The Critical Threats Project releases a weekly update and assessment on the al Qaeda network.
- Somali parliamentarians elected Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo as the president of Somalia on February 8. President Farmajo must now form a government to address a host of challenges. These challenges include pervasive corruption and an impending food crisis, caused by a region-wide drought. Widespread hunger will tax resources throughout East Africa and may reduce the ability of Somali forces and regional partners to sustain pressure on al Shabaab. Al Shabaab overran two Somali military camps and ambushed a Somali convoy in south-central Somalia on February 12, demonstrating tactical sophistication that will test the new administration. [Read CTP’s assessment of al Shabaab’s territorial gains in central Somalia in late 2016.]
- The al Houthi-Saleh faction may escalate operations targeting southern Saudi Arabia. Cross-border attacks by al Houthi-Saleh forces killed approximately twelve Saudi Border Guards in a nine-day period. These casualties far exceed the average rate of deaths reported by Saudi Arabia since the beginning of the Saudi-led coalition campaign in Yemen in March 2015. The al Houthi-Saleh faction may pursue escalation in the border region as a counter to a Saudi-led coalition-backed campaign on Yemen’s Red Sea coast, which threatens the al Houthi-Saleh faction’s access to the Red Sea. Al Houthi movement leader Abdul Malik al Houthi claimed, likely falsely, to possess ballistic missiles capable of striking Riyadh during a televised address on February 10. The al Houthi movement’s aggressive position toward Saudi Arabia reflects a long-standing conflict over the Saudi-Yemeni border, not necessarily growing ties between the al Houthi movement and Iran. A major faction of the al Houthi movement opposes Iranian control, and the group is not an Iranian proxy. [Read CTP Research Manager Katherine Zimmerman’s U.S. policy recommendations to counter Iran in Yemen. Stay up-to-date on Yemen with the latest Yemen Crisis Situation Report.]
- Armed groups set conditions that may cause conflict to escalate in central and western Libya. Libyan National Army (LNA) commander Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar dropped out of long-awaited talks with the head of Libya’s UN-backed unity government on February 14, signaling his intent to prioritize a military solution. Anti-Islamist forces under Haftar’s command intensified a campaign against Islamist militants in contested central Libya. More powerful Islamist factions may rally to support these militants, increasing the likelihood that Libya’s most powerful factions will resume active hostilities for control of the country’s oil-rich center. Hardline Islamist militias in Tripoli formed a new coalition to contest control of Libya’s capital and undermine the UN-backed government. An outbreak of fighting in either Tripoli or central Libya would undermine the country’s fragile economic recovery and reduce pressure on the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) and al Qaeda. [See CTP’s latest “Fighting Forces in Libya” map for background.]