The world has been chaotic since the start of the 21st century. Many people think this could have been preventable if the United States had stuck to invading Afghanistan (opposed to Afghanistan and Iraq) to seek out the killers of 3,000 innocent civilians. At that time, the United States was on a higher moral ground. That changed once the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003. Without an exit plan, once our troops were pulled it created a vacuum for power-hungry jihadists.

Republicans and Democrats will argue over who should take the blame: George W. Bush for invading Iraq in the first place or Barack Obama for pulling our troops and allowing the rise of the Islamic State. That’s for readers to debate. The information here is intended to be objective in an effort to inform you on the basic facts about the Islamic State, Al Qaeda, and Boko Haram.

Islamic State

Formerly known as ISIS and ISIL, the Islamic State is a radical Islamist group that has seized territory in Syria and Iraq. IS uses extreme force and brutal tactics in order to strike fear into potential opponents so they will join IS opposed to fighting against it. One of IS’s goals is to establish a caliphate (a state ruled by Islamic law). Another one of its goals is to expand into Jordan, Lebanon, and possibly Israel.

IS uses highly persuasive social media campaigns to attract fighters from around the world. The total number of IS fighters is estimated to be around 30,000, with approximately 2,500 of them from Western countries.

How did it all start? After the U.S. invaded Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi pledged allegiance to Osama Bin Laden and formed AQI (Al Qaeda in Iraq). Abu Musab al-Zarqawi died in 2006, and a U.S. troop surge weakened ISIS considerably. However, when U.S. troops were pulled from Iraq, ISIS rebuilt itself. After taking Mosul and Raqqa, it declared itself the Islamic State.

IS recently lost a battle for Kobane to the Kurds, but IS has vowed to return, most recently publishing a hit list of U.S. military personnel. (For related reading, see: Oil and Terror: ISIS and Middle East Economies.)

Al Qaeda

Al Qaeda was responsible for the 9/11 attacks — the first foreign attacks on U.S. soil since Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Al Qaeda has been an enemy of the United States since prior to 9/11, and that remains the case today. At the same time, Al Qaeda and IS are becoming more enemies than allies, with Al Qaeda publicly stating that IS’s tactics are too extreme and that it’s not acceptable to burn a man alive in any religion.

Al Qaeda feels that the brutal tactics of IS will turn off more followers than it gains. Al Qaeda also feels that forming a caliphate will attract too much attention from the West. IS doesn’t seem to care about Al Qaeda’s opinions. Instead, it has done its best to steal some jihadists from Al Qaeda’s ranks. This has been somewhat effective, but Al Qaeda’s top players have remained loyal to Al Qaeda.

Boko Haram

Boko Haram was founded in 2002, but it didn’t launch its insurgency in Nigeria until 2009. Boko Haram uses similar tactics to IS. Its goal: to overthrow the government and create an Islamic State.

The term “Boko Haram” relates to a version of Islam that forbids Muslims from practicing or participating in anything Western — from politics to education.

Boko Haram built schools in recent years, primarily to teach Islam, and to use those schools as breeding grounds for jihadists. (For related reading, see: Terrorism's Effects on Wall Street.)

The United States designated Boko Haram a terrorist group in 2013. Boko Haram declared a caliphate in the areas it controls in 2014.

The Bottom Line

The world is the most dangerous it has been since WWII. In retrospect, poor decision-making by Western leaders has played a role, but what’s done is done. Now the West must make hard decisions and alliances in order to halt the spread of these dangerous terrorist organizations. (For more, see: How Terrorism Affects Markets and the Economy.)