In the last two decades, massive efforts of the so-called Global War on Terror (GWoT) in the Afghanistan-Pakistan (AfPak) region resulted in severe blows to al-Qaeda. However, the group maintains deep, covert roots in the AfPak’s jihadist landscape, ensuring its longevity in the region. Since the al-Qaeda attacks of September 11, 2001, the U.S. has intensely focused on neutralizing al-Qaeda leadership and destroying its external operations planning capabilities.
The first severe blow to al-Qaeda was the killing of its military chief and Osama bin Laden’s deputy, Mohammed Atef, in a U.S. airstrike in November 2001. The most recent major blow was in July 2015, when a U.S. drone strike eliminated Shaikh Umar Khalil, who served as second in command to al-Qaeda’s current emir Ayman Al-Zawahiri. Yet, even with these and many other tactical successes, al-Qaeda has not been defeated in AfPak, and the group enjoys significant support in the regional jihadist landscape. Its goal of rebuilding will be easier with the Taliban in control of Afghanistan.