Centry Insights: Sahel Insurgencies & Yemen Crisis

Gain perspective on political, military, and social developments in regions abroad with information from Centry professionals. Read on for some of our insights around the globe.

SAHEL REGION, AFRICA

One of the newest jihadi groups in the Sahel is the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM). It was formed on March 2nd, 2017 as a new alliance between al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Ansar Dine, Macina Liberation Front, and al-Qaeda in West Africa. Although these groups have been in cooperation for a long time, it is suspected that the merger is the result of an attempt to strengthen the presence of al-Qaeda in the Sahel region, particularly against ISIS affiliated groups in the area.

However, local level agreements between al-Qaeda and IS are not out of the question – on April 23rd, al-Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri made a statement that caused speculation about whether the terrorist organization may be open for ‘peace talks’ with ISIS: “…unite and close your ranks with your Muslim brothers and mujahideen, not just in Syria but the entire world, for it is a single Crusader campaign being waged against Muslims the world over…” A statement like this leaves the possibility for a united front open, and there have been warnings of a new extensive terrorist network being formed.

The main point to be aware of with this merger is that it has the potential to attract a broader group of members from the different populations of the region. GSIM, with its new breadth, may draw support from Tuareg to Fulani, with wider support from local indigenous groups.

Overall, the number of attacks in the Sahel region fluctuated between 2014 – 2016. 2014 experienced 289 attacks, while in 2015 it decreased to 206, and in 2016 rose again to 235.

Historically, GSIM affiliated groups operated in the northern parts of Mali, but recently they have shifted focus to the south. Based on the locations of the first attacks formally conducted by GSIM, their interest is in the central parts of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger. These targets may yet expand to other countries, as there were reports of high-ranking GSIM members recruiting in other Sahel countries.

For the most part, the targets of GSIM attacks have been different military forces, including those of the UN. It is possible that the international effort and subsequent military presence to stabilize the Sahel may be the primary target of future GSIM operations. In situations where Westerners have been targeted, these attacks have been more coordinated and uniformly conducted with multiple casualties. These attacks are always ruthless, with the goal of garnering as much international attention as possible.

YEMEN

The Republic of Yemen has experienced political conflict for most of its existence. The country is heavily organized around the family with allegiance towards stronger families that provide their support to factions they deem suitable.

Religious matters also heavily influence the country’s politics, as both Shia and Sunni Muslims have a strong presence in the country. This has caused it to be an area where the conflicts between these two major sides of the Muslim world collide.

The country has been in a more defined state of political crisis since 2011, and civil war since March 2015. There are multiple parties with complicated ties with each other.

For the ease of the reader, the main factions that play the largest role in the political conflict are as follows:

  • HADI ­– Internationally recognized Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi led government
  • HOUTHI – The coalition of former president Saleh and the Houthi rebels
  • Transitional Political Council for Southern Yemen – Announced on May 11th, 2017 and led by the former governor of Aden, Aydarus al Zubaidi, who was ousted by Hadi.
  • Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) – Gaining support in small communes and establishing a greater network of operations

The balance of power between these factions is volatile, with support and balance shifting between them. International support for the Hadi faction has diverted to the Houthi-Saleh group, and also to the TPCSY.

The political conflict started with street protests against poverty, unemployment, corruption, and protest against Former President Saleh’s plan to change the constitution to eliminate the presidential term limit. President Saleh ended up stepping down and the presidency was transferred to then-Vice President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who was formally elected president on February 21st, 2012 in a one-man election. The transitional process was disrupted by conflicts between the Houthis (now backing ousted President Saleh) and the Al-Qaeda insurgency. In September 2014, the Houthis took over Sana’a, and later declared themselves in control of the government. In November 2016, Saleh and the Houthi movement officially declared a government in Sana’a that represents Northern and Central Yemen.

The conflict escalated again in March 2015, when the Saudi-led coalition forces intervened on the civil war and backed up the internationally recognized Hadi government in an attempt to stabilize the situation. The US also officially declared support for the Hadi government. These efforts have not been successful and in reality, have now further divided the country.

According to Centry sources from the ground, the Emirates armed forces at least partially support the Government of Southern Yemen faction. Saudi Arabia and USA have not yet stated any actions against this or to support it. However, al-Qaeda has conducted attacks in the regions of ‘Southern Yemen’ after a long time of silence, and al-Qaeda is known to fight alongside the Saudi Arabian led forces against Houthi coalition.

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