11 [post_date] => 2018-09-11 10:38:39 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-09-11 14:38:39 [post_content] =>

1. Introduction: A Most Infamous Day: Marking the 17th Anniversary of the 9/11 Attacks

By Ryan Evans The 9/11 attacks and Pearl Harbor have often been compared. Not long after the towers fell, then-Sen. Chuck Hagel, a future secretary of defense, said, “This is the second Pearl Harbor. I don't think that I overstate it.”[1] A senior E.U. official said that same day, “It is the worst attack on the United States since Pearl Harbor. This is one of those few days in life that one can say will actually change everything.” Around the world and especially in the United States, these comparisons are being repeated today. But marking the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is fundamentally unlike observing that of the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, a day that President Franklin D. Roosevelt said would “live in infamy.” Less than four years after Japanese imperialist forces struck at America’s Pacific Fleet as it sat in Pearl Harbor, Japan surrendered unconditionally, submitting itself to a military occupation by its adversary. Seventeen years after the 9/11 attacks, however, the kindest thing that can be said of the American record against the jihadist movement is that it is mixed. While the United States has succeeded in preventing another mass casualty attack on its soil, its terrorist enemies continue to wreak havoc in Africa, the Middle East, as well as South and Southeast Asia, and have repeatedly attacked Europe. Sept. 11 is a day that, like Dec. 7, lives in infamy, but it is an infamy that today is largely defined by America’s strategic incompetence and confusion, which have played no small role in transforming a vicious tragedy into an expensive — and often fruitless — geopolitical preoccupation that has seen the United States and its allies pay dearly with both blood and treasure without making the world any safer. With the benefit of 17 years of hindsight, one would be hard pressed to imagine a worse way to have honored and avenged the lives of the 3,000 people who perished on this day in 2001. To understand what has gone both right and wrong, we have convened a roundtable of some of this country’s foremost experts on terrorism, insurgency, and strategy. The Contributions Without the durable alliance between al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the attacks might not have taken place and the last 17 years surely would have played out quite differently. Tricia Bacon of American University helps us understand this remarkable alliance and why it has proven so resilient in the face of an all-out assault by some of the world’s most advanced military powers. As Bacon observes, there is a considerable asymmetry in this relationship. For the Taliban, there have been great costs and marginal benefits. For al-Qaeda, great benefits and marginal costs. This case is perhaps the foremost example of America’s “larger failure to prevent or disrupt alliances between militant groups.” These jihadist alignments, however, are often not as stable as the alliance between the Taliban and al-Qaeda, which has posed other problems for America’s global counter-terrorism campaign. Focusing on Syria and the Sahel, Martha Crenshaw of Stanford University assesses the regularly shifting, and often “bewildering,” ties between various militant groups arrayed against the West. As she explains, “These complicated and often obscure interactions among jihadist militants make it hard for governments or international institutions to understand the adversary or predict what will happen.” Even after suffering undeniable military defeats, these groups are able to reconstitute themselves elsewhere with remarkable consistency, calling into question the sustained special operations missions and interventions meant to crush them. America, of course, is not fighting jihadist groups alone. Cooperation and coordination with the governments of Muslim-majority states has been a critical, yet frustrating, part of the war on terrorism. Drawing on his recent book, Stephen Tankel of American University explains how these partners “both help and hinder U.S. counterterrorism efforts.”[2] Even when Washington and a partner state find their interests closely aligned and see a jihadist group as a foe that must be fiercely fought, many Americans find themselves troubled by often repressive methods employed by the partner. And often, America has different priorities than a partner state, either because the local authorities see a jihadist group as useful or simply because they don’t see defeating it as especially important compared to other goals. It is undeniable that there have been some major successes in the global war on terrorism. Speaking as an intelligence professional, Michael Dempsey — formerly the acting director of national intelligence, the deputy director of national intelligence, and President Barack Obama’s primary intelligence briefer — walks us through these victories as well as some notable failures. The U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies have protected the homeland from another mass casualty plot and U.S. military forces, with the support of coalition partners, have more recently regained the battlefield initiative against jihadists in the Middle East. At the same time, however, jihadist groups remain adaptive, the socio-political drivers that sustain their ranks are unresolved, and Washington is prone to “unforced errors” that, in the end, are gifts to America’s enemies. How have American thinking and counter-terrorism efforts evolved in the last 17 years? David A. Brown, Tim Hoyt, and Craig Whiteside, all of the U.S. Naval War College, join forces to answer this question and others in a wide-ranging and creative article that draws on everything from the great naval strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan to Burmese pythons on the loose in Florida to Washington’s alleged reorientation toward great-power competition. “Much like the futility of trying to stop the growth of the python population,” they write, “our failure to reduce the scale of global jihadism is more obvious than ever.” Brown, Hoyt, and Whiteside call for a “shared understanding and more realistic appraisal of the nature of the conflict,” but are decidedly skeptical of Washington’s ability to get there. This roundtable ends where it all began: Afghanistan. Trevor Thrall of George Mason University and Erik Goepner of the Cato Institute examine how the “safe haven fallacy” has sustained poor decision-making on Afghanistan across three presidencies. Thrall and Goepner disassemble the assumptions of the safe haven fallacy — describing it as “an argument for endless war based on unwarranted worst-case scenario assumptions” — and call for Washington to finally end its involvement in the conflict. The Trump administration, they correctly argue, are guilty of relying on shoddy logic if its officials truly believe that with far fewer troops on the ground they can get any closer to something resembling victory than previous administrations have. “Nothing the United States is doing,” they write, “will encourage the Taliban to change its course, regardless of how much resolve Trump and his generals have.” Ryan Evans is the publisher of the Texas National Security Review and the editor-in-chief of War on the Rocks.  

2. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: The Alliance that Started the Forever War

By Tricia Bacon Today marks 17 years since 9/11 and nearly the same since America’s war in Afghanistan started. Launched on October 7, 2001, the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan quickly overthrew the Taliban regime after their leader, Mullah Omar, refused to hand over Osama bin Laden.[3] While America’s strategic objective in Afghanistan has often been unclear,[4] the Taliban’s refusal to give up al-Qaeda — and by extension the fear that an Afghanistan dominated by the Taliban would remain a safe haven for international terrorists[5] — has been one of the primary motives for the “forever war.”[6] The alliance between al-Qaeda and the Taliban has endured for over 20 years. Between a crushing military campaign by the world’s foremost military alliance and the realpolitik considerations that seemingly should have led the Taliban to break ties long ago, the fact that they haven’t is remarkable. As in other alliances,[7] the two groups remain engaged in cooperation with mutual expectations about consultation and cooperation in the future. An alliance does not mean that partners have merged, operate in lockstep, or even always adhere to one another’s input. In this case, they certainly have not, do not, and they sometimes ignore one another’s counsel.[8] Allies can have areas of major divergence. And the Taliban and al-Qaeda certainly do. Since the inception of their relationship, the two groups have differed on their strategic objectives, priorities, and tactics. The Taliban continues to be staunchly focused on Afghanistan and has never embraced al-Qaeda’s global jihadist ambitions. For its part, al-Qaeda has consistently pursued its agenda with a disregard for how doing so has affected the Taliban. Yet they cooperate in Afghanistan and expect future cooperation and consultation in that realm. They share a desire to expel U.S. forces from Afghanistan and re-instate Taliban rule. And they now have a mutual rival in the Islamic State. But even these common interests do not fully capture what binds these two groups into their long-standing, but difficult, partnership. Their relationship has evolved over time. Though Bin Laden had pledged bayat to Mullah Omar, al-Qaeda was “an organization supporting a state” during the 1990s.[9] Now the Taliban does not rely on al-Qaeda nor does it need al-Qaeda’s support for its insurgency. Al-Qaeda gains more from the relationship, not least of all a role in the insurgency in Afghanistan and an alternative to the Islamic State that it can promote to discredit its former ally.[10] Al-Qaeda also gets the prospect of a future safe haven should the Taliban return to power, though the Taliban’s willingness to provide such sanctuary is uncertain.[11] The alliance has proven resilient and thus poses a hurdle to efforts to find a negotiated settlement to end the war.[12] Heavy Costs for Limited Benefits for the Taliban The Taliban has incurred tremendous costs for its alliance with al-Qaeda over more than two decades. The relationship contributed to the Taliban’s international isolation while it was in power, including a rupture with Saudi Arabia: one of only three states to recognize the Taliban government.[13] Al-Qaeda’s presence was a source of internal strife within the Taliban,[14] with some urging Mullah Omar to oust the group.[15] Some in the Taliban were particularly frustrated by Bin Laden’s declarations of war and al-Qaeda’s acts of terrorism against the United States in the years prior to 2001.[16] But Washington’s responses actually increased the Taliban’s support for al-Qaeda.[17] Of course, most notably, Mullah Omar’s refusal to handover Bin Laden after 9/11 led to the United States’ invasion and the downfall of the Taliban regime. The persistence of their alliance is all the more remarkable when you consider how little the Taliban needs al-Qaeda now. However, it does accrue some benefits. Though al-Qaeda was the cause of the U.S. invasion,[18] it has steadfastly supported the Taliban’s insurgency. The Taliban has benefited from al-Qaeda’s expertise since the onset of the conflict,[19] as it did against the Northern Alliance during the 1990s.[20] Al-Qaeda helped train local Taliban commanders to fabricate improvised explosives beginning in the early days of the insurgency.[21] The terrorist group’s personnel also offer other specialized and technological skills,[22] leading one leading scholar on Afghanistan to refer to al-Qaeda operators as “subcontractors” for the Taliban.[23] Al-Qaeda has assisted the Taliban with special operations and terrorist attacks, offering experienced supplemental manpower.[24] The jihadist group rarely conducts or claims attacks in Afghanistan independently; instead it contributes to attacks by the Taliban and its partner then decides how to claim responsibility. But, by al-Qaeda’s own admission, “the Taliban almost does not need us.”[25] The Taliban’s greatest strength is its ability to capitalize on widespread local grievances and the Afghan government’s lack of legitimacy. It has ample Afghan personnel, and it controls or contests at least 44 percent of Afghanistan’s districts.[26] Even those estimates vastly understate the Taliban’s influence.[27] In addition, at times, especially during the 1990s, the Taliban needed funds from al-Qaeda.[28] That is no longer the case. The Taliban’s coffers are well-stocked through its relations with various patrons, including Pakistan,[29] Iran, and Russia,[30] as well as through its involvement in the drug trade in Afghanistan.[31] It also garners funds locally from extortion and protection rackets.[32] Furthermore, it enjoys substantial support from donor networks in the Gulf.[33] Thus, to the extent that al-Qaeda provides the Taliban with resources, they are not pivotal to the Taliban’s financial health. While al-Qaeda and the Taliban share antipathy towards the Islamic State, there are no indications that the Taliban has needed al-Qaeda’s assistance in forcibly challenging the Islamic State’s local affiliate, the Islamic State in the Khorasan.[34] Nonetheless, some in the Taliban still have a soft spot for al-Qaeda. As recently as 2015, al-Qaeda operated a massive training facility in Kandahar until it was destroyed by the United States.[35] Whether the facility was an anomaly or an indication that the Taliban remains willing to offer al-Qaeda operating space in its territory remains unclear. In addition, the Haqqani Network faction of the Taliban has long been close to al-Qaeda.[36] They have conducted joint operations and al-Qaeda has benefited from Haqqani protection. The Haqqanis’ support for al-Qaida is more important than ever since the faction’s leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani, ascended to the number two spot in the Taliban in 2015. Mostly Benefits with Few Costs for al-Qaeda Through its alliance with the Taliban, al-Qaeda participates in the insurgency in Afghanistan, thereby maintaining a foothold in a campaign against the United States with symbolic importance in the broader global jihadist movement as the site of the defeat of the Soviet Union in 1989. But, as discussed, its involvement is selective, and the Taliban does not rely on al-Qaeda, which limits its losses and the resources it must invest in the effort. This arrangement works well for al-Qaeda because the insurgency in Afghanistan is not its top priority. In recent years, some of its skilled military and explosives experts have even left Afghanistan for Syria.