The Critical Threats Project releases a weekly update and assessment on the al Qaeda network.
- The U.S. may expand its military operations in Somalia to increase pressure on al Shabaab, which has resurged and is set to make additional gains in 2017. The Pentagon recommended the deployment of additional U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) to cooperate with Somali forces for counter-al Shabaab operations. The Pentagon also called for reduced restrictions on U.S. airstrikes targeting al Shabaab. Al Shabaab is attempting to delegitimize the Somali Federal Government (SFG), led by newly elected President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, by degrading security in Mogadishu and taking control of towns where counterterrorism forces do not operate. Al Shabaab may also exploit widespread famine that could further challenge the SFG. [Read CTP’s assessment of the U.S. strategy to counter al Shabaab: “US Counterterrorism Objectives in Somalia: Is Mission Failure Likely?”]
- Russia is attempting to rally U.S. support for its preferred strongman in Libya as part of a broader strategy to push back against the influence of the U.S. and NATO. Moscow’s support for Libyan National Army (LNA) commander Khalifa Haftar strengthens its ties to Cairo, the LNA’s main backer. Russia is actively working to draw Egypt away from the U.S. sphere of influence. Russia also seeks to leverage its support for Haftar to secure military basing on the Mediterranean, expanding on the strategy it has pursued successfully in Syria. Moscow has also positioned itself as a broker between Libya’s rival factions and will host talks in the coming days. Finally, Russia is pursuing economic interests in Libya, including a large oil deal signed in February 2017. [Read CTP’s recommendations for reframing U.S. policy in Libya: “Ignoring History: America’s Losing Strategy in Libya”]
- Al Qaeda senior leaders are under increased pressure from U.S. targeting. They relocated to Syria beginning in 2013 to operate from the sanctuary enjoyed by al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al Nusra, and to provide strategic guidance for the global network and for the Syrian war. A U.S. airstrike killed the deputy leader of al Qaeda, Abu al Khayr al Masri, in Idlib Province, Syria, on February 26. Al Qaeda operates alongside Syrian opposition groups within the group, the Tahrir al Sham Assembly. It is actively consolidating the Syrian armed opposition under its leadership.