A biweekly analysis and assessment of the Salafi-jihadi movement in Africa and related security and political dynamics

February 5, 2021
Critical Threats

Al Qaeda affiliates in eastern and western Africa are advancing toward their objectives amid ongoing drawdowns of international counterterrorism missions on the continent. Al Shabaab, al Qaeda’s Somalia-based affiliate, emphasized the recently completed withdrawal of US troops from the country in its messaging about recent attacks on US-trained Somali special forces. Al Shabaab is also positioned to disrupt Somalia’s elections, as the country faces a potential constitutional crisis. Al Qaeda–linked militants in the Sahel region of West Africa are deepening their control over terrain and populations in central Mali and may be preparing to expand operations into Gulf of Guinea countries. Public support for the French-led counterterrorism mission in the Sahel is waning in both France and Mali.

In this Africa File:

Somalia. An al Shabaab propaganda campaign is attempting to exploit the US withdrawal from Somalia by emphasizing attacks on US-trained Somali special forces. Discord between Somalia’s federal and state governments threatens national elections and is heightening regional tensions.

Ethiopia. The conflict between Ethiopian federal forces and Tigray regional state forces may be resuming in the country’s north.

Mozambique. Mozambique’s president reshuffled top security leaders in mid-January in a bid to revitalize faltering counterterrorism efforts.

Sahel. An al Qaeda–linked group is progressing toward its goal of replacing governance structures by occupying and allying with villages in central Mali.

Lake Chad. The Islamic State’s West Africa Province deployed a rarely used explosive attack capability along the Nigeria-Niger border.

Libya. Foreign forces remain likely spoilers to a political resolution in Libya.

Latest publications:

Somalia. Katherine Zimmerman argues that the Joe Biden administration should reverse the Donald Trump administration’s withdrawal from Somalia to stave off a worst-case possibility: al Shabaab conducting a transnational mass-casualty attack. Read her argument here.

The Salafi-Jihadi Movement. Emily Estelle argues that viewing the al Qaeda threat through the prism of Iran masks the reality of the threat—including in Africa—and drives the US farther from an effective counterterrorism policy. Read her op-ed, originally published in The Hill, here.

Ethiopia. CTP is publishing updates on the Ethiopia crisis. Sign up to receive the latest updates by email here. Read Jessica Kocan’s latest update here and Emily Estelle’s background on the conflict here.