[37] By Ayman al-Zawahiri’s own admission, Afghanistan is on the periphery of the larger battle in which Iraq and Syria command more importance.[38] Since the Islamic State’s emergence, al-Qaeda has garnered additional benefits from its alliance with the Taliban. Al-Qaeda sought to discredit the Islamic State’s claims to have formed a caliphate with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the caliph. It did so by touting the Taliban’s leader as the “true” leader of the faithful.[39] This effort initially backfired in the wake of humiliating revelations in 2015 that Mullah Omar had died in 2013.[40] Nonetheless, al-Qaeda stuck with the approach, hailing the Taliban as the only theologically legitimate alternative to the Islamic State.[41] Prospects Going Forward The alliance between these two movements has long defied the apparent cost-benefit calculation, suggesting that their ties run deeper,[42] especially after 17 years of fighting together. Their bond was once attributed primarily to the personal relationship between Mullah Omar and Bin Laden.[43] Thus, Bin Laden’s death in 2011 and the revelation of Mullah Omar’s 2013 death seemed to be as an opening for the Taliban to break with al-Qaeda.[44] Once again, in defiance of predictions, the alliance persisted. However, Zawahiri does not enjoy the same standing as Bin Laden with the Taliban or even among al-Qaeda’s other allies.[45] Mullah Omar’s successors have suffered from their own legitimacy shortfalls. Consequently, they have sought to navigate Zawahiri’s declarations of bayat carefully. Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour publicly accepted Zawahiri’s pledge,[46] only to subsequently remove the announcement from the Taliban’s website. The Taliban’s current leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada has not publicly endorsed Zawahiri’s most recent pledge.[47] The Taliban has also undertaken some rhetorical maneuvers to distance itself from al-Qaeda publicly. Most notably, the Taliban’s current leader pledged that the group will not allow Afghanistan to be used for attacks on other countries.[48] While proponents of negotiations are encouraged by the move, al-Qaeda is probably relatively untroubled by such declarations. It does not and never has felt compelled to consult the Taliban about its operations outside of Afghanistan: It is beyond the scope of their alliance. Moreover, the Taliban’s rhetorical steps have been uneven and contradictory; it has also issued statements in recent years seemingly touting ties with al-Qaeda.[49] With the obvious exception of the rupture with the Islamic State, al-Qaeda’s other alliances have also proven resilient. Its affiliates remained loyal despite efforts by the Islamic State to entice them. Al-Qaeda has also sustained a web of relationships with other militant groups, such as the Pakistani Taliban and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, in Afghanistan and Pakistan that have allowed it to survive the past 17 years. Implications for Negotiations There is renewed hope for negotiations since President Donald Trump announced a willingness to engage in direct talks with the Taliban.[50] However, it is hard to imagine the United States being satisfied with a negotiated settlement that does not include the Taliban abdicating al-Qaeda. How much of a stumbling block does this pose? In my experience, officials working on Afghanistan tend to be more optimistic about the prospects of persuading the Taliban to sever ties with al-Qaeda than those working on counter-terrorism. While the cost-benefit analysis offered above seemingly favors the interpretation of former, history is with the latter. Determining the Taliban’s view is difficult because proponents of negotiations within the Taliban are likely the same individuals who would like to break ties with al-Qaeda anyway, so their views on the topic may not represent important factions within the Taliban. Conversely, at least some of those within the Taliban who oppose negotiations would probably also reject renouncing al-Qaeda. In other words, Taliban leadership will have to strike a difficult, perhaps impossible, balance between these two positions.[51] At the same time, Taliban leaders have to be vigilant to avoid fragmentation: a major hurdle to serious negotiations and an eventual political settlement.[52] Though the Taliban has shown remarkable unity to date, Mullah Omar’s successors do not enjoy the same levels of loyalty and deference from Taliban members as he did. The Taliban lost power because its revered founding leader refused to relinquish al-Qaeda. While the insurgency in Afghanistan is certainly not about protecting al-Qaeda, reversing Mullah Omar’s 2001 positon will not be a small feat for any Taliban leader, especially one whose grasp on the various factions within the organization is not fully secure. One British official recently shared his view with me that the Taliban is holding on to severing ties with al-Qaeda as a bargaining chip, which it expects to exchange only for a major concession from the United States. If this is correct, the key question becomes: What is Washington is willing concede? Unfortunately, America’s inability to drive a wedge between al-Qaeda and the Taliban is not an anomaly. It is indicative of a larger failure to prevent or disrupt alliances between militant groups, despite the centrality of such relationships in the threat to the United States since 2001. In the case of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, this failure has been particularly costly. Tricia Bacon is an assistant professor at American University’s School of Public Affairs, fellow at Fordham University's Center for National Security, and non-resident fellow at George Washington’s Program on Extremism. She is the author of Why Terrorist Groups Form International Alliances (University of Pennsylvania, 2018). She was previously a counterterrorism analyst at the U.S. State Department from 2003 to 2013.  

3. The Long Aftermath of 9/11: How Terrorism Doesn’t End

By Martha Crenshaw When American leaders declared a global war on terror in 2001, they warned that victory was distant and elusive. But it is doubtful that any of them foresaw that 17 years later, American and allied troops would still be in Afghanistan facing a resurgent Taliban in the longest war in American history. Nor is it likely that they expected that American counterterrorism operations would be underway in 76 countries by 2017, or that through fiscal year 2018 the cost of the war on terror would be $5.6 trillion.[53] Certainly no one would have thought that in 2014 an “Islamic State” would conquer sizable territory in Syria and Iraq and institute a caliphate governed by its own intolerant version of Islamic law. Indeed, it is clear that jihadist terrorism is lasting much longer than previous waves or cycles of terrorism.[54] Although the 9/11 attacks precipitated the “Global War on Terror,” the jihadist trend had started long before. Its origins lie in the 1980s resistance to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and Abdullah Azzam’s famous appeal to Sunni Muslims worldwide to join in jihad to expel the infidel occupiers. The organization behind the 9/11 attacks and the original target of the war on terrorism was al-Qaeda. Legally, the justification for American military action in the war on terror is the threat from al-Qaeda. But al-Qaeda is no longer the unitary actor it was on 9/11, and it also has a major challenger for overall jihadist primacy in its former partner, the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Each has affiliates and followers around the world.[55] The threat has thus been dispersed. There is no single monolithic jihadist adversary. Yet it is the fragmented and shifting character of jihadism that makes it so persistent and so hard to combat. Relationships among the different actors behind global jihadism are fluid and variable. These actors include a bewildering variety of individuals acting on inspiration, social networks, underground conspiracies, foreign fighters, civil war rebels, dissident splinter factions, franchise operations, loose inter-group alliances, and organizational mergers.[56] Their connections flow easily across national borders. Groups constantly align and realign themselves as friends or rivals as they change their strategic expectations about the future of the conflict in which they are involved. They are often embedded in local struggles and compete or cooperate with nationalists or separatists. Jihadists may be united in an overall belief that violence is both necessary and justified to bring about the liberation of Muslim lands from foreign oppression and restore a just order founded on original principles of Islam. But they are divided along lines of what is permissible in the struggle, the appropriate targets, the best tactics and timing, and where to fight. Is the most dangerous opponent the local government — the “near enemy” — or the United States and its Western allies — the “far enemy”? Is it permissible to target fellow Muslims, especially Sunnis? Should civilians be attacked? How important is unity among jihadist groups? These complicated and often obscure interactions among jihadist militants make it hard for governments or international institutions to understand the adversary or predict what will happen. Even with the best intelligence, governments operate under conditions of high uncertainty. Control of outcomes is impossible. Interventions to overthrow authoritarian governments, for example, result in the emergence of multiple contenders for power, among them diehard jihadists who are likely to gain ascendancy over other less experienced and less well-armed groups. The consequences of counterterrorist measures are often unexpected, unintended, and even counterproductive. Actions intended to defeat or undermine a single organization have “ricochet” effects on other groups, often upsetting the balance of power among them. Sometimes government repression stimulates cooperation that strengthens the jihadist movement. But governments most often seek to sow dissension in the ranks — causing splintering that leads to more violence and escalation of the conflict. Offers to negotiate might attract some relatively moderate groups but provoke the more extreme to heightened violence. Even if a group is defeated within the boundaries of one state, it may simply be displaced to a weaker neighbor, or the struggle can be globalized if losing civil war rebels turn to transnational terrorism. The United States, al-Qaeda, and the Islamic State in Syria There are numerous examples of how interactions among militant groups have impeded the effectiveness of counterterrorism efforts. Consider American policy toward al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Syria.[57] Al-Nusra was founded as an outpost of the Islamic State of Iraq, then nominally a branch of al-Qaeda central. Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq recognized the Syrian civil war as a golden opportunity for jihadist expansion. Although the mainstream Syrian resistance to the Assad regime was ambivalent toward any group linked to al-Qaeda, its presence in the opposition in effect tainted the whole enterprise. At the least, it gave Assad and later his Russian patrons an excuse for condemning all opposition as jihadist extremism. At most, it was the decisive factor that ensured Western support to the rebels would be limited. When Assad responded to the initial popular uprisings with indiscriminate brutality, jihadists gained credibility. Their fighting prowess also helped. As the conflict intensified al-Nusra’s military contribution became increasingly important. Thus, when in December 2012 the United States declared al-Nusra a “foreign terrorist organization,” even committed secular nationalists came to its defense.[58] U.S. efforts to provide covert assistance exclusively to non-jihadist forces were frequently stymied or diverted due to lack of knowledge of what was going on and inability to monitor the activities of sponsored groups. Congress approved nonlethal assistance in 2013 and a Department of Defense train-and-equip mission for vetted Syrian opposition groups in 2014. The Pentagon’s effort was abandoned in 2015, and the CIA initiative was cancelled in the summer of 2017 after a cost of about $1 billion.[59] The programs suffered from diversions of supplies, defections, and deadly losses to al-Nusra attacks. Shortly after these aid programs got under way and al-Nusra was declared the enemy, al-Qaeda and the Islamic State parted ways, with al-Nusra remaining loyal to al-Qaeda. Over time American aid to its nationalist competitors probably made al-Nusra more extreme, but the Islamic State was much more ruthless and ambitious. It also exhibited remarkable military capability in seizing Fallujah and Ramadi in early 2014 and then Mosul in June. With this surprise victory, the Islamic State declared the establishment of a caliphate in the occupied parts of Syria and Iraq, thus becoming a global rival to al-Qaeda. The United States and its allies began airstrikes against the Islamic State, justifying them in terms of defending Iraq as requested.  An impressive “Global Coalition to Defeat ISIL” assembled. Shortly thereafter, the United States began airstrikes that reportedly hit al-Nusra bases in Idlib province, although the attacks were justified by reference to a mysterious Khorasan Group, described as an external operations branch of al-Qaeda engaged in planning attacks against the West and thus a direct threat to U.S. security.[60] The attacks may have weakened al-Nusra but they also apparently served to deepen loyalty among Syrian jihadists, including the Ahrar al-Sham group, an ally of Turkey as of 2015.[61] The offensive also deepened al-Nusra’s hostility toward the American-supported resistance (at the time the Free Syrian Army and the Kurds). Consequently, al-Nusra embarked on a military campaign against selected U.S.-backed groups, even those that had prudently restricted their attacks to the Islamic State.[62] Paradoxically, the fact that U.S. air strikes targeted al-Nusra generated resentment among the general body of Syrian resistance fighters. At the same time, predictably, the damage inflicted by U.S. strikes on Islamic State command and control systems advantaged its rivals, both Ahrar al-Sham and al-Nusra. The offensive against the Islamic State was also a boon to the regime and its allies. After Russia intervened in the fall of 2015, shifting patterns of military escalation and negotiation offers split the resistance and further divided Ahrar al-Sham from al-Nusra, which was excluded from the political process initiated late in 2016 with a ceasefire offer guaranteed by Russia and Turkey.