Al-Qaeda is Larger Than Osama Bin Laden and Won't Die Any Time Soon


The papers that the U.S. military has released from Osama Bin Laden's hideout reveal a frustrated Al-Qaeda leader struggling to control an unruly network. The documents seized during the raid on the Abbottabad, Pakistan, compound where Bin Laden was killed were posted online by the research wing of the U.S. military academy in West Point.

But this new information has also highlighted that the terror network is larger than Bin Laden and has its own independent mission. Al-Qaeda didn't die with Osama Bin Laden and to truly destroy the terror network, attention must now be turned to the mentor groups and terror group off shoots which Al-Qaeda fostered. 

The insight into Bin Laden’s failure to control his "disciples" is a strong indication that the battle against Al-Qaeda is far from over. The Bin Laden papers show that these smaller networks each have their own targets, and that this means the group’s perceived enemies are more diversified than originally thought. The papers especially underline that “Bin Laden was unhappy with affiliates' attacks on fellow Muslims, urging them to target the U.S. instead.”

Some of the papers suggest Bin Laden ordered his militants to look out for opportunities to assassinate President Obama or David Petraeus during any of their visits to Pakistan and Afghanistan. Petraeus, now CIA director, formerly commanded international forces in Afghanistan.

But Bin Laden warned them not to bother targeting Vice President Joe Biden because "Biden is totally unprepared for that post [of president], which will lead the U.S. into a crisis."

While Bin Laden focused on harming only the U.S., his minions have different grievances, and still believe in causes that call for future terrorist attacks.

“What we have really seen is the fragmenting of al-Qaeda into smaller, more regional operatives”, notes Frank Gardner, BBC security correspondent. “There is no question that al-Qaeda is much less dangerous than it was 10 years ago, but it would be foolish to say they have launched their last attack.”

But contrary to the view that Al-Qaeda is still a vicious and powerful enemy that should not be loosely dismissed, President Barack Obama on Tuesday claimed victory and declared that for the terror group was as good as dead.

“We've built strong Afghan security forces. We devastated al Qaeda's leadership, taking out over 20 of their top 30 leaders … And one year ago, from a base here in Afghanistan, our troops launched the operation that killed Osama bin Laden. The goal that I set — to defeat al Qaeda and deny it a chance to rebuild — is now within our reach,” President Obama said in his televised speech, which also marked the one year anniversary of Bin Laden's death.

“Still, there will be difficult days ahead. The enormous sacrifices of our men and women are not over. But tonight, I'd like to tell you how we will complete our mission and end the war in Afghanistan,” Obama said.

Obama is counting his eggs before they hatch. You can't "strategically defeat" a nebulous organization, especially when your country's actions act as a massive recruitment campaign for it. For instance, the infamous incident of the four U.S. Marines seen in a video urinating on dead Afghan bodies and the killing of that country’s 16 civilians by an American officer have given fuel to Al-Qaeda's fire.

Al-Qaeda will cease to exist or be “defeated” only when the tiny groups stemming from it are eliminated. This calls for strengthening security forces in areas where these Al-Qaeda remnants operate. The U.S. should also target the source of funding for these terror groups to successfully eliminate them. This will no doubt take a lot of time and it won’t happen in Obama’s term as president (that is assuming that he gets re-elected).

Even as the president tries to use the death of Bin Laden to win votes, he should not forget that al-Qaeda’s “ideology of the global jihad” still “survives” and the group is “making provisions for the long term;” is “not entirely isolated;” might work with Iran because they share a common enemy; has been “embraced” by a Nigerian group with purely local concerns; has provided “strategic advice;” and has “inspired” a number of inept would-be amateur terrorists here and there.

Funding the military to fight terrorism is an expensive venture (as seen in the chart below) not just for the U.S. but also the rest of the world, who are equally threatened by terrorist attacks. Those funds could be channeled to more noble causes like fighting disease, hunger and other important social programs. In other worlds, terrorism is stealing from social programs and the world should try by all means to rid itself of terror groups such as the Al-Qaeda.

World Wide Military Expenditures - 2011

Notes on Methodology

Military Expenditures 2007













United States
























Saudi Arabia