The Naval Postgraduate School & The U.S. Department of Homeland Security

RAND Report Argues that al Qaeda is Still a "Persistent Threat" to U.S. Security

CounterterrorismSince concerted and comprehensive counterterrorism efforts were launched by the United States following the 9/11 attacks, many military officials and policymakers have asserted that terrorism, specifically Salafi Jihadism exhibited by al Qaeda and like groups, has been on the decline. Some have gone on as far as stating that "al Qaeda is no longer seen as an existential threat to the West" and that "terrorism…was a much bigger problem in the United States during the 1970s than it has been since the Twin Towers were toppled." But is this true? Is Islamist terrorism truly disappearing? Seth G. Jones of the RAND Corporation would argue otherwise. His new report, "A Persistent Threat: The Evolution of al Qa'ida and Other Salafi Jihadists," contends that there has actually been an increase in the number of these types of groups, fighters, and attacks over the past several years and that these threats need to be addressed, rather than discredited.

The report's summary page outlines three key findings to support Jones' argument:

  1. "The number of Salafi-jihadist groups and fighters increased after 2010, as well as the number of attacks perpetrated by al Qa'ida and its affiliates;
  2. The broader Salafi-jihadist movement has become more decentralized;
  3. The threat posed by the diverse set of Salafi-jihadist groups varies widely."

In order to counter these persistent threats, Jones provides two main recommendations for U.S. counterterrorism policy:

  1. "The United States should establish a more adaptive counterterrorism strategy that involves a combination of engagement, forward partnering, and offshore balancing.
  2. The United States should consider a more aggressive strategy to target Salafi-jihadist groups in Syria, which in 2013 had more than half of Salafi-jihadists worldwide, either clandestinely or with regional and local allies."