[63] The United States did not participate directly in these initiatives, which were led by Russia, Iran, the Assad regime, and Turkey, but it supported a negotiated solution to the conflict, preferably through U.N. sponsorship. For al-Nusra, its battlefield strength was no longer the strongest card on the table if negotiations and politics replaced fighting.[64] Organizational twists and turns followed. In July 2016, al-Nusra claimed to have repudiated its affiliation with al-Qaeda and renamed itself the Front for the Conquest of the Levant. In January 2017, it rebranded itself again as the Liberation of the Levant organization (Hayat Tahrir al-Sham), proclaimed as an entirely new entity constituted by the merger of smaller groups and breakaway factions with the dominant al-Nusra. Soon it was engaged in a public dispute with al-Qaeda over the break, as Zawahiri criticized the former al-Nusra’s assumption that separating from al-Qaeda would reduce American pressure. Indeed, the United States continued to define the new rebranded Hayat Tahrir al-Sham as an al-Nusra alias and thus still a branch of al-Qaeda, although experts are divided as to whether the split is phony or genuine.[65] It is hard to escape the conclusion that American decision-makers failed to understand why al-Nusra was valuable to the non-jihadist resistance, how the group’s leaders might be ambivalent about the affiliation with al-Qaeda, or when tactical alliances could be sustained across ideological lines. At the same time, the Islamic State was steadily disintegrating under military assault in Iraq and Syria. By the fall of 2017 it had lost almost all the territory it once held, although it was still capable of mounting terrorist attacks within Syria, controlling a small pocket of territory, and maintaining an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 fighters in Syria and Iraq as well as external branches, such as those in North Africa, Egypt, and Afghanistan. An unknown number of the many foreign fighters recruited to ISIL also relocated outside Syria and Iraq. The decline of the Islamic State advantaged other Islamists such as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham/al-Nusra (now concentrated in Idlib province, the last holdout of the armed opposition to Assad) and Ahrar al-Sham (now part of a Turkish-organized coalition of resistance groups). The erosion of the Islamic State also served the interests of the Syrian regime and its Iranian and Russian supporters, and by early 2018 the United States had admitted that the government and its allies were winning. The Frustrations of Counterterrorism in North Africa and the Sahel Counterterrorism in Africa has proved frustrating for the United States as well as others concerned with regional stability, not only because of difficulties in dealing with partner governments but also because of the complexity and volatility of the jihadist universe. In August 2018, the U.S. military announced plans to draw down its forces in Africa, where special operations forces have been deployed to aid local governments in combatting jihadist terrorists and insurgents in order to prevent their becoming a direct threat to U.S security. According to The New York Times, roughly 1,200 U.S. special operations troops are on missions in Africa, out of 7,300 worldwide.[66] The initiative began at much lower levels when a Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership led by Washington was first established in 2005. The policy change followed the decision to focus on threats from states, rather than non-state terrorists. In announcing a new national security strategy in January 2018, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis explained “We will continue to prosecute the campaign against terrorists, but great-power competition — not terrorism — is now the primary focus of U.S. national security.”[67]  The shift also came in the wake of a deadly attack by the Islamic State of the Greater Sahara on American forces in Niger in the fall of 2017. The history of jihadism in North Africa began well before 9/11. A network of Islamist and jihadist groups evolved from thwarted democratic participation and subsequent civil war in Algeria in the 1990s to cross-border expansion into the Sahel region, particularly into Mali.[68] The center is al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, which is loyal to al-Qaeda central. The much smaller Islamic State unit developed from a splinter of AQIM. Like al-Nusra in Syria, AQIM has rebranded itself as a more inclusive organization. Indeed, both groups appear to be trying to absorb themselves into larger more heterogeneous entities that are more acceptable to local populations. It is hard to know whether these structural adaptations are opportunistic attempts to disguise and conceal intentions and evade retaliation or whether they represent genuine ideological moderation and accommodation to circumstances. AQIM started as a local Algerian rebel organization, although it was tied to global jihadism through the participation of returned Afghan war veterans. Its primary aim was to overthrow the Algerian government.[69] In 2006, it formally signed on as an al-Qaeda franchise, owing in part to its defeat by the Algerian state through a combination of repression and “national reconciliation” initiatives. In addition, the 2003 American invasion of Iraq had inspired a new generation of volunteers for the jihadist cause. By 2011 a powerful AQIM faction in the south of Algeria, its aspirations blocked at home but enriched by lucrative smuggling and kidnapping operations, moved across the border into Mali and formed alliances with dissatisfied local separatists in the north.[70] It remains unclear as to whether the southern faction broke off from the parent organization or acted as a recalcitrant subordinate, especially since the two later reunited. The shift to Mali was aided by the spillover of the Libyan civil war, which erupted following the 2011 overthrow of Qaddafi by NATO forces. State collapse and disorder provided an abundance of weaponry and fighters and offered the prospect of safe haven. The weakness of the Malian state also facilitated the displacement.  The situation became so dire that in January 2013, France intervened at Mali’s request. A U.N. peacekeeping mission was also deployed.[71] Once its authority was more or less re-established, Mali entered into peace negotiations with the non-jihadist separatist groups. These twin military and political pressures stimulated complex organizational realignments in the jihadist network.[72] The renegade southern faction that led the incursion into Mali rejoined AQIM in 2015. The move probably reflected vulnerability to both American and French air strikes as well as disappointment over the fact that Al Qaeda central had not awarded the official recognition that the southern branch had sought. The reunification was also a response to the conclusion of a peace agreement in Mali that excluded jihadists.[73] Moreover, jihadists could maintain fighting capacity by retreating into the chaos of Libya. The organizational reintegration process was marked by a series of terrorist attacks on restaurants, hotels, and beaches frequented by foreigners and tourists. Targets were located in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Ivory Coast. Tellingly, an attack on the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako in November 2015 was timed to coincide with the meeting of the official committee responsible for implementing the peace accord from which jihadists were excluded. AQIM was now definitively a pan-Sahel problem, and in February 2016 the five Sahel countries formed a regional force to combat terrorism (Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, and Mauritania).[74] Further jihadist reorganization followed. In March 2017, a video announced the establishment of a supposedly new organization with an anodyne name, the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (acronym JNIM). It was supposedly led not by AQIM, the major player, but by the former leader of the Ansar Dine group, an AQIM ally composed largely of Tuareg separatists from Mali. Al-Qaeda officially approved the new cooperative venture. In September 2018 JNIM became the latest addition to the American FTO roster.[75] Its immediate predecessor, designated in May, was the rival Islamic State in the Greater Sahara. The Saharan Islamic State branch had split from AQIM in spring 2015. The main Islamic State organization had already established a major base in Libya, attracting the defection of senior leaders from local Al Qaeda linked groups. After a protracted struggle, the Government of National Accord significantly assisted by United States air support drove the Islamic State out of its stronghold in Sirte in late 2016. The expulsion reduced the Islamic State presence in Libya but in turn may have allowed more space for AQIM. In March 2018, the first U.S. attack on Al Qaeda targets in Libya killed yet another high-ranking commander, while drone strikes continued to target the Islamic State.[76] Conclusion The convoluted inter-organizational dynamics that help perpetuate jihadist militancy are likely to persist, even as the United States withdraws from its foreign commitments. The question is the extent to which this possibly diluted but still potent form of jihadism threatens American and international security. Certainly, al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and their friends and affiliates are a source of serious instability in states lacking both a robust security apparatus and political legitimacy. It is not outside the realm of possibility that jihadist groups could prevail in present or future civil wars. This threat would likely spark outside military intervention, yet again. The jihadists’ capacity for directing complex mass-casualty terrorist attacks outside their base areas (as opposed to inspiring sporadic amateur “homegrown” terrorism) has not recently been demonstrated, but it could be revived if groups possess secure bases and are persuaded by the old al-Qaeda argument that the far enemy is the obstacle to the defense of Muslims worldwide. Martha Crenshaw is a Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University.  She is the co-author of Countering Terrorism (Brookings, 2017).   

4. With Us and Against Us: Understanding the Mixed Record of U.S. Partners on Counter-Terrorism Cooperation Since 9/11

By Stephen Tankel Nine days after the 9/11 attacks, the anniversary of which we mark today, President George W. Bush gave an address in front of the U.S. Congress. He declared, “This is the world’s fight. This is civilization’s fight. This is the fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom. We ask every nation to join us.”[77] It was a clarion call for cooperation, but one that also came with an explicit threat. In the same address, Bush famously drew a line in the sand, saying, “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” No government, other than the Taliban-led regime in Afghanistan, seriously entertained siding with al-Qaeda. Yet aligning with America in the “War on Terror” often has not translated to unity of action and purpose, or even effective cooperation. Most partner nations, especially in regions where the terrorists who threaten America are most concentrated, both help and hinder U.S. counter-terrorism efforts. Put another way, they are both with and against the United States. Yet, working with these countries is, for the most part, unavoidable. As the 9/11 Commission Report observed, “Practically every aspect of U.S. counterterrorism strategy relies on international cooperation.”[78] As inter-state competition displaces terrorism as the primary U.S. national security priority, getting more out of partner nations will be critical if the United States is going to do more with less when it comes to counter-terrorism. A core challenge for the United States is to consolidate cooperation where it is good, mitigate risks where it is bad, and get the most out of the space in between. This will require U.S. policymakers and practitioners to devote the same amount of attention and resources to understanding America’s partners as they do to understanding America’s enemies. In my most recent book, With Us and Against Us: How America’s Partners Help and Hinder the War on Terror, I analyze the factors that shape counter-terrorism cooperation between the United States and partner nations in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa.[79] Combatting al-Qaeda, the Islamic State (ISIL), and affiliated and associated terrorist groups has required the United States to adapt longstanding relationships with some countries in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa — and to forge new ones with others. If one considers the totality of U.S. counter-terrorism objectives writ large since 9/11, America has been asking for more over the past 17 years than it did before. The United States has also been seeking more from the countries in the aforementioned regions than ever before. In many cases, the United States is seeking cooperation against terrorists who operate on its partner nations’ territory. When it comes to these partnerships, the dynamics of traditional state-to-state alliances interact with the relations that exist between the partner nation and the terrorist group in question. Alliance dynamics include the nature of the U.S. bilateral relationship with the partner in question, and the instruments of statecraft it can bring to bear. State-to-terrorist relations, on the other hand, are a function of both how a state perceives the nature of a given terrorist threat and qualifies it relative to other threats, and how useful it believes the terrorist group to be. The interplay of these two relationships helps to determine the level and type of counter-terrorism cooperation that exists between the United States and a partner nation in four different areas: partner-led counter-terrorism operations that target terrorists or curtail illegal activities that support them; tactical cooperation, which includes the provision of access, intelligence cooperation, and coordination on detainees; regional cooperation, such as through coalitions or diplomatic initiatives; and “countering violent extremism” programs designed to address radicalization and recruitment.  