Sunni Militants have Quadrupled in Numbers Since 9/11 Attacks

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

A November 2018 study found that the number of Sunni militants has increased by 270 percent since the September 11, 2001, despite the US-led campaign to combat Al Qaeda and ISIS, the Independent and RT News reported.

The study, conducted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., estimated that there were between 100,000 and 230,000 Salafi-jihadist and allied fighters in 2018. In 2001, that figure was estimated between 37,000 and 66,000. The 2018 figures were down about five percent from a peak in 2016, the Independent reported. According to the Independent, senior officials at the White House and Pentagon stated that the actual numbers were far lower.

The countries with the highest number of fighters were Syria (between 43,650 and 70,550 fighters), Afghanistan (between 27,000 and 64,060), Pakistan (between 17,900 and 39,540), Iraq (between 10,000 and 15,000), Nigeria (between 3,450 and 6,900), and Somalia (between 3,095 and 7,240), according to the study.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies report noted three “developments worth monitoring.” First, new commercial technology—including drones, social media, artificial intelligence, encrypted communication, and virtual currencies—will provide groups with new means “to distribute propaganda, raise funds, recruit new members, conduct disinformation campaigns, and plan and orchestrate attacks.”

Second, despite the United States and allied governments’ efforts, the underlying causes of terrorism “have not been adequately addressed.” The study advocated that Western anti-terror policy should help “improve governance and deal more effectively with economic, sectarian, and other grievances that have been manipulated by Salafi-jihadist groups.”

Third, as the US shifts its national security priorities from counterterrorism to state threats like Russia and China, US and other Western actions in Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East could unintentionally benefit Salafi-jihadist organizations.

In November, 2018, Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs released its annual “Costs of War” study.  It calculated that, by October, 2019, the US will have spent $5.9 trillion on activities related to its global counterterrorism campaign.


Eric Schmitt, “Number of Sunni Militants Have Quadrupled since 9/11, US Think-Tank Claims,” The Independent, November 21, 2018,

“Mission Accomplished? Number of Sunni Terrorists Worldwide Quadrupled from Sept 11, 2001 –Study,” RT News, November 22, 2018,

Student Researcher: Alberto Sanchez (Sonoma State University)

Faculty Researcher: Peter Phillips (Sonoma State University)