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The Strategic Failures of al Qaeda

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Journal article

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In the ebb and flow of the war against extremist -- jihadi -- Islam, al Qaeda and its allies have endured a significant number of major losses. They were defeated in Egypt, Algeria, and the Balkans in the 1980s and 1990s. Although jihadi groups remain a significant residual threat in Iraq, the consensus of the Iraqi populace is evidently that they have no place in that nations future. Their attempted uprising in Saudi Arabia has been crushed. Al Qaeda and the Taliban were routed from Afghanistan in 2001, and if the Taliban have gained in strength in recent years it has been due far more to the weakness of the Karzai government than to anything al Qaeda has done. There are a variety of factors that contributed to these defeats. A central reason is the strategy and tactics used by al Qaeda in particular and the jihadis in general, and the view of the world on which their strategy and tactics are based. The extremists entire world view has been based on misguided or fanciful assumptions that have little or no basis in fact. Some of these assumptions are unique to al Qaeda, some to radical Islam, and -- ominously -- many are common within the Arab and Muslim worlds. The bottom-line is that, while at the tactical level al Qaeda and the jihadis may sometimes be astute, even brilliant, at the strategic level they are so badly misinformed as to be almost delusional. The significance of this lack of comprehension is threefold 1 It has led to major errors in strategy and tactics that have led al Qaeda and the jihadis to multiple defeats and disasters 2 it points to strategic principles that can contribute to the defeat and ultimate eradication of al Qaeda and 3 since there is no reason to believe that al Qaeda will be the last of its ilk, the next jihadi group may learn enough from the present mistakes to be even more dangerous and more successful. Five critical mistakes are apparent. These mistakes are the focus of this article.

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  • Unconventional Warfare

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