US Officials Split on Whether ISIS or al-Qaeda Is the Bigger Threat

Billions of Dollars at Stake in Debate Over Who to Target More

Several high-profile testimonies from top Pentagon officials to Congress have placed al-Qaeda as a higher ranked threat than ISIS. A number of different intelligence and other government agencies strongly disagree, with serious questions over where the focus of counter-terrorism funding will center.

The question is a significant one with billions of dollars behind it, with the FBI and DHS arguing that the focus on ISIS, and its presence on social media, should be the real focus. Conveniently for them, these are the agencies that will be targeting it. As a territorial target, ISIS centers virtually exclusively on Iraq and Syria, with smaller affiliates elsewhere no real threat to the US.

Al-Qaeda, by contrast, is spread all over the world, and tends to be targeted with Pentagon and CIA drone strikes. This has naturally left them more keen to go after al-Qaeda, particularly in places like Yemen, on the grounds that the chaos in those countries make them a bigger threat.

Indications are that the White House is leaning toward ISIS as the bigger threat, and that’s likely being bolstered by a solid year of US military attacks on ISIS leaving the group no weaker than when the strikes began. Pentagon officials deny they are losing that war, but they sure aren’t winning it, either.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.