The al Qaeda Network: A New Framework for Defining the Enemy

The failure to define al Qaeda properly has confused American policy and strategy. The enemy was not just the man shot dead on May 2, 2011, in Abbottabad, Pakistan, nor is it the 1.5 billion Muslims for whom Osama bin Laden claimed to speak. The United States should have sought to answer key questions about the state of al Qaeda after bin Laden’s death and the succession of Ayman al Zawahiri. What is al Qaeda? Is it only the group directly headed by Zawahiri? Or is it more expansive? How is al Qaeda operating today? How do the groups within the al Qaeda network relate to each other and to the core? Answers to these questions are necessary to inform the crafting of a successful strategy to counter the real al Qaeda.

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