The Critical Threats Project releases a weekly update and assessment on the al Qaeda network.
- The U.S. airstrike campaign in Yemen may force al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to alter its ground campaign, but the Yemeni civil war will preserve permissive conditions for the group. The U.S. conducted dozens of airstrikes targeting AQAP in central and southern Yemen in the past week. One of these strikes killed Usayd al Adani, an explosives expert and AQAP’s emir in Abyan governorate, as well as former Guantanamo Bay detainee Yasir al Silmi. AQAP will likely reposition its forces in response to a sustained U.S. air campaign. This repositioning would benefit the al Houthi-Saleh faction, which is waging a ground campaign against AQAP and allied forces in central Yemen. AQAP will retain and expand popular support while the Yemeni civil war continues, even if U.S. airstrikes disrupt the group’s operations in the near term. [Read CTP’s policy recommendations for re-engaging in Yemen and view a map of the intensified U.S. air campaign.]
- Escalating competition over Libya’s oil resources will exacerbate instability in Libya and set conditions for the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) and al Qaeda to gain strength. An Islamist coalition with ties to al Qaeda attempted to seize ports held by the Libyan National Army (LNA) on March 3. The ports remain contested. The LNA’s counterattack into central Libya risks igniting a broader conflict between the LNA and rival militias just as political processes championed by the UN and regional states break down. The resurgence of active conflict in Libya would give ISIS the opportunity to regain its attack capabilities unopposed. Al Qaeda, which has embedded itself within the vanguard of Libya’s hardline Islamist movement, would use this conflict as a call to jihad. [Read CTP’s recommendations for reframing U.S. policy in Libya: “Ignoring History: America’s Losing Strategy in Libya”]
- Al Qaeda affiliates formed a unified command structure that will facilitate their campaign to undermine security amid rising political discord in northern Mali. The new umbrella group, the “Group for the Aid of Islam and Muslims,” includes AQIM’s Sahara division, al Murabitoun, Ansar al Din, and the Macina Liberation Front. The new group reaffirmed its allegiance to al Qaeda’s senior leadership, including AQIM emir Abdelmalek Droukdel and al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri. This consolidation occurs as rising tensions threaten to derail the implementation of joint security measures by the Malian government and former rebel groups. Al Qaeda’s affiliates in the Sahel, which also include the Burkina Faso-based Ansar al Islam, will attack security personnel in an effort to destroy the fragile cooperation between the government and rival groups. [Read CTP’s report on the al Qaeda threat in the Sahel and an assessment of the AQIM leadership network.]