Al-Qaeda Is Being Hollowed to Its Core

Last year was a bad year for the world. Not even al-Qaeda was spared. To start, in January al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leader Qassim al-Rimi was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen, inflicting a serious blow to the group’s most operationally capable branch. Other al-Qaeda branches were attenuated over the course of 2020. Abdelmalek Droukdel, who led al-Qaeda’s branch in North Africa, was killed by French forces in Mali in June. In Syria, al-Qaeda’s unofficial branch, Hurras al-Din, continued to suffer leadership losses, further winnowing al-Qaeda’s cadre of veteran leaders. Al-Qaeda branches also suffered defeats on the battlefield. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was routed in Bayda governorate in Yemen, while Hurras al-Din’s ability to operate in Syria’s Idlib region was crippled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham on the ground and by American drones from above.

ISIS and Al-Qaeda’s Sub-Saharan Affiliates Are Poised for Growth in 2021

A rundown on jihadi groups’ expansion in the Sahel and Nigeria, the Horn of Africa, and the continent’s southeastern Swahili coast.

Once considered a backwater for jihadists, sub-Saharan Africa is now at the forefront of the counterterrorism landscape. With core ISIS and al-Qaeda reeling from sustained Western counterterrorism campaigns, attention has shifted from former jihadist bases in the Middle East and south Asia, respectively, to the Sahel and Nigeria, the Horn of Africa, and, most recently, the continent’s southeastern Swahili coast. ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliates throughout sub-Saharan Africa are well-positioned to expand their influence, garner new recruits, spread propaganda, and in some cases, capture territory.

Libya’s Latest Push for Peace After Ten Years of Conflict

UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva have led to the formation of an interim government in Libya, known as the Government of National Unity (GNU).
The interim government must navigate complex political divisions while also tackling issues related to Libya’s banking sector and energy industry.
Despite the world watching closely, Libya remains a country where external actors with powerful connections have operated with impunity.
Factional competition within the government will continue to plague Libya, even as recent progress might seem encouraging.

Biden Administration Seeks Out Least Bad Option in Afghanistan

As the Biden administration deliberates on its next step in Afghanistan, the deadline for U.S. troops to withdraw is currently set for this May.
There are legitimate concerns that a full withdrawal of U.S. troops would result in the Taliban seizing control of Afghanistan militarily and politically.
If the U.S. withdraws and Afghanistan devolves into outright civil war, terrorist groups will inevitably take advantage of the collapse of the state.
The Afghanistan Study Group warned that a May withdrawal would “hand a victory to the Taliban.”

Biden Moves Forward on Iran Nuclear Agreement?

The Biden Administration has formally agreed to a diplomatic process to revive U.S. participation in the 2015 multilateral Iran nuclear agreement.
The US Administration’s stance overrules those pushing for a new agreement addressing a broader range of objectionable Iranian behavior.

The US announced a few confidence-building measures to demonstrate Washington’s willingness to resume adhering to the accord.
Still defiant but reeling from the economic pressure of U.S. sanctions, Iranian leaders will likely eventually welcome the diplomatic overtures.

Jihadist Groups in Sub-Saharan Africa: Assessing the Threat

As the Biden administration surveys the litany of foreign policy challenges that exist—Iran, China, Russia, and North Korea, to name a few—counterterrorism in sub-Saharan Africa likely falls outside of its top priorities. Throughout the Trump administration, there were high-level discussions on troop redeployments and how best to transition away from counterterrorism operations in order to prepare for great power competition. Sub-Saharan Africa was expected to be deprioritized more than any other region by these redeployments, despite the area becoming fertile ground for jihadist groups affiliated with the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.

Funding Syria’s Reconstruction Could Upset China’s Other Ties in the Middle East

As dusk fell in Abu Dhabi on July 20, the LED screen affixed to the face of the 65-story headquarters of the emirate’s national oil company presented a peculiar sight: a photograph of Chinese President Xi Jinping stretching over 1,000 feet high, looming over the Persian Gulf. In nearby Dubai, the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest skyscraper, was lit from top to bottom in the colors of the Chinese flag.