Managing Expectations Because the United States cannot deploy combat troops to every country where terrorists operate, it works by, with, and through partner nations to take the fight to the enemy. Various factors influence whether a partner will expend effort and resources on a counter-terrorism campaign, including its capacity, strategic culture, and the popularity of the terrorists’ cause. A partner’s relationship with a terrorist group or infrastructure is the most critical factor. Where the United States and its partner share the same threat perceptions and both treat a terrorist group as a belligerent, strong bilateral relations and the provision of security assistance can augment and improve the partner’s counter-terrorism operations. However, the United States has often been unable to keep its partners from adopting repressive counter-terrorism approaches that violate the rule of law and fuel terrorist recruitment. In cases where a partner views a terrorist group as useful and nonthreatening, America’s use of incentives or coercion can sometimes move the needle when it comes to these types of counter-terrorism operations. However, such tactics cannot entirely overcome the dynamics related to terrorist-state relations. And while it may seem like a stretch to use the term “partner” when talking about a state that has positive relations with a terrorist group, Pakistan and Yemen did become critical counter-terrorism partners following the 9/11 attacks. The reasons why a partner does or does not conduct robust counter-terrorism operations targeting terrorist groups or infrastructure matter — or at least they should — when it comes to how the United States uses its instruments of statecraft. If resource shortages are a genuine problem for a state that is sincerely committed to conducting counter-terrorism operations, then capacity building might help it become a more effective partner. Conversely, if a state does not consider a terrorist group to be a threat, then pouring in aid is unlikely to make any difference unless its threat perception changes. This is even truer for states that consider a terrorist group to be useful in some way. Traditional alliance dynamics and instruments of statecraft — such as foreign assistance — are most useful for optimizing counter-terrorism cooperation when it comes to access for basing, troop presence, supply lines, over-flight, and drone strikes. These dynamics are also important for intelligence cooperation and coordination on detainees. Notably, these elements, which fall under the umbrella of tactical cooperation, are the most widespread. The United States cooperates on intelligence, coordinates on detainees, and seeks access from allies and partner nations around the world, regardless of whether terrorists operate on or near their territory. Critically, the absence of shared threat perceptions does not preclude tactical cooperation. States may provide access or limited intelligence cooperation even in cases where their position toward a terrorist group or infrastructure makes domestic counter-terrorism efforts unlikely. Sometimes, pre-existing agreements regarding access or longstanding relationships between intelligence agencies help to facilitate ongoing cooperation. Providing access or intelligence cooperation also enables a partner to service its relationship with the United States (and perhaps keep assistance flowing) without acting against its core interests by conducting counter-terrorism operations, committing to regional efforts, or undertaking painful domestic reforms that it does not wish to pursue. Indeed, American officials are often reluctant to press partners in these areas lest they jeopardize access or intelligence cooperation. Of course, stating that traditional alliance dynamics and instruments of statecraft are most useful for optimizing tactical cooperation does not mean that threat perceptions are moot. They still matter, more in some cases than others. If the United States and another country share common threat perceptions, this can enhance these aspects of tactical cooperation. Indeed, some cooperation is even possible in cases where alliance dynamics are weak or nonexistent. For example, the United States cooperated with Syria after 9/11 on rendition and limited intelligence sharing. Conversely, sharing a belligerent position toward a terrorist group does not guarantee tactical cooperation. Algeria and the United States both prioritized counter-terrorism after 9/11, but the Algerian government was unwilling to provide access in large part because of its history of anti-colonialism. Similarly, for years after 9/11, Algerian intelligence officers treated their American colleagues more as counterintelligence threats than counter-terrorism partners. Since 9/11, accomplishing U.S. counter-terrorism objectives has increasingly necessitated contributions from allies and partners to regional counter-terrorism missions, military coalitions, stabilization of conflict zones, and diplomatic initiatives to settle conflicts that enable terrorists to operate freely. A country’s relationship with the United States can be a major determinant of whether and how it cooperates on regional issues. However, whether or not participants deliver often depends heavily on their threat perceptions and capabilities. States may “free ride” in cases where they perceive a threat but believe they can sit back and allow the United States or other countries to do the heavy lifting. Partner nations also sometimes calibrate contributions to a regional initiative based on whether or not they believe robust participation will help or hinder their ability to compete with a regional rival. Take, for example, the anti-ISIL coalition: Many of the key regional players were more invested in toppling the Syrian regime or pursuing other agendas than they were in taking down the jihadist group. As ISIL has lost territory, competition among regional actors has fueled struggles over liberated areas and complicated attempts to build on military gains. One of the many lessons the United States has learned since 9/11 is that it cannot kill its way out of the terrorism problem. Thus, it has attempted, often unsuccessfully, to counter radicalization and jihadist recruitment in countries with large Muslim populations. These efforts fall under the umbrella of countering violent extremism (CVE). Some U.S. officials and counter-terrorism experts have argued for narrowing the scope of CVE initiatives to directly focus on keeping people at risk of executing or supporting terrorist violence from doing so. Others insist on the need for a more wide-ranging approach that includes CVE-relevant activities to address myriad societal risk factors, including poor governance, corruption, inadequate rule of law, economic underperformance, and underinvestment in education and infrastructure. Experts and scholars are beginning to make progress in terms of how to assess, monitor, and evaluate CVE programs. Yet measuring a partner nation’s cooperation on CVE has been and remains difficult for multiple reasons. To begin with, there is no standard set of methods for measurement. And, while data from the United States is hard to find, it is even harder to find data from foreign governments. Then there is the persistent disagreement over which factors contribute to radicalization or recruitment. Finally, it remains challenging to demonstrate conclusively why something — in this case an individual becoming radicalized or joining a terrorist group — does not occur. Nevertheless, it is possible to make two observations. First, partner nations, at least ones in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia, appear more willing to implement direct or CVE-specific initiatives than they are to embrace indirect or CVE-relevant reforms related to governance, rule of law, or other structural factors. Second, governments in these regions that implement CVE-specific programs often undercut their value by actively restricting space for civil society organizations, which most experts contend should play a crucial role in countering radicalization and recruitment. These governments increasingly are adopting overly broad definitions of terrorism and violent extremism in order to repress these organizations. Know Your Enemies and Your Partners America already had plenty of counter-terrorism instruments at its disposal on 9/11. In the past 17 years, it has expanded its toolkit substantially. The United States has improved its existing capabilities, especially in the areas of intelligence and surveillance, and unleashed new ones, such as the use of drones to launch missile strikes. Yet, despite these advances, counter-terrorism efforts cannot be conducted unilaterally if they are to be both successful and sustainable. This has always been true, and takes on added importance as the United States transitions from prioritizing counter-terrorism to concentrating on great-power competition. Most partners simultaneously help and hinder the U.S. pursuit of its counter-terrorism objectives. Getting the most out of cooperation with other countries, knowing when to shrink or sever partnerships, and recognizing countries worthy of greater investment necessitates that policymakers have realistic expectations about what U.S. partners can or are willing to offer. It is critical to understand the security paradigm that drives a partner’s decision-making, how relations with the terrorist groups that are the target of cooperation fit into that paradigm, and how U.S. policies influence the political and security challenges that a given partner faces. Stephen Tankel is an associate professor at American University, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a senior editor at War on the Rocks, and the author of With Us and Against Us: How America’s Partners Help and Hinder the War on Terror.  

5. What Progress Has America Made after 17 Years of Global Counter-Terrorism Efforts?

By Michael P. Dempsey As we approach the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, it’s an opportune moment to stand back and assess both the progress America has achieved in its counter-terrorism fight and the critical work that remains to be done. In examining the campaign’s progress, I believe that it’s worthwhile to look across several broad mission categories to determine whether America is proceeding along a path that will significantly reduce the terrorist threat, or whether it might be time to adjust key elements of the current approach. Protecting the Homeland As a starting point, in the years since 9/11 there has thankfully been no repetition of a centrally directed, large-scale terrorist attack inside the United States, which is a great accomplishment in and of itself, and a credit to the exceptional work of America’s military, intelligence, and law enforcement services. To be sure, the homeland threat has not been entirely eliminated. In the past 17 years, more than 400 Americans and others living inside the United States have been charged with participating in terrorism-related activities, and more than 100 Americans have been killed in various attacks.[80] However, the success in forestalling a second major externally directed attack within the homeland is, in my view, a major achievement. In the nearly two decades since 9/11, America’s homeland defense capabilities have improved by an order of magnitude. Much of this progress is attributable to an increased focus by government agencies on the terrorism threat, as well as a cultural shift within a few key agencies, especially the FBI,[81] to emphasize attack prevention rather than prosecution after the fact.[82] There also has been an exponential increase in collaboration between federal law enforcement, intelligence agencies, and their local partners, especially in sharing new identification and collection technologies, travel information, and threat reporting. So, although there is still critical work to do, especially in trying to prevent lone wolf, jihadist-inspired attacks and in balancing the government’s need to collect potentially sensitive information with the privacy rights of every American citizen, it’s clear that the multi-year effort to harden the homeland from major terrorist attacks has made significant progress. Seizing the Battlefield Initiative Only a few years ago, al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate held considerable territory in northwestern Syria,[83] and the group’s affiliates in both Yemen and Somalia held large swaths of terrain in both countries. The Islamic State, meanwhile, was on the march in Syria and then Iraq, capturing Mosul, threatening Erbil, and even triggering concerns in the West about an eventual assault on Baghdad.[84] That situation has, thankfully, been largely reversed, and the American military, along with its coalition partners, has dealt a series of major battlefield blows to both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. In the fight against al-Qaeda, for example, the United States has succeeded in eliminating several key leaders, including Osama bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki, Abu Yaha al-Libi (its second in command), and reportedly last month, Ibrahim al-Asiri, the group’s infamous chief bomb maker. Asiri’s removal is especially significant because of his unique technical skills and creativity, and his central involvement in operations ranging from the attempted “underwear bombing” aboard an airliner flying from Amsterdam to Detroit in 2009, to his reported efforts to devise increasingly complex bombs and embed them inside electronic equipment capable of defeating airline detection systems.[85] U.S. and coalition efforts to contain and roll back al-Qaeda’s franchises and allies have also made significant gains. In Somalia, for example, al-Shabab has suffered several setbacks, including losing the important port cities of Kismayo and Baware to the combined military operations of African Union and Somali security forces, backed by U.S. airstrikes.[86] Illustrative of America’s heavy engagement in Somalia, the U.S. military has already reportedly conducted nearly two dozen airstrikes against Al Shabab in 2018, which is on pace to meet or exceed last year’s total.[87] Moreover, in Yemen, al-Qaeda now controls only about half of the territory it controlled at its peak in 2015. In April 2016, the group lost the important port city of Mukalla to Yemeni government forces assisted by troops from the United Arab Emirates.[88] Meanwhile, in the fight against the self-professed Islamic State, the United States and its allies have made great strides across a broad front. In Iraq and Syria, the U.S-led coalition has virtually eliminated the Islamic State’s physical caliphate, dramatically reduced its financial resources, and killed thousands of the group’s fighters, as well as many of its key leaders. The coalition has also reduced to a trickle the flow of foreign fighters entering the Islamic State’s ranks in Iraq and Syria and, with the seizure of Mosul and Raqqa, significantly curtailed the group’s social media outreach.