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Any way you measure it, 2013 was a good year for al Qaeda. It wasn’t supposed to be. Shortly after the United States killed the group’s charismatic leader, Osama bin Laden, a couple of years ago, Obama administration officials openly proclaimed that his death, coupled with targeted strikes that eliminated other senior jihadist leaders, had just about put al Qaeda out of business. Leon Panetta, then the defense secretary, stated in July 2011 that the United States was “within reach” of “strategically defeating” al Qaeda if it killed or captured 10 to 20 of its remaining leaders.

But as this year ends, the jihadist group’s regional affiliates have dramatically reasserted themselves in multiple countries, carrying out spectacular attacks and inflicting increasing levels of carnage. Though it’s hard to come by reliable estimates of the deaths they caused, the number is certainly in the thousands, and more than half a dozen countries now view these affiliates, or foreigners who have joined their ranks, as their top national security concern. The affiliates’ regeneration became so apparent over the course of this year that President Barack Obama was forced to clarify that his administration’s various claims of al Qaeda’s decimation were limited to the core leadership in Pakistan alone.

The year began with France spearheading a military intervention to push back jihadist groups that had seized territory in northern Mali, an impoverished country in the bone-dry Sahel region of Africa. France’s operation achieved some success, but a brigade led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar—who has pledged his loyalty directly to al Qaeda’s senior leaders—seized more than 800 hostages in a retaliatory operation at Algeria’s In Amenas gas complex. At least 39 foreign hostages were killed during the operation.

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