Assessing Success and Failure in Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Development of Metrics on the Global War on Terror and the Global Jihad


Project Details


This project sought to generate non-partisan, objective metrics to assess success and failure in the Global War on Terror (GWoT) / Global Jihad for both sides in the conflict from 2001- 2009, through the:

(1) Creation of an index based on objective indicators regarding the success of the Global War on Terror, and the related Global Jihad, that allows for an assessment of these efforts both from the perspective of the U.S. government, and from the perspective of the jihadists. The index includes information on scope, nature, and frequency of al Qaeda attacks, breadth of the al Qaeda network, and costs (in a range of measures) of efforts on both sides of this conflict;

(2) Compilation of annual data from 2001-2009 on composite measures reflected in the index to allow for analysis of successes and failures over time in this endeavor.

Primary Findings:

The project used both 'hard' and 'soft' indicators of success and failure. Select findings from the project include:

1. The US government's nascent metrics of success and failure in the GWoT reflected its expanding foreign policy interests. Overall, not only did the US not achieve outright success by its own measures, but in constructing an exceptional AQ it arguably empowered its enemy.

2. AQ's assessments of success and failure incorporated both practical and communicative metrics. Arguably the group's rhetoric has successfully contributed to a sense of threat and the discourse of a clash of civilizations, which belies their failure on the ground.

3. The Arab and Western media reflect different ideas about the causes of the conflict and contrasting notions of success and failure. For the Western press, America's military project has led to a degradation of U.S. power and standing in the world; and has betrayed those standards it wished to import to other countries. The Arab press perceived failure in the misdirection of power: America is losing because it prioritized a military response over working for social and political change, and by asserting its hegemony through military might.

4. Western and Arab publics hold negative views of AQ's/ United States' performance in the GWoT. Key drivers of anti-American sentiment among Western publics seem to be the US tendency towards unilateralism in the conduct of its foreign policy under the Bush administration and human rights violations. Non-Western publics view US anti-terrorism efforts as an over-reaction, an attempt to undermine Islam, exert hegemony over large parts of the Islamic world and support aspects of the Al Qaeda agenda.


Different methods were used to determine different indicators. Broadly speaking, for the 'hard' indicators the research team collected data on AQ and AQ-related terrorist attacks worldwide, civilian and security force casualties, as well as collateral damage from 2001-2009 by systematically analyzing key databases (including the GTD) and then triangulating where possible with secondary sources. For the US and AQ concept of success, analysis is based on 130 documents and speeches drawn from seven different departments within the US government. Additionally, 84 documents were selected and analyzed from a pool of 2008 documents containing statements made by the main leaders of al-Qaida core. Both US government and AQ documents were chosen on the basis of their relevance to US/AQ self-perception of success or failure in the GWoT and upon the basis of the quantity and quality of information they would provide. Once key documents were identified, a coding frame developed by the researchers was applied to the data, which was subsequently analysed using thematic analysis. For media and GWoT perceptions, analysis is based on 192 articles drawn from Arab media sources, and 200 drawn from Western media. Articles were selected through a search of the various sources' online repositories using the terms: 'War on Terror' and 'al-Qaida'. This identified nearly 10,000 individual news articles, reduced through two filter processes. The first assessed articles against two criteria: that they contained sufficient editorial comment, i.e. that they were not solely descriptive news articles; and that they were of sufficient length to provide a reasonable amount of data. These were further refined according to whether they made reference to success and/or failure in the GWOT. A coding frame generated by the researchers was applied to the data identifying all references to verifiable and unverifiable success and failure with respect to America and al-Qaeda. These data were analysed using thematic analysis. Analysis for public opinions is based on 147 surveys and reports that directly refer to issues related to success and failure in the GWoT/the Global Jihad drawn from key opinion polling bodies (PEW, Gallup and World Public Opinion). Additional data from other sources was used as and when it became necessary and/or available. Once again data was analysed using thematic analysis. For all other indicators, secondary sources were used to construct a picture that could then be bolstered by the primary data.


Project Period: