In 2016, al Qaeda defied expectations and managed to hang on. Last year, we wrote that the al Qaeda core organization led by Ayman al-Zawahiri was weak. That assessment was based on the fact that the core group had mounted no attacks, and statements by leaders of franchises such as Jabhat al-Nusra (now Jabhat Fatah al-Sham) and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula appeared to carry more weight than those of the central leadership. However, the course of events in 2016 made it clear that this assessment was misguided. We noted in June 2015 that al Qaeda had managed to gain some small advantage by maintaining a low profile, portraying itself as a moderate jihadist alternative to the Islamic State and viewing its struggle through the lens of insurgent strategy as a "long war." Al Qaeda's game plan worked in 2016 and will continue to pay dividends in 2017, enabling the...
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