CTC Sentinel | Volume 9, Issue 9 (September 2016)

Published by Combating Terrorism Center

Cover Story Overview

This September marks the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The terrible events of that day created an urgent need to better understand the threat of global terrorism. This was the founding mission of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, which was established by Brigadier General (Ret) Russ Howard in 2003, and its flagship publication CTC Sentinel, which was launched in 2007 with a mandate to publish the most illuminating research in the field of terrorism studies as well as gain insights from key figures combating terrorism. This 100th issue of CTC Sentinel focuses on the evolution of the terrorist threat since 9/11. It features an extensive interview with CIA Director John Brennan in which he outlines the spectrum of threats and counterterrorism challenges now facing the United States.

In our feature article, Brian Michael Jenkins looks at what progress has been made in the “war on terrorism.” He argues that counterterrorism efforts have made the United States safer, but with Europe facing an acute threat and the Middle East roiling from the fallout from the failed Arab Spring, there is no end in sight to a war that has cost trillions of dollars and as many as 10,000 American lives. There may, however, be an expiration date on the Islamic State’s caliphate project. With the group under growing pressure in Iraq and Syria, Jacob Shapiro argues that the caliphate’s “slow collapse” was predictable from day one given its inability to generate sufficient economic output and revenue to sustain governance and being greatly outgunned by the coalition of states arrayed against it.

While “core” al-Qa`ida has been degraded by counterterrorism operations, the broader network has shown resilience. Charles Lister outlines how Syria has become the new Afghanistan for al-Qa`ida, offering a safe haven in which the group has built up a powerful presence, while Anne Stenersen details how the group is making a comeback in the country from which it launched the 9/11 attacks. The logic behind those attacks was that only by severing U.S. support for “un-Islamic” regimes could al-Qa`ida hope to make any progress toward establishing a new order in the Arab and Muslim world. The opportunities now available in a destabilized Arab world means that the United States is not seen as so large of a roadblock and al-Qa`ida appears to have de-prioritized international attack planning, at least for now. To overthrow regimes in the Arab and Muslim world, Ayman al-Zawahiri has long viewed it essential that jihadis win the support of the Muslim masses, a strategy Lister argues has been embraced by al-Qa`ida’s Syrian affiliate, including in its recent uncoupling from its mother-organization in order to broaden its local support. Stenersen argues that in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region the same imperative has led al-Qa`ida to build up an affiliate focused on the Indian Subcontinent and led and staffed by operatives from the region.

Much credit for reaching the hundredth-issue milestone is due to Erich Marquardt, the founding editor of CTC Sentinel, who built the journal into a leading academic force during his seven years at its helm, as well as our current managing editor Kristina Hummel, CTC director Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Price and deputy Brian Dodwell, Colonel Suzanne Nielsen, Brigadier General Cindy Jebb, General (Ret) John Abizaid, Ambassador Michael Sheehan, the previous CTC leadership and editorial teams, as well as, of course, all our contributors. We hope to make CTC Sentinel even more of a must-read for anyone interested in these crucial subjects.

Paul Cruickshank, Editor in Chief