Osama Bin Laden could be hiding in Pakistan's tribal areas
Al-Qaeda can be defeated if the US relies less on force and more on intelligence and policing to find its leaders, a leading US think-tank says.
In a new report, the Rand Corporation suggests the US replace the term "war on terror" with "counter-terrorism".
Al-Qaeda is blamed for the 11 September 2001 attacks in the US and other attacks around the world.
Many analysts believe Osama Bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders are hiding near the Afghan-Pakistan border.
Earlier this month, US Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama said the situation in Afghanistan was "precarious and urgent" and the country should be the main focus of the "war on terror".
Pakistan, a key US ally in the fight against al-Qaeda, is under increasing pressure to do more to combat militants in its lawless border areas.
"Terrorists should be perceived and described as criminals, not holy warriors and our analysis suggests that there is no battlefield solution to terrorism," said Seth Jones, political scientist and lead author of the study.
"The United States has the necessary instruments to defeat al-Qaeda, it just needs to shift its strategy."
The researchers at Rand, which is funded by the US government, studied 648 militant groups which existed between 1968 and 2006 and, based on their findings, the report concluded that only 7% were defeated militarily.
Political settlements helped neutralise 43% groups and an effective use of police and intelligence information helped to disrupt, capture or kill 40% of leaders of such groups, the study says.
Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden is accused of being behind the 1998 bombing of two US embassies in East Africa and the attacks on New York and Washington on 11 September 2001.
Since then, his al-Qaeda network has been linked with many other attacks around the world.