Smoke rises behind an Islamic State flag in Saadiya in Diyala province, Iraq, November 24, 2014. REUTERS/Iraqi Stringer

September 10, 2018

Understanding ISIS and al Qaeda

Explanations for why the Islamic State in Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) and al Qaeda have strengthened since 2011 include the aftermath of the Arab Spring, the failure of local governments and of coalitions and outside forces, the failure of the United States or its withdrawal from the Middle East, or societal fissures. Yet all of these explanations fail to consider the plans and actions of Salafi-jihadi groups and actors themselves.

This briefer seeks to provide the fundamentals on Salafi-jihadi groups both organizationally and as fighting groups.

Table of Contents

What Has Gone Wrong Since 2011?
The Usual Explanations
What Are al Qaeda and ISIS Organizationally?
Al Qaeda and ISIS Geographical Organization
Al Qaeda and ISIS as Fighting Organizations
The Strategy of al Qaeda and ISIS
Military Objectives
Religio-Political Objectives