Update and Assessment: June 15, 2016
By The Editors
June 15, 2016
- Al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri pledged bayat, an oath of allegiance, to new Afghan Taliban emir Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada. Zawahiri also eulogized late Taliban emir Mullah Akhtar Mansour, who was killed by a U.S. airstrike on May 21. Zawahiri’s pledge was likely meant to preserve continuity within the leadership of the global Salafi-jihadi movement and reinforce the distinction between al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS), which Zawahiri implicitly criticized.
- ISIS is losing the battle for Sirte and will likely withdraw to a new safe haven in southwest Libya as the country’s political conflict resurges. ISIS will continue to fight for the dense urban terrain that it still holds, but it is now fighting to delay the offensive and facilitate its withdrawal from the city. Nearly half of ISIS’s militants, as well as senior leadership, have fled Sirte this month. Meanwhile, two competing armed factions have used the offensive to expand their control of terrain into central Libya. The fall of Sirte is a significant blow to ISIS, but it also threatens to further destabilize Libya and possibly reignite the civil war. [See CTP’s map series on the counter-ISIS offensive in Libya, a forecast of ISIS’s courses of actions in Libya, and a backgrounder on forces in Libya.]
- Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) continues to build support among local Sunni populations in Yemen as a political resolution to the civil war grows more elusive. Recent counterterrorism operations have targeted AQAP’s ability to conduct attacks, but they have not harmed its ability to provide a pragmatic line of support to local tribal militias and civilians. AQAP continues to draw its strength from these relationships. ISIS is also active in Yemen and will likely attempt to surge its explosive attacks against Yemeni government and Saudi-led coalition targets during the Ramadan month. [See recent posts on ISIS’s campaign in Yemen and on AQAP’s loss of al Mukalla. Sign up to receive CTP’s Yemen Crisis Situation Reports by email.]