News Release

October 30, 2017

For Immediate Release
Contact: Danielle House, Senior External Communications Specialist
housed@cna.org, 703-824-2541

CNA Assessment Finds U.S. Effort to Defeat Al-Qaeda Has Failed
Expansion includes five active affiliates in over ten Muslim-majority countries

Arlington, Va. With national attention on the security posture and ongoing presence of U.S. troops in Africa, a new CNA assessment shows that Al-Qaeda has been able to exploit security vulnerabilities to continue to operate despite two decades of efforts to defeat it. In the assessment directed by Congress, CNA analysts Jonathan Schroden and Julia McQuaid said that although Al Qaeda has suffered setbacks over the past 16 years it has not been defeated, and recommend a new review of U.S. policy goals and overarching strategy against Al-Qaeda. “The U.S. has increasingly poured resources into the problem of trying to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al-Qaeda, yet we find that the organization has grown significantly over the last 16 years,” said Jonathan Schroden, Director of the Center for Stability and Development at CNA. 

CNA’s President and CEO, Katherine McGrady, agrees. “For all of the government’s success in disrupting Al-Qaeda as a terrorist threat, our independent assessment concludes that the United States is no closer to defeating the group. U.S. leaders need to rethink our counterterrorism policy with a long-term view.”

The assessment encompasses the breadth of the problem across decades and continents. In 2001, Al-Qaeda was made up of a core of jihadists concentrated in Afghanistan. Today, the network spans from West Africa to Bangladesh and has five active Al-Qaeda affiliates. Together, these groups are active in over 10 Muslim-majority countries. 

Although the U.S. has been able to disrupt the organization, Al-Qaeda was able to exploit vulnerabilities in the security environments of weak and failing countries like Libya, Syria, and Yemen to continue to grow and evolve. A country-by-country analysis of security vulnerabilities and the growth of Al-Qaeda affiliates found that the organization made its largest gains when and where there were sharp and rapid deteriorations, such as when Yemen and Syria descended into civil war. 

The battle against Al-Qaeda has endured for nearly a generation. The assessment suggests that lessons from both the successes and the failures of the past 16 years should be used to inform a revised policy with a long-term perspective, one that is more likely to lead to the ultimate defeat of Al-Qaeda. “Our estimation is that this effort will go on for at least another generation,” says Schroden. “So it’s time for the U.S. government to take stock of where we are in this fight.”

CNA is a nonprofit research and analysis organization dedicated to developing actionable solutions to complex problems of national importance. With nearly 700 scientists, analysts and professional staff, CNA takes a real-world approach to gathering data. Its one-of-a-kind field program places analysts on carriers and military bases, in squad rooms and classrooms, and working side-by-side with a wide array of government decision-makers around the world. In addition to defense-related matters for the U.S. Department of the Navy, CNA’s research portfolio includes criminal justice, homeland security, energy security, water resources, enterprise systems and data analysis, and education.

Note to writers and editors: CNA is not an acronym and is correctly referenced as "CNA, a research organization in Arlington, VA."