The Critical Threats Project releases a weekly update and assessment on the al Qaeda network.
- Russia deployed military personnel to Libya to secure its military and economic interests amid the escalating civil war. U.S. and Egyptian officials reported a Russian Special Operations Forces (SOF) and drones deployment to a military base in western Egypt to support operations in Libya. Russia supports Libyan National Army (LNA) commander Khalifa Haftar as part of a larger plan to secure additional military basing on the Mediterranean and strengthen ties to Egypt. Russia also has significant economic interests in Libya’s oil industry. An Islamist militia coalition seized two key oil terminals from the LNA on March 3. The LNA reportedly recaptured the terminals on March 14, with likely Egyptian backing and possibly Russian and Emirati support. Hostilities will likely continue to escalate in Libya’s oil crescent. Russia will likely seize the opportunity to increase its diplomatic and military involvement in an effort to shape the outcome of the conflict. [See CTP’s “Fighting Forces in Libya: March 2017” map for background.]
- The Saudi-led coalition and President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi will not agree to terms for a ceasefire with the al Houthi-Saleh faction while current frontlines hold in Yemen. Hadi refused to discuss ceasefire terms with UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed on March 9. He refused to pursue negotiations until his forces seize Yemen’s Red Sea ports from the al Houthi-Saleh bloc. Coalition-backed forces control Mokha port in Taiz governorate but are unlikely to advance quickly into al Hudaydah governorate, where the Hadi government lacks popular support. Riyadh is in the midst of a diplomatic push to secure Washington’s support for its objectives in Yemen. U.S. support for a Saudi-led military solution would exacerbate Yemen’s humanitarian crisis and drive the al Houthis further into the Iranian orbit. [Read CTP’s policy recommendations for U.S. re-engagement in Yemen.]
- Al Shabaab is conducting an explosive attack campaign in Mogadishu that threatens to undermine the legitimacy of the Somali Federal Government (SFG), led by newly elected President Mohammed Abdullahi Farmajo. Al Shabaab detonated two suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (SVBIEDs) targeting a military position and a hotel in central Mogadishu on March 13. The militant group has now conducted four VBIED attacks in Mogadishu since President Farmajo took office in February. The SFG struggles to project its power beyond select population centers in Somalia, and al Shabaab is now challenging its ability to secure the hard-won capital city. The SFG’s legitimacy is central to the success of the U.S. counterterrorism strategy in Somalia. [Read CTP’s recent report, “US Counterterrorism Objectives in Somalia: Is Mission Failure Likely?”]