What effect did killing bin Laden have on al Qaeda's ability to pursue its jihadist goals? Does high-value targeting contribute to counterterrorist strategy more broadly? Does killing terrorist leaders work?
Al Qaeda presents a graver long-term threat to the West than the Islamic State. It has proved more effective in exploiting U.S. policy in the Middle East to legitimize itself as an armed force and, increasingly, as a viable political player.
Al Qaeda's revival will likely hinge on its ability to take advantage of opportunities such as the withdrawal of counterterrorism forces from key battlefields, more revolt in the Middle East, U.S. or European policies that feed the perception of Muslim oppression, or the rise of a charismatic jihadist leader.
Several factors may impact al-Qaida's rise or decline over the next several years. Most of these are outside of al-Qaida's control, but much would depend on how al-Qaida or similar groups responded to them.
As operations against ISIS in Mosul conclude, militants are likely already fleeing—and preparing to wage jihad elsewhere. How can the United States identify and mitigate the threat posed by these foreign fighters?
As ISIS loses territory in Iraq and Syria, are terrorist attacks more likely or less? How is the group evolving? What about al-Qa'ida? To answer these questions, RAND convened a group of terrorism experts.
The Trump administration faces the choice of losing quickly by withdrawing from Afghanistan; losing slowly by maintaining America's current, inadequate commitment; or not losing by increasing that commitment enough to maintain a stalemate on the battlefield.
The Russian military announced that it might have killed the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in an airstrike in Raqqa. Would his death weaken the group or will ISIS continue to adapt, evolve, and expand like al Qaeda did?
The number of attacks like the one on London Bridge are low because jihadist ideologies have failed to gain traction in most Muslim countries, and it's difficult to recruit people remotely. Supporting violence and participating in it are two different things.
In the past 50 years, Yemen has faced significant political instability, including multiple civil wars. Why might Yemenis reject political violence despite persistent conflict and unrest? And how can the United States and its partners undermine violent extremism?
Afghanistan remains a key frontline state in the struggle against terrorist groups. With that in mind, the United States should make Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan an enduring part of its counterterrorism efforts.
As Russia gets more involved with the Syrian civil war, it's likely that Sunni militants will intensify their campaign against Russia. But the key reason why Sunni attacks on Russia proper will increase is the fallout between Sunni jihadists in the Caucasus.
Al Qaeda in Syria, by any name, remains a dangerous and capable terrorist organization with the ability to conduct attacks in the West. Those seeking to grapple with the threat the group poses should focus less on its names and more on its actions.
Jihadist terrorism isn't the most dangerous threat to the United States. But it is the most prominent. There are no clear solutions to this problem, and all America's counterterrorism options entail risks.
The U.S. counter-ISIL strategy must recognize the long-term nature of the global violent jihadi threat. U.S. diplomatic and military actions should focus on reducing the appeal of ISIL and disrupting the transregional network that supports it.