The 9/11 hijackers won the trust of the AQN and key leaders such as Osama bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) through personal bonds formed during preliminary training in camps in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
The very fact that Taliban leaders under Mullah Omar still refer to themselves as members of the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" and that al Qaeda affiliates in Iraq and Russia are the "Islamic State of Iraq" and the "Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus," respectively, shows that the AQN remains focused on maintaining quasi states and limited safe havens and regaining such operating environments once they are lost.
Literature arguing that the AQN does not need safe havens often looks at one specific element without considering the network in its entirety.
They assert that the terror threat has simply moved from one country to another as US or other forces have threatened the AQN.
It is true that all areas with significant AQN presence share three traits common to many countries: underdevelopment, incompetent governance, and a citizenry disenfranchised by--or disillusioned with--the central government.
The AQN has been actively trying to penetrate Nigeria and Indonesia for many years.
The AQN has tried to infiltrate northern Nigeria through its franchise AQIM.
They have resisted the revisionist worldview promoted by the AQN that downplays traditional authority structures such as the Sokoto Caliphate.
Similar trends helped inoculate Indonesia against a strong AQN presence.
Weakening the AQN in one operating environment does not mean that it will be able to simply or quickly reestablish itself in another.
As the experience in Iraq demonstrates, defeating part of the AQN in one zone weakens the terrorist enemy worldwide.
Evaluating a group's operating environment gives policymakers a general guide, not a hard set of rules, for developing the set of policies that will best address a particular AQN group.