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There are nearly 4 times as many jihadist militants today as on 9/11

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isis fighters
ISIS
fighters parade in the streets of Fallujah, Iraq in March
2014.


AP


  • There are nearly four times as many jihadist militants across
    the world today as there were on September 11, 2001, according to

    a new report.
     
  • Foreign policy analysts say it’s yet another sign the war on
    terror has been a colossal failure. 
  • There are approximately 230,000 Salafi jihadist fighters
    across almost 70 countries, according to the report.

There are nearly four times as many jihadist militants across the
world today as there were on September 11, 2001, according to
a
new report
, and foreign policy analysts say it’s yet another
sign the war on terror has been a colossal failure. 

“Despite the Islamic State’s loss of territory in Iraq and Syria,
an increasingly diffuse Salafi-jihadist movement is far from
defeated,” the new report from the Washington, DC-based think
tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

There are approximately 230,000 Salafi jihadist fighters across
almost 70 countries, according to the report, which
drew from a number of databases going all the way back to
1980. There has been a slight decline in the estimated number of
total fighters since 2016, but the report said the current
estimate is still among the highest in the past 40 years. 


Read more: The
most elite US-trained forces in Afghanistan routed by the
Taliban, another sign the war is a lost cause

“The slight decline may be due to the absence of new battlefields
and successful US and allied counterterrorism campaigns against
Salafi-jihadist groups in countries like Syria, Afghanistan,
Pakistan, and Iraq,” the report aid. “However, the estimate of
fighters—with a high of 230,000 fighters—remains concerning.”

Beyond the Islamic State group, Al Qaeda, and their affiliates,
the report found 44 other groups operating in various parts of
the world. Based on the findings, the highest number of
Sunni Islamic militants are in Syria, Afghanistan, and
Pakistan. 

In short, nearly two decades after the 9/11 terror attacks,
jihadist extremist groups continue to have a strong presence
globally as the US conducts counterterrorism operations in 76
countries. 

‘The American war on terror has been a terrifyingly expensive
failure’

Trevor Thrall, a senior fellow specializing in defense and
foreign policy at the DC-based Cato Institute, told INSIDER the
CSIS report “confirms what critics have been saying for years:
The American war on terror has been a terrifyingly expensive
failure.”

“Defending Americans against terrorist attacks is an important
goal that we need to take seriously, but one that does not
require endless military intervention abroad,” Thrall added. “And
though politicians and many analysts continue to make hyperbolic
claims about terrorism, the historical evidence since 9/11 shows
that the terrorist threat to the United States is quite modest
and does not justify the trillions of dollars spent to date.”


U.S. Marines of Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Regiment take a position on a rooftop while fighting the Taliban in the village of Dahaneh Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2009, in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan.
U.S.
Marines of Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Regiment take a
position on a rooftop while fighting the Taliban in the village
of Dahaneh Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2009, in the Helmand Province of
Afghanistan.


AP
Photo/Julie Jacobson



Thrall said the sheer number of jihadists operating across the
globe today makes it clear that the US, despite its incredible
military might, is not equipped to “to address the root causes of
terrorism in the Muslim world.”

“American-led regime change, nation building, and efforts to
partner with weak and/or oppressive governments abroad have not
only failed to reduce the problem they have also made things
worse in many cases,” Thrall said.

Neta Crawford, professor of political science at Boston
University and foreign policy expert, echoed these
sentiments. 

“Worse than arguably making more enemies, our policies have hurt
the US economy for the last 17 years and will continue to sap the
US economy in terms of opportunity costs and future spending
obligations even after the wars end,” Crawford told INSIDER.

A recent report from the Costs of War Project, which Crawford
directs, showed the US is
on track to spend $6 trillion on the war on terror by October
2019
. The project also found the war has contributed to
approximately half a million deaths. 

“The war on terror may have elements that were successful, namely
no major attack on the US homeland since 9/11; however, we don’t
know for sure whether and how the entire gamut of US policies
worked,” Crawford said, calling for more analysis by the US
government about the “effects and effectiveness of its policies”
in this regard. 

Crawford also noted that “we can’t kill all actual or potential
terrorists without harming civilians,” adding, “for every
civilian the US and its allies unintentionally kill, it has not
made friends” in war zones. 

‘Killing one extremist can actually produce more extremists by
activating family or acquaintances’

Brandon Valeriano, the Donald Bren chair of armed
politics at the Marine Corps University, told INSIDER the CSIS
report “
demonstrates something Gen. Stanley McChrystal
mentioned a long time ago,” which is that “combating an insurgent
movement requires a different way of figuring out impact.”

“Killing one extremist can actually produce more extremists by
activating family or acquaintances,” Valeriano added.


Read more: ‘We
are losing’: Trump and his top advisors aren’t publicly admitting
how bad things are in Afghanistan

Valeriano said that if there’s a “vision of victory in the modern
combat zone,” which has become increasingly convoluted, then
“it has to include more than simply enemy combatant deaths
but also attention to aide and welfare, making the situation
better and less hopeless so the desire for violence is
minimized.”

Osama bin Laden’s vision realized

Ali Soufan, a former FBI agent and terrorism expert, seems to
believe the war on terror is a never-ending, hopeless cause for
the US. 

Soufan told INSIDER most of America’s victories in the
“global war on terror” have been “ephemeral and fleeting,” which
is linked to the fact many of the related conflicts the US is
engaged in have a “fiercely local component to
them.” 

This means there is “little that a
Western country and its military can actually do to impact events
on the ground for a sustained period of time,” Soufan
said. 


osama bin laden
Osama
bin Laden.

Mazhar Ali
Khan/AP


Based on the current status of jihadist extremism and the various
conflicts occurring across the Muslim world, Soufan added that
the US has clearly failed to kill Osama bin Laden’s ideology even
though it succeeded in assassinating him.  

Regional conflicts – like those we are seeing in Syria,
Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and other places – are central to the
Salafi-Jihadi terrorism that is borne out of Osama bin Laden’s
ideology,” Soufan said.

“Before his death, bin Laden called for ‘the Management of
Savagery’— a strategy of exploiting government collapse to create
chaos, then turning that chaos to one’s own advantage in order to
seize power,” Soufan added. “That is very much what we are seeing
today across the Middle East, North Africa, and beyond.”

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