None of these attempts were successful.
Yemen militants decimated
As a result of the threat posed by AQAP, the United States has mounted a devastating campaign against the group over the past three years. There was one American drone strike in Yemen in 2009. In 2012 there were 46. That drone campaign has killed 28 prominent members of the group, according to a count by the New America Foundation. Among them was the No. 2 in AQAP, Said al-Shihri, who was confirmed to be dead last week.
In the chaos of the multiple civil wars that gripped Yemen in 2011, AQAP seized a number of towns in southern Yemen. But AQAP has now been pushed out of those towns because of effective joint operations between U.S. Special Operations Forces, the CIA and the Yemeni government.
The Yemeni president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, even went to the United Nations General Assembly in September where he publicly endorsed the use of CIA drones in his country, something of a first.
A couple of years ago, al Qaeda's Somali affiliate, Al- Shabaab ("the youth" in Arabic) controlled much of southern Somalia including key cities such as the capital Mogadishu.
Once in a position of power, Shaabab inflicted Taliban-like rule on a reluctant Somali population, which eroded its popular legitimacy. Shabaab was also the target of effective military operations by the military of neighboring Kenya, troops of the African Union and U.S. Special Operation Forces.
As a result, today the group controls only some rural areas and for the first time in two decades the United States has formally recognized a Somali government.
Mali conflict shows weakness of jihadist militant groups
Similarly, groups with an al Qaeda-like agenda captured most of northern Mali last year, a vast desert region the size of France. Once in power they imposed Taliban-like strictures on the population, banning smoking and music and enforcing their interpretation of Sharia law with the amputation of hands. The militants also destroyed tombs in the ancient city of Timbuktu, a UNESCO World Heritage site, on the grounds that the tombs promoted "idol worship."
None of these measures endeared the jihadist militants to the population of Mali. In the past weeks, as a relatively small force of some 2,000 French soldiers has rolled through Mali putting the militants on the run, the French have been cheered on by dancing and singing Malians.
When French soldiers are greeted as an army of liberation in an area of the world that in the past century was part of a vast French empire, you can get a sense of how much the jihadist militants had alienated the locals.
Last week the French military took the city of Timbuktu. The defeat of the al Qaeda-linked groups as effective insurgent forces in Mali is now almost complete.
What has just happened in Mali gets to the central problem that jihadist militant groups invariably have. Wherever they begin to control territory and population they create self-styled Islamic "emirates" where they then rule like the Taliban.
Over time this doesn't go down too well with the locals, who usually practice a far less austere version of Islam, and they eventually rise up against the militants, or, if they are too weak to do so themselves, they will cheer on an outside intervention to turf out the militants.
The classical example of this happened in Iraq where al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) controlled Anbar Province, about a third of the country in 2006. AQI cadres ruled with an iron fist and imposed their ultrafundamentalist rule on their fellow Sunnis, who they killed if they felt they were deviating from their supposedly purist Islamic precepts.
This provoked the "Sunni Awakening" of Iraqi tribes that rose up against AQI. These tribes then allied with the U.S. military and by the end of 2007 AQI went from an insurgent group that controlled vast territories to a terrorist group that controlled little but was still able to pull off occasional spectacular terrorist attacks in Baghdad.
Jihadist violence still a threat
The collapse of core al Qaeda and a number of its key affiliates does not, of course, mean that jihadist violence is over. Such religiously motivated mayhem has been a feature of the Muslim world for many centuries. Recall the Assassins, a Shia sect that from its base in what is now Iran dispatched cutthroats armed with daggers to kill its enemies around the Middle East during the 12th and 13th centuries. In so doing the sect gave the world the useful noun "assassin."
And so while core al Qaeda and several of its affiliates and like-minded groups are in terrible shape, there are certainly groups with links to al Qaeda or animated by its ideology that are today enjoying something of a resurgence.
Most of these groups do not call themselves al Qaeda, which is a smart tactic, as even bin Laden himself was advising his Somali affiliate, Al Shabaab, not to use the al Qaeda name as it would turn off fundraisers because the shine had long gone off the al Qaeda brand, according to documents recovered at bin Laden's Abbottabad compound.
One such militant group is the Nigerian Boko Haram, which bombed the United Nations headquarters in Nigeria in 2011 and has also attacked a wide range of Christian targets in the country. However, the group has shown "no capability to attack the West and also has no known members outside of West Africa," according to Virginia Comolli of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies who tracks the group.
Ansar al-Sharia, "Supporters of Sharia," is the name taken by the militant group in Libya that carried out the attack against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in September in which four Americans were killed. Similarly, in Yemen militants that are aligned with al Qaeda have labeled themselves Ansar al-Sharia.
But this new branding hasn't done the militants much good in either country. In Libya, shortly after the attack on the U.S. consulate, an enraged mob stormed and took over Ansar al Sharia's headquarters in Benghazi. And, as we have seen, in Yemen the jihadists have now been forced out of the towns in the south that they had once held.
One strong foothold in Syria