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Insurgent Design: The Re-Emergence of Al-Qaida from 9/11 to the Present

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Technical Report

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Naval Postgraduate School Monterey United States

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Analysts disagree on how to characterize al-Qaidas evolution. One perspective regards jihadi-Islamism in general to be self-marginalizing. A second perspective describes the merging of discrete jihadist grand strategies that is considered symptomatic of the decline of al-Qaida and its allies. A third finds that al-Qaida is gathering strength. This study expands upon the gathering strength perspective, contending that al-Qaidas successes are derived from its design orientation and competence. Al-Qaida agents have vigorously redesigned their transnational system to adapt to a profoundly hostile and unpredictable environment. For al-Qaida and its brethren, the highest rate of adaptation is occurring on the battlefield, as they experiment with varied technologies of warfare, rather than in debate over grand strategic ideas. Where before there were fleeting, desultory actions by terroristic cells, now maturing organizations vie for territorial control, establishing jihadi emirates and proto-states. To respond effectively to the situation, Western understanding of al-Qaida and the wider system of jihadi-Islamist insurgency must evolve apace.

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