Tag Archives: Islamic State

12 Islamist Fighters Killed in Philippines

On Tuesday, July 10th, the Philippine army killed 12 jihadists in an operation on the island of Mindanao. The fighters belonged to the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) group which pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in 2014. BIFF formed in 2010 after splintering from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Mindanao has for decades been embroiled in a conflict between the majority Christians and minority Muslims of the island, who represent about 25% of Mindanao’s population. Last year, a five-month battle between Philippine government forces and Islamist fighters killed and wounded thousands on both sides combined. Although that battle resulted in a victory for the Philippine forces, it also revealed an influx of foreign fighters. Defeats of jihadists in former Islamic State territory in Iraq and Syria drove fighters to relocate to create a new hub. In Mindanao, jihadists found like-minded Islamists who were already engaged in battle against the Philippine government.

This latest operation against Islamist fighters began on June 1. In the month and a half since then, 57 fighters have been killed and 28 wounded. In comparison, only 4 members of the Philippine forces have been killed while 20 have been wounded.

The operation has been largely successful so far. Philippine government forces have recovered 28 heavy machine guns, 10 Improvised Explosive Devices, and a variety of other smaller weapons. They have also captured four rebel villages, including one that contained a firearm-making facility.

A general leading the operation against the Islamic State-linked group said there are around 400 Islamist fighters remaining. The contingent has seen an influx of fighters from Malaysia, Indonesia, and former Islamic State territories in the Middle East.

Since the self-proclaimed Caliphate was toppled in Iraq and Syria, Islamic State fighters have sought new strongholds, attempting to establish bases in parts of Africa and Asia. The group in the Philippines proves that jihadists can present a global threat, and that a more robust U.S. foreign policy may be necessary to truly defeat them and prevent them from spreading to new territories. The extensive operation conducted by Philippine forces over the last month and a half shows that the Philippines remains a major battleground against Islamist forces linked to the Islamic State.

Al-Qaeda Affiliate Attacks French Patrol in Mali

On Sunday, July 1st, fighters for al-Qaeda’s North Africa affiliate, Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) conducted an attack on French soldiers patrolling in the northern city of Gao in Mali. The patrol came under attack when a suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden truck into the soldiers. Two civilians were killed and over 30 wounded. The wounded included at least four French soldiers and an unspecified number of Malian soldiers and civilians.

This latest attack came days after a JNIM attack on a G5 joint base in Savare in the Mopti region of central Mali. In that attack, the group led with a suicide bombing at the gate, then followed with gunmen who fired at the guards. Three soldiers were killed with an unidentified number wounded.

These attacks are the latest examples of Mali’s deteriorating security situation. JNIM regularly conducts attacks on Malian and international forces, occasionally disguising suicide vehicles with improvised UN markings. JNIM is emboldened by the ineffectiveness of government security forces. Sunday’s attack marks the 135th JNIM attack in Mali this year.

Numerous reports implicate the Malian government in targeting ethnic groups whose members have ties to terrorism. Many reports reveal widespread abuse and mass killings by the government in what they deem counterterrorism operations.

After each of the attacks on international forces, JNIM claimed it was sending a message to France and its allies by demonstrating the power of JNIM and the group’s intent to expel foreigners from the “land of Islam.”

Beginning in 2013, the French began an operation to repel Islamists and prevent them from building a stronghold in Mali. Among NATO allies, the French military maintains the largest presence. The U.S. supports the French, though not with combat troops. Instead, the U.S. military provides intelligence and occasional air strikes from two drone bases in neighboring Niger. The U.S. is also near completion of a third base that will be capable of supporting drones and cargo planes.

Like counterterrorism efforts in other parts of the region, international forces are attempting to build stable governments and train military forces to oppose the spread of violent jihadists. This strategy necessitates a reliance on local governments, a process often restricted by internal divisions and corruption.

Mali’s political dynamics are complex; there are high levels of corruption within the government that strain the relationship between officials and the local population. Additionally, there is often violent conflict between two key tribal groups: the Fulani and the Tuareg. Amidst these divisions, terror groups have increased their presence and expanded their ranks, exploiting the government’s weakness and inability to provide essential social services.

The European Union recently announced a $12.5 billion peace fund deal that provides funding for European countries that have ongoing military operations in Africa. Most of the funds will be split among training missions in Mali and Somalia. The EU’s goal is to improve cooperation among international forces supporting the Malian government and boost the effectiveness of their training by supplying local militaries with newer weapons and tactical equipment.

The recent spate of deadly terror attacks indicates the urgent need for stable governance and security in Mali. Despite extensive international support of these goals, the government has been unable to achieve measureable improvement. Continued government failures risk further destabilizing the region and enabling terror groups like JNIM and the Islamic State to continue operating in Mali and further expand their strongholds in Africa.

Taliban Violates Ceasefire Agreement

In a surprise announcement, the Taliban announced a 3-day ceasefire with Afghan security forces to honor Eid celebrations commemorating the end of Ramadan. On Thursday, June 7, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani proposed a ceasefire, then later extended it until June 27th to move forward in the peace process with the Taliban. The U.S. welcomed the agreement and promised to abide by its terms not to target the Taliban.

