The number of Jihadist groups across North Africa and the Middle East has increased exponentially in the past four years and appears to be growing. A new study by the Rand Institute’s National Defense Research Institute warns that American military withdrawal from either region could exacerbate the problem.
The study, written by Seth Jones, found that jihadist groups worldwide had increased 58% between 2010-2013. The statistics indicate not only that the jihadist movement and radical Islamism are growing around the world, but that jihadists have adapted their strategy to American intervention by decentralizing the attack. Jones notes two major reasons for the decentralization that has led to the development of so many different jihadist groups.
The first is practical: “hierarchical groups are vulnerable to decapitation strategies, in which governments attempt to weaken or destroy the group by capturing or killing its leadership.” Al-Qaeda in particular has proven vulnerable to this strategy, and thus operates now under various leaders as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and other groups.
The second is evolutionary: as the number of members grows, the more likely they are to disagree on issues. “The decentralization of Salafi-jihadist groups is likely caused by fragmentation from increasingly divergent objectives, georgraphy, ethnic groups, personalities, and other factors in a heterogenous movement,” Jones explains.
The report concludes not only that jihadist groups have increased by 58%, but that the number of jihadist fighters within those groups has doubled and the number of al Qaeda affiliate attacks has tripled. The most dangerous threats to the United States, Jones argues, are in Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
“Based on these threats, the United States cannot afford to withdraw or remain disengaged from key parts of North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia,” Jones concludes in a statement on the study. Given that much of the threat comes from a lack of centralized government and security infrastructure in North Africa and the Middle East, removing what security an American presence brings to those regions is potentially extremely dangerous, both in the short and long term.
Read the full study from the Rand Institute here.