Update and Assessment: January 5, 2017

January 5, 2017

Key Takeaways:

  1. The Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) is preparing to begin a new attack campaign in Libya to disrupt security and set conditions to regain territorial control. U.S.-backed forces announced victory over ISIS in Sirte, the group’s former Libyan stronghold, in December 2016. The loss of Sirte was not sufficient to defeat ISIS in Libya, however. ISIS militants are now regrouping at training camps in western Libya and have begun to establish supply lines for future operations. The Libyan forces that recaptured Sirte are resuming hostilities in Libya’s civil war. They will prioritize protecting their core political interests over continuing the counter-ISIS fight. The resumption of Libya’s civil war will set conditions for ISIS to resurge, preserving Libya as a key regional hub and bolstering ISIS’s narrative of global expansion. [See CTP’s laydown of forces in Libya for background.]
  2. The delay of Somalia’s electoral process may detract from efforts to counter al Shabaab. Repeated postponements, corruption, violence, and at least one constitutional breach risk causing a political crisis in Somalia’s young federal government. Al Shabaab has sought to further compromise the elections by kidnapping and assassinating delegates. A political crisis in Somalia could undermine ongoing counterterrorism efforts against al Shabaab, including U.S. support for Somali special forces and Somali cooperation with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) coalition. [Read CTP’s assessment of Ethiopian troop withdrawals from AMISOM]
  3. An al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) affiliate may be preparing to resume an attack campaign in Tunisia’s coastal population centers. High-profile attacks by either al Qaeda or ISIS would hinder Tunisia’s economic recovery and could destabilize a key U.S. counterterrorism partner. Tunisian security forces arrested AQIM-affiliated Uqba Ibn Nafa’a Brigade militants who were reportedly planning an attack in Sousse governorate, eastern Tunisia, on December 29. Salafi-jihadi groups operating in Tunisia, including the Uqba Ibn Nafa’a Brigade, may attempt to exploit the return of thousands of Tunisian foreign fighters from Iraq, Syria, and Libya, which will tax Tunisia’s security resources. AQIM media outlets emphasized Uqba Ibn Nafa’a’s continued presence in Tunisia in late 2016, possibly indicating renewed operational support for an affiliate that has suffered from leadership attrition and inadequate resources.