[89] At the same time, the United States and its allies have inflicted considerable pain on the Islamic State’s overseas affiliates, particularly its branches in Afghanistan (where the affiliate’s senior leader was killed last month),[90] Libya, Mali, and Yemen. Restricting the Terrorists’ Ability to Adapt and Regroup Even as America and its allies have seized the battlefield momentum, there are worrisome signs that al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are rebuilding, shifting tactics, and potentially preparing for a resurgence. Although al-Qaeda has suffered military setbacks, lost territory, and maintained a lower profile in recent years, terrorism experts note that the group is rebuilding quietly and is methodically bolstering its various branches. These experts note that al-Qaeda has deliberately avoided staging high profile attacks in the West so that the Islamic State would receive most of America’s military attention, allowing al-Qaeda to operate below the radar, especially in Syria, while fortifying its strength. Indeed, the latest estimates are that al-Qaeda still maintains an expansive global network of affiliates, and has managed to secure the loyalty of well over 10,000 followers in Syria alone (with most concentrated in Idlib Province, which is now under siege by Russian and Syrian state forces). The group reportedly also retains several thousand supporters in both Yemen and Somalia. And while my experience suggests that personnel estimates for groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are notoriously unreliable, the broad trends do highlight a worrisome fact — that even in the face of crippling setbacks, these groups are still able to attract and retain followers.[91] As for the Islamic State, while it no longer controls significant territory in Iraq and Syria, it maintains a small presence in the Middle Euphrates River Valley in Syria, and is slowly expanding its presence in Diyala, Salah ad-Din, and Kirkuk in Iraq.[92] Meanwhile in Libya, the Islamic State has lost control of Sirte and oil rich areas of the country, but in recent months has established cells around Tripoli and has carved out a significant presence in southern Libya. The Islamic State has also been more active operationally in recent months, launching a series of attacks across the globe that have killed hundreds and wounded many hundreds more. These attacks have occurred in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, the Sinai, and in Syria. It’s also noteworthy that even after the fall of the caliphate, not one Islamic State branch has renounced their pledge of fealty to the group.[93] Somewhat surprisingly, the United Nations reports that many of the foreign fighters that flocked to the Islamic State’s banners in Iraq and Syria in recent years have largely remained there even after the caliphate’s fall, with recent data suggesting a lower than anticipated return of foreign fighters to their countries of origin.[94] This lack of movement has, on the one hand, provided the Islamic State with residual strength in Iraq and Syria. On the other hand, a potential flood of battle-hardened Islamic State fighters returning to Western Europe and North America has been a key worry of Western intelligence services for most of the past decade, so this latest information that they are staying put is actually welcome news. It’s also evident that the Islamic State has altered its tactical approach over the past several months, avoiding direct, set-piece engagements with U.S. and allied forces, and instead resorting to isolated suicide attacks and hit-and-run operations. This allows the group to avoid casualties while also remaining militarily relevant.[95] On balance, then, it’s fair to say that while the United States has clearly regained the battlefield initiative from both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, these groups remain wily, adaptive, and lethal, and neither shows any interest in ceding the field anytime soon. Draining the Swamp The question of whether America is removing terrorists from the battlefield faster than they are being replaced has formed the backdrop to every counter-terrorism policy discussion since 9/11, and remains just as relevant today as it was 17 years ago. Unfortunately, there are reasons to worry about current trends. First, the underlying conditions that have fueled the appeal of extremism for the past few decades — fear within vulnerable Sunni communities about the rise of Shia political power, the accompanying proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the collapse of local governing authority in countries from Afghanistan to Yemen, a lack of political space for young people and an accompanying rise in authoritarianism in key countries such as Egypt, and chronically high youth unemployment rates (approaching 30 percent) throughout the Middle East[96] — show no signs of improvement. In fact, in most instances, the trends are decidedly negative. These conditions are the kindling that will keep the extremist fire burning indefinitely. A corollary challenge emanating from this chaos is a growing population-displacement and refugee crisis, which is severely straining governments from Turkey to Jordan, and which may over time increase the appeal of the extremists’ message to segments of the displaced population that remain outside of a formal education process and have no viable employment opportunities. The West’s response to this humanitarian crisis has thus far been largely disjointed and ineffective. Reports about the lack of progress in rebuilding devastated Sunni communities in both Syria and Iraq are especially worrisome,[97] as a key element of the extremist recruiting pitch for years has been that they could offer better basic social services than the central government, and that only they could defend vulnerable Sunni communities. In my view, therefore, any effective long-term campaign to drain the swamp of potential al-Qaeda and Islamic State recruits will have to include programs to improve the quality of life and sense of security for communities devastated by the last several years of fighting. At the moment, that type of tailored assistance seems unlikely. Avoiding Unforced Errors Regardless of where one lands in the debate over whether the United States should have invaded Iraq in 2003, there is no doubt that the invasion gave rise to al-Qaeda in Iraq the following year and lit a match to a combustible region. Similarly, while there were many legitimate reasons to draw down U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011, there is also little doubt that the reduced U.S. footprint facilitated the sudden rise of the Islamic State, fueled of course by the onset of the so-called Arab Spring, the start of the Syrian civil war next door, and the unexpected collapse of the Iraqi military only three years later. And while there was certainly a case to be made for removing Libyan President Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, several of the follow-on effects were quite severe, including the creation of a safe haven for the Islamic State along the coast, and the spillover of the Libyan conflict into sub-Saharan Africa. Thankfully, there have been noticeably fewer foreign policy actions over the past few years that have inadvertently complicated our counter-terrorism campaign on this scale, though there are some issues today that if not handled wisely could fall into the category of major unforced errors. For example, Western policymakers need to be extremely careful in their public rhetoric and actions to avoid creating the perception that the West’s fight against Islamic terrorists is actually a war against all Muslims. Also, Western leaders need to think through the full range of issues involved in determining the final disposition of foreign fighters held in captivity. Some key allies, for example, are likely to be pressured by their political leaders to halt counter-terrorism cooperation with the United States if, as has been reported in the press, the White House decides to send a small number of foreign fighters currently held in Syria to Guantanamo. There is also a growing risk of serious long-term reputational damage to America from its association with the type of incident that occurred last month in Yemen, where, as was widely reported, a busload of Yemeni children were killed by a Saudi-led coalition airstrike.[98] America’s military support to the Saudi campaign in Yemen, which is mainly limited to aerial refueling and targeting training, is nonetheless widely criticized in the Middle East — as well as by prominent international observers — for exacerbating the country’s humanitarian nightmare. According to the United Nations, nearly 9 million Yemenis are now on the brink of starvation in what it describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.[99] Therefore, America’s continuing link to the Saudi-led bombing campaign, whether fair or unfair, risks undercutting critical efforts to win hearts and minds in the global fight against extremism, and it would, in my view, behoove U.S. policymakers to redouble their efforts to help end this conflict. A final potential unforced error is the grinding conflict in Afghanistan, which continues to require the commitment of more than 10,000 American troops at a cost of more than $40 billion annually. In many ways, the conflict in Afghanistan is no longer central to the global counter-terrorism struggle, as al-Qaeda’s primary focus is in Syria and with its non-South Asian affiliates, and the Islamic State has at most a few thousand fighters in Afghanistan, located mainly in Nangarhar Province near the border with Pakistan. It’s also evident that the Taliban and the Islamic State hate each other, and press reports suggest that more Islamic State fighters have been killed by the Taliban than by Afghan security forces. The idea, therefore, of the Taliban taking over Kabul and allowing the Islamic State to establish a safe haven or al-Qaeda shifting the bulk of its fighters from Syria back to Afghanistan, seems highly unlikely. The remaining terrorists in Afghanistan are still a patchwork of groups focused primarily on local and regional grievances, thus far with no demonstrated ability or intent to operate internationally.[100] So, while there are many legitimate non-terrorism related reasons to maintain a U.S. military footprint in Afghanistan, U.S. policymakers will need to carefully consider in the coming months whether the long-term terrorist threat there still merits the current commitment of U.S. troops and intelligence resources, or whether the U.S. would be better off redeploying some of these precious resources elsewhere. Laying the Groundwork for Long-Term Success? Along these lines, a final metric to examine is whether the current strategy for countering terrorism is sustainable over the long haul. While there is little doubt that that the United States military, law enforcement, and intelligence services are capable of carrying on this fight for the next few years, there are a few worrisome signs to consider. The cost of this fight is, by any measure, staggering. According to a recent report by the Stimson Center, the United States since 9/11 has on average spent approximately $186 billion per year on counter-terrorism funding (and nearly $3 trillion total) since 2002, an amount equal to about 15 percent of the government’s total discretionary spending.[101] That level of spending may become harder to sustain in the future given America’s growing national debt, and highlights an urgent need to increase efficiencies, avoid unnecessary mission duplication, and enhance burden sharing with our allies in this fight. It also brings to mind a warning from physicist Ernest Rutherford who once wryly remarked that, “We haven’t got the money, so we’ll have to think.” Meanwhile, the tremendous monetary commitment does not capture the total cost of this conflict. In particular, it does not take into account the enormous time and attention U.S. policymakers have had to devote to this issue over several years, and the myriad ways it has shaped America’s relationships with countries across the globe. In fact, as critics have noted, it’s fair to question whether the current counter-terrorism emphasis not only influences U.S. foreign policy, but distorts it and subordinates in its pursuit other critical U.S. interests such as democracy and human rights promotion.[102] While America can certainly bear the cost of the global counter-terrorism campaign at the moment, U.S. policymakers would be wise to constantly question whether there are options for driving down costs, increasing efficiencies, and bolstering its coalition’s contribution to this fight — particularly at a time when military competition with peer states such as China and Russia is on the rise. Lessons Learned America’s counter-terrorism campaign has come a long way from the frantic and frightening days immediately after 9/11. And while there is considerable work left to do and some key adjustments to be made, we have certainly learned important lessons that that will help U.S. policymakers to formulate a more tailored and effective counter-terrorism strategy going forward. We have learned, for example, about the enduring lethality and resiliency of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, and the urgent requirement to deny them secure territory in which they can train fighters, plan attacks, raise revenue, and expand their online messaging efforts. We have learned about the enormous benefit of working closely with allies, especially from majority Muslim countries such as Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, who have deep expertise about the extremist threat and considerable ground truth to share. We have learned about the utility of empowering partners to spearhead offensive operations with U.S. military and intelligence backing. In this vein, it is critical going forward to maintain close relations with partners such as the Iraqi Special Forces and the Syrian Democratic Forces, allies that have borne the brunt of fighting and are essential to our effort to keep pressure on al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria. We have also learned about the need for a more proactive counter-radicalization strategy, especially online, that focuses primarily on the timeframe before an individual embraces the jihadists’ message and becomes committed to the terrorist cause. And we have learned about the need to formulate a cost-effective, integrated counter-terrorism strategy that begins to address the underlying causes of radicalization, especially in the Middle East, and which carefully balances the terrorism threat with other U.S. security priorities. Fully implementing these hard-earned lessons will not be easy, but will be critical to our eventual success. In the end, the past 17 years of America’s global counter-terrorism campaign have taught us that only with a creative, inclusive, flexible, and sustained approach will we be able to effectively tackle this challenge, and provide a more secure future for all Americans. Michael P. Dempsey is the national intelligence fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a fellowship sponsored by the U.S. government. He is the former acting director of national intelligence. All opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.  

