The contours of America’s counterterrorism strategy against al Qaeda and the Islamic State have remained remarkably consistent over the past two decades, broadly focused on degrading al Qaeda’s and the Islamic State’s external attack capabilities and global networks, disrupting their operations through military operations or enhanced law enforcement and border security, and denying them sanctuaries.
Increasingly, drone strikes address threats from terrorism by supplementing local partnerships and other counterterrorism activities because their long-range strike precision complements and enables a low-footprint, partner-based approach. The perceived success of this model in reducing the transnational terrorism threat has since resulted in further cutbacks to resources and the adoption of an “over-the-horizon” posture.
Katherine Zimmerman argues that while this strategy appears to be checking the right boxes in terms of effectiveness and sustainability, there is an inherent risk in managing, and not solving, the Salafi-Jihadi terrorism threat.
Multiple challenges to the partner-based approach are discussed in Zimmerman’s article, ending with suggestions to adopt new strategies such as investments in foreign aid programs, while also reducing drones to a supporting, rather than lead, role in this fight.