Update and Assessment: September 7, 2016

September 7, 2016

Key Takeaways:

  1. A pro-Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) group may be growing stronger in Somalia, but its ability to compete with al Shabaab remains limited. The U.S. Department of State designated Abdul Qadir Mumin, a pro-ISIS cleric, as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist on August 31. Al Shabaab militants reportedly attacked Mumin’s forces in Bay region, Somalia on September 4. Mumin is an al Shabaab defector, and al Shabaab has eliminated pro-ISIS members from within its ranks. It is also possible that the attack indicates that Mumin’s group has grown stronger and that al Shabaab considers it a threat. ISIS may seek to develop networks in Somalia now that its African hub in Sirte, Libya is under pressure by U.S.-backed militias. ISIS is unlikely to dedicate significant resources to the Horn of Africa at this time, however.
  2. The UN-brokered political process in Libya may be breaking down. The collapse of the UN-backed Libyan government, the Government of National Accord (GNA), could have an impact on U.S. counter-terrorism operations against ISIS in Libya. The UN convened an emergency meeting in Tunis on September 5 to address rising tensions between eastern and western factions. The U.S. extended its airstrike mission in Libya for an additional month at the request of the GNA. Rising challenges to the GNA’s legitimacy threatened to undermine future operations against ISIS or other Salafi-jihadi groups in Libya. [See Frederick W. Kagan and Emily Estelle’s “ISIS Loses Headquarters in Sirte, Libya.” Keep up with CTP’s Libya work here.]
  3. The al Houthi-Saleh alliance’s September 2 announcement of a new missile in Yemen may be in response to increasing military threats from Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s coalition. The missile, the Borkan-1, is a modified Scud missile. The capability may have been transferred through the Iranian network. A political resolution to Yemen’s civil war remains unlikely despite both sides’ willingness to participate in a U.S.-backed peace plan. Yemeni factions expressed conditional support for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s plan, but unresolved disagreements over representation in the transitional government will likely continue to hinder talks. Saudi Arabia may pursue talks to de-escalate conflict in the Saudi-Yemeni border region but will continue to support efforts by President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government to oust the al Houthi-Saleh alliance from Yemen’s capital, Sana’a. [Keep up to date on Yemen with CTP’s Situation Reports. See also Jon Diamond and Katherine Zimmerman’s “Challenging the Yemeni State: ISIS in Aden and al Mukalla.”]