Since 9/11, the major focus in the War on Terror has been al Qaeda. Now, after recent successes, including the death of Osama bin Laden, U.S. government officials have expressed optimism in the fight against terrorism. But while al Qaeda may be weakening, the jihad against America is actually strengthening, at home and abroad.
But first, let's examine the state of al Qaeda. From the Fort Hood massacre and the Underwear Bomber in 2009, to last year's failed Yemeni cargo plane plot, no terror group has wreaked more havoc against the U.S. homeland. Al Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki had a hand in each of these terror plots and inspired many more, including the 2010 attempted Times Square bombing in New York City.
Al-Awlaki's death in a U.S. drone strike last month dealt a major blow to al Qaeda's operations in the West.
"I think Awlaki is going to be very difficult for them to replace because he had a unique mix of being theologically credible, speaking fluent English, and being very familiar with the United States," terrorism expert Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, author of the new book, Bin Laden's Legacy, told CBN News.
"And so he was a big draw to a lot of English speaking jihadis," he added.
Awlaki is just one of many high-profile al Qaeda and Taliban targets taken out by the U.S. over the past two years. They include Pakistani Taliban leader Beitullah Mehsud, al Qaeda operational planner Ilyas Kashmiri, top al Qaeda deputy Atiyah 'Abd Al-Rahman, and of course, bin Laden.
In the wake of these successes, Obama administration officials say al Qaeda is nearing defeat.
Al Qaeda Down, Not Out
But according to Gartenstein-Ross, history shows that while the terror group may be down, it's not out.
"Back in 2003, al Qaeda's leadership was significantly degraded," Gartenstein-Ross told CBN News. "By 2007, it had managed to rebound from that loss."
"Likewise, the Israelis have wiped out Hamas's political leadership. Yet Hamas is a powerful political force that controls Gaza," he added.
Al Qaeda has actually expanded its territory in the decade since 9/11, from Pakistan on to Yemen, Somalia, North Africa, Europe, and Sinai.
And with word of the impending U.S. troop withdrawal, the group's Iraq branch is set for a possible resurgence as well.
While al Qaeda has shifted geographically, it's also shifted tactically.
"They're carrying out smaller attacks that are designed not just to kill, but to explicitly drive up our security costs," explained Gartenstein-Ross, director of the Center for the Study of Terrorist Radicalization at Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
Iran and the Arab Spring
Another potential problem for the Obama administration is tunnel vision.
In focusing the bulk of its counterterrorism energies on al Qaeda, the White House has watched as Iran, Hezbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood -- all three potentially even greater long-term threats than al Qaeda -- have grown in strength and influence.
Iran's leaders are convinced the so-called Arab Spring is a divine signal that the Islamic messiah, or Mahdi, will soon appear and lead the armies of Islam to victory over all non-Muslims.
In preparation, the regime is close to acquiring nuclear weapons and developing long-range missiles capable of reaching Europe and the United States.
Iran's mullahs have also funneled weapons to Afghanistan and Iraq that have been used to kill American troops.
Closer to home, U.S. officials recently prevented an Iranian plot to bomb foreign embassies in Washington, D.C.
"The Iranian regime believes that they are the leaders of the Islamic world, and (Mahmoud) Ahmadenijad, the president, and the Supreme Leader both believe that they can start a world war, an Armageddon-type scenario," Newsmax reporter and Iran expert Ken Timmerman told CBN News.
An integral part of those Iranian plans is its proxy, Hezbollah. The terrorist militia virtually controls Lebanon and possesses some 50,000 rockets and missiles aimed at Israel.
"Hezbollah, I think, is a more competent organization than al Qaeda and a more lethal organization as well," Gartenstein-Ross said.
Hezbollah has also established a fearsome network in Latin America.
"The Hezbollah presence has expanded into criminality that is involved in people smuggling, in drug trafficking, all through the region now," Jose Cardenas, a consultant with Vision Americas and former Bush administration official, told CBN News.
"It has morphed into a very active, proselytizing operation to convert more people to radical Islam in the region," he said. "They're looking for disaffected youth."
The Muslim Brotherhood
Another jihadist group expanding its power base is the Muslim Brotherhood.
In the Middle East, the Brotherhood has used the Arab Spring unrest to increase its influence across the region. And the Obama administration is engaged in dialogue with the group's leadership in Egypt.
Closer to home, national security expert Frank Gaffney, with the Center for Security Policy, said the Brotherhood is behind much of the mosque-building and calls for Sharia law in America. Now, after recent successes, including the death of Osama bin Laden, U.S. government officials have expressed optimism in the fight against terrorism.
"And they're hard at work bringing what they've accomplished in Britain, what they've accomplished in France, what they've accomplished in the Netherlands, what they've accomplished in Germany, the Scandinavian countries and the like, to this country," he warned.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration continues to highlight its gains against al Qaeda.
But other, questionable White House policies --- like supporting the Arab Spring, embracing an increasingly radical Turkey, isolating Israel, and failing to act against Iran's nuclear weapons program -- could overshadow the administration's successes against the world's most notorious terror group.
Erick Stakelbeck is a terrorism analyst and investigative reporter for CBN News.