A recent report from the Critical Threats Project argues that U.S. counterterrorism strategy should be focused on separating vulnerable Sunni countries from the Salafi-jihadi movement.
"The center of gravity at the strategic level is the vanguard’s connection with local populations that transforms it from an isolated and ineffective elite into the leadership of a large and dangerous movement. The vanguard builds this relationship with Sunni communities by providing them with security, justice, basic goods, or services or through other means."
The Critical Threats Project was created by the American Enterprise Institute. The report was authored by AEI research fellow Katherine Zimmerman.
The report states that the Salafi-jihadi movement is "the collection of individuals, groups, and organizations operating in pursuit of shared overall goals. This ideology combines the Salafi trend within Islam—the return of religious practices to the days of early Islam—and a jihadi belief that the use of armed force is incumbent on Muslims to restore this practice within Muslim lands and then to spread it globally."
According to the report, current U.S. counterterrorism strategy has been "a global and unwinnable game of whack-a-mole," focused on the most prevalent terrorist threat at a given moment instead of targeting the ideology fueling the rise of each threat.
The report also states that this strategy focus does not call for massive American military deployment, noting that previous efforts "required a large American military force in Iraq, a smaller one in Afghanistan, and a very limited US footprint in Yemen. Progress against the vanguard in Somalia, although more limited, occurred with virtually no US boots on the ground."
According to the Associated Press, the Islamic State is expanding its reach in Afghanistan despite losing its caliphate.