6. Retrospect and Prospect: On Endless War

By David A. Brown, Tim Hoyt, and Craig Whiteside There is great benefit in thinking about your own country’s struggles while listening to someone else’s, particularly at a conference inspired by the attacks on 9/11 and conducted annually since. At the annual International Counterterrorism conference held this past week at the IDC-Herzilya,[103] we attended a panel titled, “Israel and Gaza: Hudna or Victory?” Hudna is an Arabic word meaning “cease fire,” but the Israelis at this conference understood it more as a “time-out.”[104] The panel consisted of Israeli security officials and politicians debating whether it was a good idea to negotiate with their opponents in order to stop recent border clashes and the periodic rocket, mortar, and flaming kite attacks directed at civilian targets in Israel. Member of Knesset Ksenia Svetlova, from the Israeli center-left Zionist Union party,[105] pithily summed up her perception of the government overtures in this way: “This is not an Israeli victory but a victory for radical Islam: Radical Islam - One, World - Zero.”[106] The body language of the former military official on the panel, whose experience in Gaza led him to argue for the benefits of hudna, made it obvious that the politician’s sound bite had found a tender spot. After all, who wants to be associated with an effort seen by some to appease terrorists, especially from the left side of the political spectrum? In a related observation, the outgoing U.S. commander of Afghanistan recently remarked that “it’s time for this war to end.”[107] This might be interpreted in many ways, but it is difficult not to think that it reflects the universal angst over the failure of the United States and its partners to achieve conflict termination in the larger war against jihadist militants. The conference forced the three of us — faculty of the U.S. Naval War College — to borrow from naval theorist Mahan and ask questions of retrospection and prospection:[108] How do we assess the evolution of our thinking and practice of counterterrorism since 9/11? What do those influences look like today in execution? How will the conflict be evaluated in ten years time? Retrospect Following the 9/11 attacks, successive U.S. administrations have promulgated three consistent objectives: First, to prevent additional mass casualty attacks on our homeland. Second, to find and punish those responsible. And third, to shatter the larger transnational terrorist movement’s capability and capacity to be a future threat. These reasonable objectives contrast with some of the associated rhetoric surrounding the "war on terror," often obscuring these objectives and seeking more expansive ones including eliminating terrorism writ large, eliminating “state-sponsored” terrorism, democratizing large parts of the Islamic world, and the attainment of perfect security for Americans at home and abroad. Ignoring the political rhetoric for the time being, and any corrosive effects it might have on clarity of purpose, we offer an objective evaluation of how the U.S. fared in achieving these three aims. To stop another mass casualty terrorist attack, the United States has reorganized its internal security institutions and upgraded law enforcement and both domestic and international intelligence capabilities.  While these severely complicate jihadist efforts to carry out mass casualty attacks on the United States, there are economic and social costs for this increased surveillance and government infringements on liberty.  In the pursuit of this quest, our political leaders have committed significant errors, such as invading Iraq, ostensibly to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to jihadist groups. Yet in a narrow but important sense, this concerted effort to prevent a large attack has been impressive and successful with a small residual risk. The hunt for the perpetrators, off to a good start in 2002, took longer than expected but largely achieved the objective in the end when Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011. However, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who leads al-Qaeda, remains at large. Jihadist replacement of leaders with effective replacements, and the rise of the scion of Bin Laden have undercut perceptions of this success.[109] Furthermore, the use of torture to obtain information about terror attacks and the location of leaders has undermined future efforts. The United States and its partners have not only failed to cripple the global jihadist movement, the problem is orders of magnitude worse since 9/11. Although America’s counter-terrorism campaign has restricted jihadist capability to conduct major attacks in the United States, the same cannot be said for Europe, where large terrorist attacks by Islamic State operatives have killed scores of people and injured hundreds. The split between al-Qaeda and Islamic State in 2013 has complicated the picture for intelligence collection, forcing analysts to look in too many directions. Leaders from both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State still exert control over their respective franchises, although in a degraded manner. The networks and affiliates are disaggregated, often focused on local sovereignty designs, and while nominally dedicated to global jihad are practically focused on influencing local Muslim populations.[110] Worryingly, this metastasizing jihadist movement is proving to be an adaptive enemy, operating in a globalized age that has dispersed impressive and cheap technological means to help them in their fight against states. Our evaluation of the attainment of these objectives fall in descending order, from mostly achieved for the first two to an insufficient grade for the last. Both the failure to manage the growth of the global jihadist movement, and the realization that even the destruction of the caliphate has not ended the campaign, inspires the frustration of politicians, practitioners, scholars, journalists, and voters. Worse, the passing scores on the first two objectives are only interim evaluations, not final ones. They require unending maintenance and attention. The resulting disillusionment, compounded by unforced errors that have made the conflict more expansive and expensive, is a serious issue that will continue to have profound consequences if unaddressed by our country’s leaders. To understand the source of this frustration, we present a metaphor to understand the challenges of combatting terrorism. Like analogies, there are many metaphors, and none are perfect, but this one is ours. The Problem with Pythons Florida has a bit of a Burmese python problem, as odd as that might seem. In an age of globalization, imported pet pythons somehow escaped into the Everglades, particularly in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in 1992. They have expanded into an estimated population in the tens to hundreds of thousands — not exactly a small margin of error but a reflection of the difficulty in assessing the threat.[111] Described as an apex predator, the python’s breeding habits and voracious diet has been linked to the extinction of marsh hares and the devastation of small mammal populations in the Everglades. The stated goal of the scientists and policymakers tasked with winning “the war” on pythons is to reduce the environmental impact to “a manageable level.”[112] One scientist remarked that while there were other invasive species in Florida, Burmese pythons are “especially unnerving,” and “the idea that this giant snake that doesn’t belong here, is here, just really is in people’s hearts and minds.” All of these phrases should sound familiar for those who study counterinsurgency and terror. Much like the futility of trying to stop the growth of the python population, our failure to reduce the scale of global jihadism is more obvious than ever, with each of the successive “waves” growing larger and larger since the late 1970s.[113] A decade ago, the Islamic State of Iraq had a few thousand members. More recently, the Pentagon was claiming they had killed over 60,000 members.[114] The Islamic State has new franchises all over the world and an end-strength measured in tens of thousands. Like the jihadist problem, the origin of the python problem might be interesting but it is not instructive in creating any solution. Burmese pythons have adapted to their new environment, are almost impossible to find, and while posing little direct threat to humans are in the process of drastically affecting a delicate ecosystem with unknown consequences. Efforts to open up hunting of pythons by politicians are making a laughably small impact on the problem.[115] In essence, these dynamics are very similar to our current effort to reduce terrorism. All analogies and metaphors have their weakness, and this one suffers from a significant one: unlike pythons, terrorists kill people in increasing numbers with worrisome trends.[116] In an age characterized by the rapid transfer of technology, and despite exhortations by some that terrorism is a relatively insignificant problem, the risk of a large-scale terror attack is commensurately increasing.[117] Our past failures are eroding resolve to face up to and try to prevent this future attack, and this is compounded by the looming deficit crisis — some of it fueled by these same costly failures — that will naturally limit our ability to act. The rise of other risks to international cooperation and norms (dare we say an international order) will further complicate and distract from the risk of terrorism.[118] How will we get through the next decade without another massive loss of innocent life? Prospect and the Future of Endless War There are three factors that we think will determine the future trajectory of global efforts to reduce terror acts and associated loss of life and property. The first will center on whether a shared understanding and more realistic appraisal of the nature of the conflict can be attained. This failure is at the root of wasted effort, mistakes, and disillusionment. The second factor will depend on the management of scarce resources to continue prosecuting the war against jihadi actors in an era of multiplying threats. Finally, the outcome will be determined by the ability of policymakers to unify an international coalition to defeat members of the global jihadist movement, which while divided at the moment, still march to the beat of the same drum. War on Terror, or War in Error? The irony about a conference on terror in the 21st century is that you will rarely find the word “war” mentioned. In fact, most conventional definitions — including one long proposed by the conference organizer, Boaz Ganor — specifically exclude attacks on military targets as terrorism.[119] Proponents of this definition desire increased cooperation among international actors and are fearful of delegitimizing what some might call freedom fighters rebelling against brutal oppression. This is the problem in Syria, where critics of groups fighting Assad’s criminal attacks on his own population deliberately elide them with jihadist opportunists, who have quite separate political objectives. As a consequence of this exclusion of attacks on military targets — which often includes police and government workers, even experts get confused about what is terrorism and what is not.[120] Considering that insurgents always use terror in their campaigns to overtake the state, the line is always blurred. [121] The mistake of the Bush administration of terming the struggle as a “War on Terror” produced a distaste for thinking of the struggle as war, which in retrospect it has become — either due to our mistakes or because it was inevitable. Whichever the case, this is now a war, and describing it as such is a much better use of the word than the ubiquitous use of “hybrid war,” “political warfare,” “cyber war,” “economic war,” “the war on drugs,” and so on, when it is doubtful that anything related to war/warfare is happening in any of these constructs. The current effort to defeat the jihadis is a war in almost every sense, fought between military components with sizeable asymmetric power imbalances but nonetheless the power to control territory and populations and inflict violence on one another. It is common to think that the enemy’s strategy is to use terror to achieve their end state. The reality is not this simple. Instead, jihadists use terrorism against civilians and military targets as an integrated strategy of attrition/exhaustion/provocation. We refuse to accept this new reality and continue to misread our jihadi opponents, their objectives, and their relative success in achieving modest success to date. Any focus on the defeat of the caliphate,[122] and not the shocking fact that one was created in the first place by tens of thousands of locals and global migrants,[123] is a good example of this failure to understand. Governments exist in large part to protect its citizens from harm. Failure to do this has large repercussions for politicians. Kori Schake, a member of Bush’s National Security Council, told a panel dissecting the motives behind the Iraq invasion this year that rational arguments against invading Iraq were overcome by a palpable fear of an even larger terrorist attack, one that politicians of both parties in both branches were eager to prevent.[124] Accordingly, they overwhelmingly passed an authorization for the use of military force in 2002.[125] Sixteen years later, we still cannot accept the reality of the war we are fighting, and three administrations have used this law to justify war against Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.[126] We are not executing a series of isolated military strikes with drones, but an extended and significant campaigns with no end in sight. Crocodiles Closer to the Canoe? Governments have to set priorities to protect their citizens, and efficiently allocate resources in order to protect its citizens and secure their welfare. The Trump administration’s new strategy directives reflect a desire to reshape a balance where the prosecution of the war against jihadist groups is sublimated in every sense to the need to counter a China increasingly acting in a “hegemonic” manner — not just regionally but also globally.[127] This move has been applauded for realistically and belatedly addressing the rise China as a geopolitical threat to the United States’ position as unchallenged global leader.  Fears that we are over-invested in the fight against jihadist groups, at the expense of attention to China or Russia, are valid and reasonable concerns addressed in the new National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy. That being said, it could be just as much a mistake to understand China as a threat to the United States, as opposed to a competitor for political and economic influence.[128] While the competition for resources is always a zero-sum game, risk assessment is not. The probability of a Chinese threat to U.S. citizens, in an era of nuclear deterrence, is lower than the probability of a successful terror attack on U.S. soil, even if it would be much deadlier. Even if we were to decide to actively contest Chinese island building in the South China Sea, as well as influence efforts in South Asia and Africa, it is extremely unclear as to what we could actually do to stop what is a natural increase in influence due to their rising economic power. Furthermore, it is possible that China’s obtuse and clumsy efforts to use coercive tactics against South China Sea neighbors and political influence to manipulate internal political considerations in countries like Australia will inspire a natural and increasingly common backlash.[129] The dilemma of dealing with a rising China is an example of the strategic planning concept former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld popularized of “known knowns,” etc.[130] Despite indications of China’s growing power and new willingness to use it, there is little indication yet of how this will affect the current international order — one that has benefited China to a large degree and may continue to do so. This would function as a “known unknown.” In contrast, the jihadist threat is a “known known,” with their intentions telegraphed and their determination to fulfill the establishment of the caliphate proven. Without discounting the importance of a new shared awareness that China could develop into a serious threat to stability and the U.S. position as an indispensible leader of the global community, we cannot fail to deal with the “known known.” Certainly, the lessons of chasing uncertain futures should be familiar enough to give us pause. Coalitions of the Willing, and Able The initial response to the establishment of the caliphate in 2014 was uncertain, dividing those who urged rollback from those who advised containment.[131] Subsequent terrorist attacks around the world inspired a slow shift to rollback as the preferred option, and today the self-proclaimed caliphate is no more. Despite this achievement, there has been only limited commitment to the reconstruction necessary to prevent an Islamic State resurgence.[132] States are still largely focused on perceived threats against their specific country, and retain a parochial attitude in approaching the jihadi groups that might be organizationally divided, but follow the same ideology. This well-articulated doctrine clearly defines the enemy, the strategy, and the acceptable tactics for engagement.[133] Despite significant efforts by the United Nations Counter Terrorism Executive Directorate, this lack of unity of the targets of terrorism will likely increase thanks to a U.S. administration that embraces a go-it-alone approach and disdain for the benefits of international cooperation and unified action.[134] The only thing preventing this to date are the efforts of individual diplomats and administration figures dedicated to reducing the threat of terrorism.[135] An important point that came up in the counterterrorism conference was a plea for countries to take responsibility for their citizens that committed terror acts in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere. Despite the new understanding of the dangers of allowing jihadists to build new networks around the world, countries have increased citizenship revocation for foreign terrorist fighters to avoid bringing them home.[136] To avoid the hassles and risk of repatriating, prosecuting, detaining, rehabilitating, and reintegrating these individuals, countries are passing the buck and contributing to the building of the future fifth wave of global jihad. One United Nations representative at the conference admitted that Russia was taking the lead on repatriating the children of foreign terrorist fighters to grandparents in their country, in an ironic contrast to several liberal democracies.[137] While countries are cooperating in this collective action problem, the absence of leadership from the United States is problematic.[138] We end this analysis by presenting a possible black swan related to the fight against jihadist foes. The United States and others have largely ignored Chinese actions concerning its Uighur population, Muslims who live in the Western province of Xinjiang. Reports that over a million Uighurs have been interned and subject to reeducation because of their religious beliefs could be the inspiration for the unity and support the jihadis have tried so hard to win, especially if the repression inspires an uprising.[139] Anyone entertaining a bit of schadenfreude over these Chinese missteps has failed to learn the lessons of 9/11, and of life in our globalized and ever interconnected world. The Uighur issue might start as a Chinese problem, but it will not end as a strictly Chinese problem. Conclusions How do we think the scorecard on these three factors will look in a decade? It is too early to predict but we are not off to a good start. A lack of confidence in our own values due to past mistakes and shameful violations of our own values are fueling an inclination to reduce our efforts against groups that use terror because of a belief that we are the cause of this increase in terror.[140] Just as the invasion of Iraq was an overreaction inspired by fear, our possible disengagement from the fight against violent extremists could end up as an overreaction to a failure to make an impact on the level of terror violence, and used by populist politicians to justify retrenchment. Western polities are divided and nonchalantly discuss possibilities of civil war, and focus on identity at the cost of unity.[141] Distaste for concepts like limited war against the jihadists, meaning limited objectives as well as limited resources, could force us to use illogical constructs like victory to judge success, much like the Israeli politician calling the negotiations with Hamas a defeat in the global war on terror. Until our politicians embrace these distinctions, or at least refrain from using them against their government opponents, we will never understand the war that we have been fighting, a war that will continue. This war plays out in fits and spurts, and the intensity of it ebbs and flows. The anniversary of 9/11 is a great time to conduct introspection; our governments owe us some real talk on what will continue to be a long struggle to reduce terror attacks around the world. David A. Brown is the executive director of the Advanced Naval Strategist Program and co-director of the Center on Irregular Warfare and Armed Groups. Tim Hoyt is the John Nicholas Brown Chair of Counterterrorism, a professor of strategy and policy, and the acting director of the Advanced Strategist Program  Craig Whiteside is a professor of national security affairs.   All three are faculty members of the U.S. Naval War College. The opinions are the views of the authors and do not reflect any official policy or view of the U.S. government.  

