University of Exeter
ARA 3158 - Armed Islamist Movements
To what extent have recent post 9/11 developments affected the strength of al Qaeda?
Student Number: 600012806
Word Count: 2171
More than a decade after 9/11, a great lack of consensus exists over the assessments of al Qaeda’s current situation. Some analysts’ say that al Qaeda is ‘on the ropes’ (John Brennan, 2011), that the United States is ‘within reach of strategically defeating al Qaeda’ (Panetta, 2011 in Bumiller, 2011), and that al Qaeda’s core could be degraded to a mere ‘propaganda arm within 18 to 24 months’ (Vickers, 2011 in Benson, 2011). These are unquestionably bold claims, and while some agree that al Qaeda is weaker than it was in 2001, pointing to its reduced capability to perform terrorist operations and washed-out senior leadership as confirmation, others claim that al Qaeda is in fact stronger today than when it carried out the 9/11 attacks. Both arguments have some merit.
For more than ten years, the west has done its utmost to crush on al Qaeda’s operational competences, which may perhaps have been diminished. The organization’s Taliban protectors were toppled in Afghanistan, and its easily accessible training camps, at one time the destination for jihadist volunteers worldwide, have been dispersed. In addition, al Qaeda attacks in Indonesia, Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Turkey between 2002 and 2006 prompted those governments to attempt to dismantle local terrorist networks. Cooperation among security services and law enforcement organizations worldwide has made its operating environment increasingly hostile (Ashour, 2011). Accordingly, al Qaeda has not been able to carry out a significant terrorist operation in the West since 2005, although its ability of mounting plausible, worrisome threats is not in question.
Osama bin Laden’s death by no means spells the end of al Qaeda’s ‘terrorist’ campaign, but it does have a profound effect on the future of the jihadist enterprise. Although there are claims that Osama was “no longer intimately involved in directing specific terrorist operations by the time he was killed by American forces in May 2011” (Atwan, 2012), he definitely continued to provide strategic guidance as well as organizational and operational-level advice meaning his death weakens the movement. Not only was Osama bin Laden al Qaeda’s spiritual leader, but he was also al Qaeda’s main link to its financial sources. It is not certain, whether wealthy supporters in the Gulf will continue to contribute to al Qaeda with Bin Laden gone (Jenkins, 2012). His demise was a further blow to the organization’s already depleted core leadership, which has continued to suffer losses. Senior ranks of al Qaeda have been suffering damaging attrition for some time and the architects of 9/11 have either been captured or killed. According to a report by the New York Times, 20 of the 30 top al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan and along the Afghan-Pakistan border have been killed. The casualties from drone attacks are thus very significant. US drones are one of biggest and most dangerous threats al Qaeda faces and have killed several crucial al Qaeda figures; Al-Zawahiri’s deputy Attiyah Abdel Rahman, the ‘sheikh of the internet’ Anwar al-Awlaki, and the deputy leader of AQAP Fahd al-Quso. While these attacks have certainly weakened al Qaeda, the National Bureau of Economic Research produced a paper that showed how civilian casualties caused by drone attacks leads to increased insurgent violence over the long-run (Atwan, 2012) or ‘revenge’ as we know it. Promises of retaliation flooded the Internet as a result of the death of such al Qaeda leaders, but despite the aggressive chest thumping, there was no mass rush to martyrdom, and not a single attack in the West. While any post mortem or future attack that would have occurred anyway may be labelled...
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3. Atwan, A.-B., 2012. After Bin Laden. London: Saqi Books.
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