Despite trillions of dollars spent and millions of dead or injured, there are now four times as many Sunni Islamic militants active around the world today as there were on Sept. 11, 2001, according to a new study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, an independent Washington think tank. The reports concludes that while Islamist militant groups have lost physical territory, as result of nearly two decades of Western intervention, the groups have continued to gain in numbers. The study points to policy failures by Western allies, potency of the groups’ ideology, and use of social media to raise money and attract new recruits as key factors in the militants’ resiliency. Despite the nearly $5.9 trillion the United States alone has spent on global counterterrorism campaigns, the number of attempted attacks remains steady, the CSIS report states.
According to the study, a top estimate of 230,000 fighters are active in nearly 70 countries, with the largest numbers in Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The report warns that Pentagon plans to withdraw forces from those countries could actually help terrorist groups as the Trump administration shifts its national-security priorities to Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran. “The good news is that there has not been an attack anywhere near the scale of 9/11 in the U.S. since that day, a significant achievement,” the center said. “The bad news is that the ideology that leads someone to fly a plane into a building or drive a car into a crowded sidewalk seems to have metastasized.”