Ten years later, the man who planned the attack is still at large and heading al-Qaeda.
Latest in al-Qaeda
Threats new and old, at home and from abroad.
Editor’s Note: Afghanistan is America’s longest war, and recent attempts to negotiate an end with the Taliban appear to have failed, at least for now. Many Americans are asking whether it is worth staying in Afghanistan as the war drags on. Carter Malkasian, one of America’s premier Afghanistan experts, examines the most important argument for staying—that Afghanistan might again be a haven for anti-American terrorist groups—and from there raises questions that should guide policymakers considering a withdrawal.
Editor’s Note: To the surprise of many observers, the al-Qaeda core under Ayman al-Zawahiri has not launched a major terrorist attack in the West for years, and the rise of the Islamic State seemed to signal the group’s further decline. Asfandyar Mir of Stanford argues that this lack of focus is a mistake. He contends that al-Qaeda remains resilient and that the group continues to pose a major terrorism threat.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on Order from Chaos.
Over the past two decades, extremists have successfully exploited both intrastate politics and interstate relations to further their own state-building projects. In particular, they have targeted marginalized, peripheral regions of fragile states, where citizens are politically and economically excluded by their governments. Stopping the spread of extremism will require a broader strategy to address the often counterproductive role played by government actors, instead of focusing narrowly on potentially radicalizing individuals.
Editor’s Note: The armed drone has become the emblem of U.S. counterterrorism, but critics charge that it leads to high numbers of civilian casualties and a popular backlash in places like Pakistan. Asfandyar Mir, a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford, argues that the drone campaign has proven highly effective at degrading (though not ending) al-Qaeda and other groups in Pakistan. He lays out conditions under which a drone campaign would be effective elsewhere, noting the importance of intelligence and the need for a rapid-response capacity.
Editor’s Note: One of the most common, and seemingly convincing, critiques of the drone program is that it produces "blowback"—each miss that kills civilians, or even each hit that kills a militant, angers locals near the blast zone and inflames national sentiment against the United States in ways that aid militant recruitment. Such arguments are difficult to evaluate, but Aqil Shah of the University of Oklahoma did extensive survey and interview research on this question.
Editor’s Note: When analysts consider how strong al-Qaeda is, much of the discussion concerns the group's relationship with its affiliate organizations in Yemen, the Maghreb, and other areas. Perhaps the most important of these organizations is, or was, its affiliate in Syria.
In a January 14, 2018, Lawfare article, Alexander Thurston wrote that “mounting evidence pushed me, despite my strong initial skepticism, to acknowledge and begin to analyze the ties and exchanges between Boko Haram and AQIM.” The humility to amend prior analysis reflects well here.