Confronting al-Qaeda: Understanding the Threat in Afghanistan

Marc Sageman


Counter-terrorism policy should be based on a comprehensive analysis of the facts. A comprehensive survey of global neo-jihadi terrorism in the West shows that there were 60 plots over the past 20 years, perpetrated by 46 different networks. Of these only 14 successfully inflicted any casualty, and only two were perpetrated by al-Qaeda proper in the past 20 years. Over the past five years, global neo-jihadi and al-Qaeda terrorism in the West is in decline and the vast majority of the plots were perpetrated by independent homegrown groups, inspired by al- Qaeda but not linked to it or its allies. Since 9/11/01, none of the plots could be traced back to Afghanistan. Indeed, the detailed trial transcripts of the major plots in the West since 9/11/01 show that there was no al-Qaeda training in Afghanistan and that there is no Afghan among the perpetrators. There has been no global neo-jihadi terrorist casualty in the West in the past four years and none in the U.S. in the past eight years. This means that the U.S. military surge in Afghanistan will not help protect U.S. and Western homelands from a- Qaeda and its allies. The argument that the surge will prevent a return of al-Qaeda to Afghanistan to the same level of threat as prior to 2001 is based on many dubious assumptions. Counter-terrorism in the West has been very successful and the value added of an increased counter-insurgency campaign in Afghanistan is debatable.

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Perspectives on Terrorism is  a journal of the Terrorism Research Initiative and the Center for Terrorism and Security Studies

ISSN  2334-3745 (Online)

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