From Al-Qaida to ISIS, a Blind War on Terrorism Will Mean Endless War

From Al-Qaida to ISIS, a Blind War on Terrorism Will Mean Endless War
A fighter with the U.S-backed Syrian Democratic Forces on the front line in Raqqa, Syria, July 27, 2017 (AP photo by Hussein Malla).

Mission accomplished? That was doubtless then-President Barack Obama’s expectation as he anxiously watched a team of American Navy SEALs kill al-Qaida’s leader, Osama bin Laden, six years ago. It was clearly Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s hope last month when he visited the city of Mosul, newly liberated from the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

But consider this: Al-Qaida had some 400 combatants on Sept. 11, 2001. Today it is stronger than ever, with several thousand adherents in countries from the Arabian Peninsula to Southeast Asia. If Western powers like the United States and the United Kingdom and their regional partners like Iraq continue to frame the countering of violent extremism as an existential “war on terror” that ends only when the last terrorist has been killed, the campaign against the Islamic State will be no more successful than the fight against al-Qaida.

We are not doing everything wrong, and the terrorists are not doing everything right. In hindsight, the Islamic State paid a high price for the short-term public relations benefit of holding territory and calling itself a state, since it was bound to be defeated in a pitched battle against the powerful coalition assembled against it. The jihadi group also made a mistake in committing such barbaric atrocities, as alienation began to outweigh intimidation among the populations it controlled. And the coalition against the Islamic State was probably right to apply some military pressure to break the militants’ aura of invincibility, which was a powerful recruitment tool.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.