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Why America Gets a B+ in Counterterrorism

Author: Alexandra Kerr
May 2, 2013
Atlantic Monthly


On May 2, 2011, the American people celebrated the news that Osama bin Laden, mastermind behind 9/11 and international symbol of al-Qaeda, had been brought to justice. Addressing the nation that night, President Obama praised the U.S. special forces that killed the terrorist leader in Pakistan, calling bin Laden's death "the most significant achievement to date" in the United States' efforts to defeat al-Qaeda. Yet, he cautioned that this victory was not the end of the fight against terrorism: "We must --and we will--remain vigilant at home and abroad."

The President was right. Although al-Qaeda has been degraded and become far more decentralized in recent years, its Salafist ideology continues to resonate among jihadis in many corners of the world. Over the past year alone, we have witnessed Islamic militants join forces with al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb to seize northern Mali, declaring the short-lived independent state of Azawad and imposing harsh sharia law; increased violence from al-Qaeda-linked jihadist groups Boko Haram and Ansaru in Nigeria; and the alignment of the al Nusra Front rebel group in Syria with al-Qaeda. Even in the United States, the "self-radicalized" Tsarnaev brothers drew inspiration from jihadist internet sites in planning April's Boston Marathon bombing.

This litany of carnage should not obscure the considerable counterterrorism successes of the international community. The United States and its partners have indeed remained vigilant, and shown commendable stamina against this persistent threat.

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