7. Another Year of the War in Afghanistan

By A. Trevor Thrall and Erik Goepner In August 2017, President Donald Trump rubberstamped his predecessors’ failed policies when he announced America’s recommitment to the mission in Afghanistan. In his speech, Trump made the same promises of victory and signed on to the same set of goals outlined many times by President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama: Our troops will fight to win. We will fight to win. From now on, victory will have a clear definition:  attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing Al Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan, and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge.[142] Trump’s plan for victory in Afghanistan was dead on arrival. Based on the same faulty premises about the threat of terrorism and the benefits of military action, Trump’s Afghanistan campaign has done little to make Americans safer. None of this is news. By the time Trump made his announcement last year, the fundamental indicators of failure in Afghanistan had been easy to see for quite some time. Why has the United States embraced the same feckless strategy over 17 years and three presidents? The answer is simple: Washington’s continued embrace of a host of strategic myths. The safe haven fallacy has promoted unwarranted concern over the threat of future terrorism. When Trump asked why the United States needed to stay in Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense James Mattis responded, “to prevent a bomb from going off in Times Square.”[143] And indeed, many argue that the failure of terrorists to launch a second 9/11-style attack proves the value of continued American efforts in Afghanistan and military action elsewhere. In his August 2017 speech, Trump made it clear that this argument was central to his decision to extend the American commitment to Afghanistan, noting, The consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable.  9/11, the worst terrorist attack in our history, was planned and directed from Afghanistan because that country was ruled by a government that gave comfort and shelter to terrorists.  A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists, including ISIS and al Qaeda, would instantly fill, just as happened before September 11th.[144] Despite its popularity in Washington,[145] the safe haven argument is overblown.[146] The most important base of operations for the 9/11 terrorists was not Afghanistan, but the United States. As the 9/11 commission report describes, all of the hijackers entered the United States legally,[147] where they received their technical (pilot) training, not in some clandestine Afghan camp. Without the ability to carry out their preparations here in the United States, the 9/11 attack might not have occurred. Post-9/11 security reforms have made it far more difficult for terrorists to enter the United States, and they now are unable to access such sophisticated training without raising suspicion. These efforts, not the campaign in Afghanistan, have been the most effective in curtailing the ability of would-be terrorists to carry out attacks on U.S. soil. More generally, the safe haven fallacy is an argument for endless war based on unwarranted worst-case scenario assumptions. To worry about an attack from Afghanistan, a capable terrorist group must have room to operate there safely, must decide a major attack on the U.S. homeland is a good idea, and must figure out a way to carry out that attack from Afghanistan — 7,000 miles from the American homeland — without the sort of support within the United States that al-Qaeda enjoyed in 2001. And all of this must occur without the United States detecting and disrupting the plot. Though the defense establishment gets paid to plan for trouble, this series of events is so unlikely it does not justify the occupation of Afghanistan today or tomorrow. If the United States left Afghanistan and the Taliban took control again, why would they provide support to Al Qaeda, the Islamic State, or some other group with plans to repeat 9/11? The Taliban did not attack the United States, and they certainly did not benefit from al-Qaeda’s strike on the United States. Moreover, leaving Afghanistan does not mean the United States has to ignore what is happening there. Intelligence can provide early warning should events someday point toward the possibility that a major attack on the United States is becoming more likely. At that point the United States could intervene in a more limited fashion to deal with gathering threats. The belief that terrorism and the conflicts and animosities which give rise to it can be eradicated is the second myth propagating the effort in Afghanistan.[148] Trump’s promise to obliterate the self-proclaimed Islamic State and crush al-Qaeda, while emotionally satisfying, is strategically misguided. The roots of terrorism, like the causes of war, run too deep for even a superpower to do much about.[149] Defeating al-Qaeda and the Islamic State will not put an end to jihadist terrorism because the organizations themselves are simply the symptoms of underlying political dynamics and fundamental social and cultural conflicts, not their cause. Declaring war on these symptoms and intervening in nations riven by conflict is a recipe for failure. The evidence indicates America is further from defeating jihadist groups than it was on Sept. 12, 2001. Despite 17 years in Afghanistan, almost as long in Iraq, as well as drone strikes and special operations missions in Syria, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, the Philippines, and Mali, the State Department reports that the number of Islamist-inspired terrorist groups has tripled since 2001,[150] while the number of fighters has risen from approximately 32,000 to more than 100,000.[151] In Afghanistan alone, there are as many as 20 such groups operating.[152] And though no one is suggesting that American intervention is the only important factor, it seems more likely that America’s presence in Afghanistan is making things worse than making things better when it comes to eliminating the threat. Finally, American military and political leaders wrongly believe that the key to “victory” in Afghanistan is merely a question of convincing the Taliban of American resolve. In contrast to Obama, Trump promised that the American presence in Afghanistan would be condition-based, not time limited, in an effort to pressure the Taliban to negotiate. As a Pentagon report from December 2017 put it, "The objective of the campaign is to convince the Taliban that they cannot win on the battlefield.”[153] With fewer troops on the ground than during the Obama surge, the notion that Trump’s approach is going to produce more leverage is fantastical. Today the Taliban control, contest, or influence more territory than at any point since they were ejected from power in 2001.[154] Making things even worse, the current Afghan government is a disaster. Not only is the government incapable of protecting its own people without help from the United States, Freedom House assesses Afghans as “not free,” the same rating from the Taliban days, and in terms of corruption, Afghanistan ranks fourth worst in the global system.[155] Simply put, nothing the United States is doing will encourage the Taliban to change its course, regardless of how much resolve Trump and his generals have. The failures of America’s war on terror are obvious at this point — even to the president. During his August 2017 speech, Trump began by noting that he shared the public’s frustration with the costly and prolonged stalemate and that his first instinct was to pull American troops out of Afghanistan.[156] As we remember the victims of 9/11 and honor the millions who have served in the war that followed, it is past time for the United States to find its way out of Afghanistan. Trevor Thrall is an associate professor in the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.  Erik Goepner (Colonel, U.S. Air Force, Retired) commanded military units in Afghanistan and Iraq, and he is currently an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute.   Image: Michael Foran [post_title] => Policy Roundtable: 17 Years After September 11 [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => policy-roundtable-17-years-after-september-11 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-09-11 12:42:34 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-09-11 16:42:34 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?post_type=roundtable&p=716 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => roundtable [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => To understand what has gone both right and wrong since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, we have convened a roundtable of some of this country’s foremost experts on terrorism, insurgency, and strategy. [pubinfo] => [issue] => [quotes] => [style] => roundtable [type] => Policy [style_label] => Roundtable [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 11 [1] => 202 [2] => 187 [3] => 155 [4] => 206 [5] => 204 [6] => 205 [7] => 203 [8] => 207 [9] => 208 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] “Twin Towers Demolished, Pentagon Hit in Terrorist Attacks,” Fox News, Sept. 12, 2001, http://www.foxnews.com/story/2001/09/12/twin-towers-demolished-pentagon-hit-in-terrorist-attacks.html [2] Stephen Tankel, With Us and Against Us: How America’s Partners Help and Hinder the War on Terror (New York: Columbia, 2018). [3] “A Timeline of the U.S. War in Afghanistan,” Council on Foreign Relations, https://www.cfr.org/timeline/us-war-afghanistan. [4] Steve Coll, “We Can’t Win in Afghanistan Because We Don’t Know Why We’re There,” New York Times, Jan. 26, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/26/opinion/sunday/united-states-afghanistan-win.html. [5] Michael P. Dempsey, “No Longer a Haven for International Terrorists,” New York Times, Dec. 3, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/03/opinion/no-longer-a-haven-for-international-terrorists.html. [6] Dexter Filkins, The Forever War, (New York: Penguin Random House, 2009). [7] Tricia Bacon, “Is the Enemy of My Enemy My Friend?,” Security Studies 27, no. 3 (2018), https://doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2017.1416813. [8] Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, An Enemy We Created: The Myth of the Taliban / Al-Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan, 1970–2010 (London: Hurst, 2012). [9] Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, The Age of Sacred Terror: Radical Islam’s War Against America (New York: Penguin Random House, 2002). [10] Atiyah abd al-Rahman (aka Mahmud), “Government Exhibit 421,” June 19, 2010, Letter retrieved from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, https://www.longwarjournal.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/EXHIBIT-421-ENG-TRANS-EX-420-76C5764D-1.pdf; Thomas Joscelyn, “Zawahiri Calls on Muslims to Support Taliban, Reject Islamic State,” FDD's Long War Journal, Aug. 21, 2016, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2016/08/zawahiri-calls-on-muslims-to-support-taliban-reject-islamic-state.php. [11] “Undated letter re Afghanistan,” Letter retrieved from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, declassified May 15, 2015, https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/ubl/english/Undated%20letter%20re%20Afghanistan.pdf. [12] “Twenty-second report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team submitted pursuant to resolution 2368 (2017) concerning ISIL (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals and entities,” United Nations, July 27, 2018, http://undocs.org/S/2018/705. [13] Steve Coll, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (New York: Penguin, 2004); “Cable from U.S. Embassy Islamabad to Secretary of State,” U.S. Department of State, Dec. 22, 1998, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB253/19981222.pdf; Zachary Laub, “The Taliban in Afghanistan,” Council on Foreign Relations, July 4, 2014, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/taliban-afghanistan. [14] “Cable from U.S. Embassy Islamabad to Secretary of State,” U.S. Department of State, Sept. 24, 1998, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB97/tal26.pdf. [15] “Cable from U.S. Embassy Islamabad to Secretary of State,” U.S. Department of State, Sept. 14, 1998, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB134/Doc 6.pdf; “Strains Surface Between Taliban and Bin Ladin,” Central Intelligence Agency, January 1999, https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/368942-1999-01-strains-surface-between-taliban-and-bin.html. [16] “Cable from U.S. Embassy Islamabad to Secretary of State,” U.S. Department of State, Dec. 30, 1998, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB134/Doc 6.pdf; Osama Bin Laden, “Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders,” World Islamic Front Statement, Feb. 23, 1998, https://fas.org/irp/world/para/docs/980223-fatwa.htm; van Linschoten and Kuehn, An Enemy We Created. [17] "SITREP 6: Pakistan/Afghanistan Reaction to U.S. Strikes," U.S. Embassy (Islamabad), Aug. 25, 1998,  https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB134/Doc%204.pdf; "SITREP 7: Pakistan/Afghanistan Reaction to U.S. Strikes," U.S. Embassy (Islamabad), Aug. 26, 1998, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB134/Doc%205.pdf. [18] “Taliban Commander Reveals Anger at Al Qaeda, Dim Hopes for Victory,” TOLOnews, July 11, 2012, https://www.tolonews.com/afghanistan/taliban-commander-reveals-anger-al-qaeda-dim-hopes-victory. [19] “GTD Search Results,” Global Terrorism Database, accessed Sept. 9, 2018, https://www.start.umd.edu/gtd/search/Results.aspx?page=1&casualties_type=b&casualties_max=&dtp2=all&country=4&perpetrator=20029,40325&expanded=no&charttype=line&chart=overtime&ob=GTDID&od=desc - results-table. [20] “Afghanistan Taliban Holding Firm on Bin Ladin for Now,” Central Intelligence Agency, Mar. 23, 2001, https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/368972-2001-03-23-afghanistan-taliban-holding-firm-on.html. [21] Anand Gopal, No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes (New York: Henry Holt, 2014). [22] Michael Semple, “The Taliban Need Help to Break Their Al-Qaida Ties,” Guardian, Apr. 30, 2012, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/apr/30/taliban-al-qaida-ties. [23] Michael Semple, Conversation with the author, Sept. 4, 2018, London. [24] Jason Burke, “Bin Laden Files Show Al-Qaida and Taliban Leaders in Close Contact,” Guardian, Apr. 29, 2012, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/apr/29/bin-laden-al-qaida-taliban-contact; Atiyah abd al-Rahman (aka Mahmud), “Government Exhibit 421,” June 19, 2010, Letter retrieved from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, https://www.longwarjournal.