Update and Assessment: November 9, 2016

November 9, 2016

Key Takeaways:

  1. Al Qaeda may resume an attack campaign targeting the U.S. homeland, based on recent intelligence. U.S. intelligence uncovered a possible al Qaeda plot to carry out attacks in New York, Texas, and Virginia on November 7. Al Qaeda maintains external attack planning cells in its safe havens like Syria and Afghanistan, where U.S. airstrikes killed high-level al Qaeda operatives on November 2 and October 23. Al Qaeda seeks to exploit local conflicts to cultivate and facilitate a global insurgency against the West.  [Read Katherine Zimmerman and Jennifer Cafarella’s “Warning Update: al Qaeda’s Global Attack Campaign.”]
  2. The Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) may resurge during a pause in U.S.-backed counterterrorism operations in central Libya. The U.S. has not conducted airstrikes in Sirte since October 31, citing the high risk of civilian casualties in ISIS’s final stronghold in the city. ISIS views the Sirte fight as ongoing and has signaled that recruitment networks into Libya are still active. ISIS may seek to exploit the operational pause by deploying explosive capabilities that were previously suppressed by U.S. air support. Escalating competition between rival Libyan factions, including brewing conflicts in Tripoli and Benghazi, will limit Libyan forces’ ability and will to continue the fight against ISIS. [See Emily Estelle’s “Fighting Forces in Libya” map update.]
  3. Al Shabaab is expanding its territorial control in Somalia as the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) coalition weakens. Al Shabaab has re-occupied a series of strategically significant towns following the withdrawal of Ethiopian AMISOM troops, which are redeploying in response to widespread civil unrest in Ethiopia. Al Shabaab also conducted a series of attacks targeting Burundian AMISOM forces in the Middle Shabelle region that may be designed to both exacerbate the Burundian contingent’s grievances with AMISOM and advance al Shabaab’s encirclement of Mogadishu. [See Colin Lahiff’s “Ethiopian AMISOM Withdrawals” graphic.]