WASHINGTON–An expert on radical Islamic terrorism said on Wednesday that the perception that terror groups such as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are “on the run” or on the verge of defeat is a false narrative.
“I would say [terrorist groups] are much stronger today than they’ve ever been,” Katherine Zimmerman, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), said at a briefing at the Capitol, adding that, in fact, their strength has grown in “an exponential fashion” over the past five years.
Zimmerman was speaking at the briefing to share a report she authored titled “America’s Real Enemy—The Salafi-Jihadi Movement.”
In the report, Zimmerman claims that, in fact, America is losing the war on terror, citing that successes on the battlefield do not mean the demise of the terrorists.
“To start winning, Americans must redefine the enemy,” Zimmerman said in the report. “A global movement—not individual groups, not an ideology, and certainly not poverty—is waging war against us.”
“This movement is the collection of humans joined by the Salafi-jihadi ideology, group memberships, and common experiences into a cohesive force that transcends the individual or the group,” Zimmerman argued. “Al Qaeda is but one manifestation of this decades-old ideology and movement.
“The global Salafi-jihadi movement was and remains more than just al Qaeda—or ISIS,” Zimmerman wrote. “It consists of individuals worldwide, some of whom have organized, who seek to destroy current Muslim societies and resurrect in their place a true Islamic society through the use of armed force.”
“America and the West have no chance of success in this conflict unless they understand that this movement is their true and proper adversary,” Zimmerman said, adding that the need for that understanding is “urgent.”
“Salafi-jihadi groups are active in at least six failed states (Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Mali) and four weak states (Afghanistan, Egypt, Tunisia, and Nigeria),” Zimmerman wrote. “They provide governance by proxy or control territory in at least half of these states.”
In March, Breitbart News reported that a U.S. defense official said there are about 15,000 Islamic State (ISIS) fighters remaining in Iraq and Syria.
About 2,500 jihadists remain in its former stronghold in Mosul, Iraq, and 3,000 or 4,000 are left in its de facto capital in Raqqa, Syria, said the official who spoke on background.
“Daesh is on the run,” the official said, using a derogatory Arabic name for ISIS. The group is “being degraded by every measure.”
Zimmerman disagrees with that assessment in not only Syria and Iraq but throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa.
“This situation is not success, stalemate, or slow winning, and still less does it reflect an enemy ‘on the run,’” Zimmerman wrote. “It is failure.”
Zimmerman concluded her remarks at the briefing by saying that the United States should take the lead in developing a new strategy for defeating terrorists.
“I think the United States is the only one capable of leading the fight,” Zimmerman said.