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/EXHIBIT-421-ENG-TRANS-EX-420-76C5764D-1.pdf; Barbara Starr and Zachary Cohen, “US Official: High-Level Al Qaeda Commander Killed in Afghanistan,” CNN, Dec. 5, 2017, https://www.cnn.com/2017/12/05/politics/us-kills-high-level-al-qaeda-commander-omar-bin-khatab/index.html. [25] “Summary of the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Author Unknown, Letter retrieved from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, declassified May 20, 2015, https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/ubl/english/Summary on situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.pdf. [26] Rod Nordland, Ash Ngu, and Fahim Abed, “How the U.S. Government Misleads the Public on Afghanistan,” New York Times, Sept. 8, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/09/08/world/asia/us-misleads-on-afghanistan.html; “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress,” Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, July 30, 2018, https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/quarterlyreports/2018-07-30qr.pdf. [27] Ashley Jackson, “Life under the Taliban Shadow Government,” ODI, June 2018, https://www.odi.org/publications/11144-life-under-taliban-shadow-government. [28] “Afghanistan Taliban Holding Firm on Bin Ladin for Now.” [29] Steve Coll, Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan (New York: Penguin Random House, 2018). [30] Aziz Amin Ahmadzai, “Iran’s Support for the Taliban Brings It to a Crossroads With Afghanistan,” Diplomat, May 21, 2018, https://thediplomat.com/2018/05/irans-support-for-the-taliban-brings-it-to-a-crossroads-with-afghanistan/. [31] Mujib Mashal, “Afghan Taliban Awash in Heroin Cash, a Troubling Turn for War,” New York Times, Oct. 29, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/29/world/asia/opium-heroin-afghanistan-taliban.html. [32] Gabriel Dominguez, “How the Taliban Get Their Money” Deutsche Welle, Jan. 21, 2016, https://www.dw.com/en/how-the-taliban-get-their-money/a-18995315. [33] Carlotta Gall, “Saudis Bankroll Taliban, Even as King Officially Supports Afghan Government,” New York Times, Dec. 6, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/06/world/asia/saudi-arabia-afghanistan.html. [34] Ayaz Gul, “Taliban Says IS ‘Purged’ From Northern Afghan Province,” VOA News, Aug. 1, 2018, https://www.voanews.com/a/taliban-says-islamic-state-eliminated-from-northern-afghan-province/4508922.html. [35] Dan Lamothe, “‘Probably the Largest’ Al-Qaeda Training Camp Ever Destroyed in Afghanistan,” Washington Post, Oct. 30, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2015/10/30/probably-the-largest-al-qaeda-training-camp-ever-destroyed-in-afghanistan/. [36] Vahid Brown and Don Rassler, Fountainhead of Jihad: The Haqqani Nexus, 1973–2012 (London: Hurst, 2013); Barbara Elias-Sanborn, ed., “The Haqqani History: Bin Ladin's Advocate Inside the Taliban,” National Security Archive, Sept. 11, 2012, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB389/. [37] “Twenty-second report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team”; Wesley Morgan, “Whatever Happened to Al Qaeda in Afghanistan?,” POLITICO, Aug. 15, 2018, https://politi.co/2Bl3t8u. [38] Ayman al-Zawahiri, “Letter to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (translated),” July 9, 2005, https://ctc.usma.edu/app/uploads/2013/10/Zawahiris-Letter-to-Zarqawi-Translation.pdf. [39] Thomas Jocelyn, “Ayman al Zawahiri swears allegiance to the Taliban’s new leader,” FDD’s Long War Journal, June 11, 2016, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2016/06/ayman-al-zawahiri-swears-allegiance-to-the-talibans-new-leader.php. [40] Don Melvin, “Taliban Admit Mullah Omar Died in 2013,” CNN, Aug. 31, 2015, https://www.cnn.com/2015/08/31/asia/taliban-mullah-omar-death/index.html. [41] Jack Moore, “Al-Qaeda’s Zawahiri Calls on Supporters to Reject ISIS and Support Taliban,” Newsweek, Aug. 22, 2016, https://www.newsweek.com/al-qaedas-zawahiri-calls-supporters-reject-isis-and-support-taliban-492337. [42] Barbara Elias, “Know Thine Enemy,” Foreign Affairs, Nov. 2, 2009, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/pakistan/2009-11-02/know-thine-enemy. [43] Douglas Frantz and David Rohde, “A NATION CHALLENGED: THE BOND; How Bin Laden and Taliban Forged Jihad Ties,” New York Times, Nov. 22, 2001, https://www.nytimes.com/2001/11/22/world/a-nation-challenged-the-bond-how-bin-laden-and-taliban-forged-jihad-ties.html. [44] Coll, Directorate S. [45] “The Al-Qaeda-Taliban Nexus,” Council on Foreign Relations, Nov. 24, 2009, https://www.cfr.org/expert-roundup/al-qaeda-taliban-nexus; Tricia Bacon and Elizabeth Grimm Arsenault, “Did Bin Laden’s Death Help the Islamic State?” Washington Post, May 2, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2018/05/02/did-bin-ladens-death-help-the-islamic-state/. [46] Bill Roggio, “Full Statement of Mullah Mansour Accepting Al Qaeda’s Oath of Allegiance,” FDD's Long War Journal, Aug. 14, 2015, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/08/full-statement-of-mullah-mansour-accepting-al-qaedas-oath-of-allegiance.php. [47] Thomas Joscelyn, “Ayman Al Zawahiri Swears Allegiance to the Taliban’s New Leader,” FDD’s Long War Journal, June 11, 2016, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2016/06/ayman-al-zawahiri-swears-allegiance-to-the-talibans-new-leader.php. [48] Abdulqahar Balkhi, “Message of Felicitation of the Esteemed Amir-Ul-Momineen, Shiekh-Ul-Hadith Hibatullah Akhundzada, (May Allah Protect Him), on the Occasion of Eid-Ul-Adha – Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” Aug. 30, 2017, https://alemarah-english.com/?p=19352. [49] Thomas Joscelyn and Bill Roggio, “Taliban Rejects Peace Talks, Emphasizes Alliance with Al Qaeda in New Video,” FDD’s Long War Journal, Dec. 9, 2016, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2016/12/taliban-rejects-peace-talks-emphasizes-alliance-with-al-qaeda-in-new-video.php. [50] Mujib Mashal and Eric Schmitt, “White House Orders Direct Taliban Talks to Jump-Start Afghan Negotiations” New York Times, July 15, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/15/world/asia/afghanistan-taliban-direct-negotiations.html. [51] Michael Semple,“Top Priorities for New Afghan Taliban Chief,” CNN, May 25, 2016, https://www.cnn.com/2016/05/24/opinions/challenges-for-next-taliban-leader/index.html. [52] Theo Farrell and Michael Semple, “Making Peace with the Taliban,” Survival 57, no. 6 (2015), https://doi.org/10.1080/00396338.2015.1116157. [53]For figures on these costs, see Brown University Watson Institute Costs of War Project, https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/. [54] David Rapoport originated the idea of “waves” of terrorism. See his article “The Fourth Wave: September 11 in the History of Terrorism,” Current History, 100 (December 2001), http://www.currenthistory.com/Article.php?ID=226. [55] Barak Mendelsohn, The Al-Qaeda Franchise: The Expansion of al-Qaeda and its Consequences (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016); Camille Tawil, Brothers in Arms: The Story of Al-Qa’ida and the Arab Jihadists (London: Saqi Books, 2010; translated from the 2007 Arabic edition). [56] See the Stanford University Center for International Security and Cooperation Mapping Militants Project, mappingmilitants.stanford.edu. The website has detailed profiles of the militant groups mentioned in this analysis as well as diagrams of their relationships. The sources for the profiles are fully cited. For the most recent profile updates email crenshaw@stanford.edu. See also Martha Crenshaw, “Transnational Jihadism & Civil Wars,” Daedalus, 146, no. 4 (Fall 2017), https://doi.org/10.1162/DAED_a_00459. [57] For a comprehensive account upon which many of the following observations are based see Charles Lister, The Syrian Jihad: Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and the Evolution of an Insurgency (London: Hurst Publishers, 2015); and “Hayat Tahrir al-Sham: to Unite or to Divide the Ranks?” in How Al-Qaeda Survived Drones, Uprisings, and the Islamic State: The Nature of the Current Threat, ed. Aaron Y. Zelin (Washington, DC: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2017). [58] Michael R. Gordon and Anne Barnard, “U.S. Places Militant Syrian Rebel Group on List of Terrorist Organizations,” New York Times, Dec. 10, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/11/world/middleeast/us-designates-syrian-al-nusra-front-as-terrorist-group.html. [59] Mark MazzettiAdam Goldman, and Michael S. Schmidt, “Behind the Sudden Death of a $1 Billion Secret C.I.A. War in Syria,” New York Times, Aug. 2, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/02/world/middleeast/cia-syria-rebel-arm-train-trump.html. [60] Karen DeYoung, Liz Sly, and Missy Ryan,” US airstrikes target Al-Qaeda faction in Syria,” Washington Post, Nov. 6, 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2014/11/06/d860ef47-40fa-4f85-8753-0d9de0a6830b_story.html?utm_term=.1d09add13f39. [61] See the profile of Ahrar Al-Sham on the website Mapping Militant Organizations, mappingmilitants.stanford.edu. [62] DeYoung, et al., “US airstrikes”; and Lister, The Syrian Jihad. [63] As the organization evolved and the military situation grew more desperate, the al-Nusra group, in its new form as HTS, agreed to cooperate with Turkey, thus leading to more internal disputes and splits. See Akil Hussein, “Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham’s Deal with Turkey Further Alienates It from Other Jihadists,” The Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, (November 2017), https://syria.chathamhouse.org/research/hayat-tahrir-al-shams-deal-with-turkey-further-alienates-it-from-other-jihadists. [64] For an account of the evolution of al-Nusra, see the profile on the website Mapping Militant Organizations, mappingmilitants.stanford.edu. On its transformation into HTS, see also Tore Refslund Hamming and Pieter Van Ostaeyen, “The True Story of al-Qaeda’s Demise and Resurgence in Syria,” Lawfare, April 8, 2018, https://www.lawfareblog.com/true-story-al-qaedas-demise-and-resurgence-syria. [65] Charles Lister, “How al-Qa`ida Lost Control of its Syrian Affiliate: The Inside Story,” CTC Sentinel 11, no. 2 (February 2018), https://ctc.usma.edu/al-qaida-lost-control-syrian-affiliate-inside-story/. [66] Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Prepares to Reduce Troops and Shed Missions in Africa,” New York Times, Aug. 1, 2018,  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/01/world/africa/us-withdraw-troops-africa.html. [67] Speech at Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. 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[69] An analysis of the violent competition among the rebel groups in the Algerian civil war leading up to the 2006 merger is found in Mohammed M. Hafez, “Fratricidal Rebels: Ideological Extremity and Warring Factionalism in Civil Wars,” Terrorism and Political Violence 29, no. 6 (2017), https://doi.org/10.1080/09546553.2017.1389726. [70] See Chivvis and Liepman, North Africa’s Menace; and Mémier, “AQMI et Al-Mourabitoun,.”  See also Samuel L. Aronson, “AQIM’s Threat to Western Interests in the Sahel,” CTC Sentinel 7, no. 4 (April 2014), https://ctc.usma.edu/aqims-threat-to-western-interests-in-the-sahel/. [71] See David J. Francis, “The regional impact of the armed conflict and French intervention in Mali,” Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre Report (April 2013), http://www.operationspaix.net/DATA/DOCUMENT/7911~v~The_regional_impact_of_the_armed_conflict_and_French_intervention_in_Mali.pdf. 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