Nineteen years after 9/11, al Qaeda’s name is fading from American consciousness, mostly reduced to a mention in an occasional news story in the rare event that one of its senior leaders is eliminated by U.S. forces. While Americans may be all-too eager to forget about al Qaeda and the terror it evoked on 9/11, they must not do so. The United States must be ready for what comes next.
A new generation within al Qaeda is coming of age and will soon assume leadership. The original al Qaeda we knew is transforming, stepping away temporarily from the global jihad to grow, broaden its reach and deepen its grip before it returns stronger than ever and targets the West. The cadre that surrounded Osama bin Laden and his successor, Ayman al Zawahiri, in Afghanistan and Pakistan is old and mostly dead, except for the few remaining individuals who offer strategic guidance. The new generation, however, has already witnessed much more success than the old guard, and has learned vital lessons from al Qaeda’s now decades-long experience of jihad.