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.
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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.
Editor’s Note: Since 9/11, the United States has pushed all its allies to crack down on terrorism to prevent them from launching attacks or aiding others who might do so. President Trump has doubled down on this approach, calling for allies to "drive out" any terrorists on their soil. Jacob Olidort of the Washington Institute argues that zero tolerance is a mistake. Jordan, known for its effectiveness in fighting terrorism, illustrates how a country can manage and control jihadists at home without needing to eradicate them.
Editor’s Note: The Islamic State and al-Qaeda are often, correctly, portrayed as bitter rivals: They compete for recruits and money, and in Syria their forces have repeatedly turned their guns on each other. Yet the line is blurrier when it comes to international terrorism. Prachi Vyas of GWU's Program on Extremism examines an array of American jihadists and describes how many Islamic State enthusiasts are inspired by al-Qaeda ideologues.
Editor’s Note: American leaders have long recognized that police and other law-enforcement officials are on counterterrorism's front lines and that foreign governments play a vital role in disrupting terrorist organizations. Unfortunately, these two true statements don't always go well together: Many foreign countries have poor or uneven law-enforcement capacity, making it difficult for them to stop terrorism in their countries and international terrorists who might strike at the United States.
Editor’s Note: Ties to a terrorist group are rightly a stigma. However, given the nebulous nature of many groups, such connections are often easy to overstate. Alex Thurston, my colleague at Georgetown, argues that in Libya the United States has set the bar too high regarding ties to al-Qaeda. Instead, the United States and its allies should try to disaggregate the threat, recognizing that "ties to al-Qaeda" is a description that is often so loose as to be meaningless in the Libyan context.
When Tashfeen Malik, along with her husband Syed Farook, killed 14 people in San Bernardino a year ago, she provided a stark reminder about the growing involvement of women in jihadist terrorism in the West. Since the attack, women have continued to advance jihadi efforts in the United States and abroad. While few follow in Malik’s footsteps and pursue violent plots, many disseminate propaganda, donate resources, or travel abroad to support jihadist groups, and the numbers are on the rise.
Barak Mendelsohn comes on the show to discuss his new book, The al-Qaeda Franchise: The Expansion of al-Qaeda and Its Consequences. Some of the topics covered include:How organizations expand Why AQ decided to branch out and the strategy behind that decision AQ’s choices on where to expand Case studies on AQ’s different branches