Neither al-Qaeda nor the Islamic State were included in the ceasefire so international and Afghan operations against them continued. Two days later, on June 9th, the Taliban committed to a 3-day ceasefire to officially occur between Friday, June 15th and Sunday, June 17th.

In the week before the ceasefire was to take place, the Taliban and Islamic State conducted dozens of attacks throughout Afghanistan killing a total of 215 and wounding at least 202. Taliban fighters conducted 6 total ambushes on military and police checkpoints in several Northern provinces of Afghanistan, killing 65 in three separate attacks on June 9th and 25 on June 11th.

Taliban IED attacks also killed 12 and wounded 36 in Ghazni and Nangarhar. During the Taliban-Afghan government ceasefire, the Islamic State conducted 4 suicide bombings, killing a total of 85 police, Taliban, and civilians while wounding 141 in Nangarhar province.

Most notably, Taliban fighters overran security forces in Faryab province and captured the Kohistan district after killing the district governor and 13 soldiers. Over the past two years, possession of Kohistan has switched between the Taliban and government forces multiple times.

Since the ceasefire ended, the Taliban has carried out more than a dozen attacks, killing at least 70. At least 3 separate Taliban assaults in Baghdis province in Western Afghanistan killed 46 Afghan soldiers. In one of the attacks in Baghdis the Taliban killed 16 and abducted 13 engineers and 20 guards. An attack on an election facility killed 7 in Nimroz province.

The 3-day ceasefire presented some unique scenes, with Taliban fighters and Afghan Security Forces embracing and taking photographs with each other. Taliban members were also invited into government offices to eat and celebrate with government workers. In Kabul, fighters were required to store their weapons, but in other provinces they openly carried rocket launchers and grenades. There is a chance some fighters are using the opportunity to hide among the civilian population within government-controlled areas, planning to eventually carry out attacks on government installations.

After the post-ceasefire attacks, Afghan officials accused the Taliban of using the ceasefire to conduct scouting operations and plan future attacks. Reports on Sunday, June 24th, a week after the ceasefire ended, reveal that the Taliban defied the truce and carried out attacks on security checkpoints in Kunduz province. A spokesman for the Afghan defense minister also revealed that the Taliban violated the ceasefire by killing 12 Afghan soldiers in different parts of the country.

On Sunday, the Taliban overran 13 checkpoints, took over 80 Afghan police hostage in Wardak province, and attempted an assassination on a provincial governor. Afghan officials later claimed some of the local police were colluding with the Taliban, enabling them to take over many checkpoints with little resistance.

Taliban leadership has long claimed they will meet with the Afghan government to discuss a peaceful political solution, but only after U.S. and NATO forces leave. After NATO officially ended its military mission in 2014 in favor of an advisory role, the Taliban has contested more than half of Afghanistan’s districts. Afghan security forces still aren’t ready to provide necessary security needs to civilians and prevent the Taliban from overrunning their security. A full U.S. and NATO withdrawal would likely mean an eventual Taliban takeover. Taliban rejection of the ceasefire and resumption of attacks hours after the ceasefire ended reveals their resolution claims to be false. The Taliban has rejected peace talks in the past, recently accusing the Afghan government of acting as puppets for the U.S.

Despite the efforts of the Taliban to undermine peace efforts, the Afghan government is still trying to bring them to negotiate. Even after dozens of attacks since the ceasefire officially ended, Afghan security forces in many provinces have unilaterally extended their ceasefire and are instead only taking defensive measures.

While U.S. officials expressed optimism that a peace deal is within reach, the U.S. military must maintain pressure on the Taliban, because of its ties with al-Qaeda, which still arms, finances, and trains Taliban fighters to oppose the Afghan government and international forces.

Under the Trump administration, the U.S. military has increased its involvement in Afghanistan. Thousands of additional troops have been sent to help Afghan Security Forces. The U.S. has also increased the number of airstrikes and loosened rules of engagement. With potential threats posed by the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and Islamic State, the U.S. military will maintain a presence to train and advise local forces to provide their own security and prevent another terror state from forming in Afghanistan. After years of international training and support, the Afghan military still does not have enough capability to prevent the Taliban from taking over most districts.

To hold back the Taliban, Afghan forces depend on U.S. air support and intelligence operations. Removing the U.S. from the equation gives Taliban fighters an advantage on the ground. Taliban requests for the government to continue freeing Taliban prisoners and a full withdrawal of international forces are a high demand. It suggests they desire to rebuild their ranks and continue to overwhelm Afghan security forces, and it indicates that international forces must maintain their presence for several years before Afghans will be capable of providing their own security.

 

Mass Graves Found in Mali

On Tuesday, June 19, it was reported that the Malian army discovered 25 bodies in three mass graves after conducting a sweep in the Mopti region in central Mali. The graves were discovered near the villages of Nantaka and Kobaka. The Malian government will open an inquiry into the deaths. International human rights groups and local residents suspect the army is responsible because of similar events in the past. The military claims it conducts operations against terror groups who have destabilized the region and denies there was any abuse against civilians.

Residents claimed Malian armed forces detained several dozen men on June 13 for undisclosed reasons, then released all but 25 of them. The 25 who remained in detention were ethnic Fulani, a nomadic group with about 2.5 million people in Mali and an additional 22 million scattered across West Africa. A few days later, the 25 Fulani were killed and buried in mass graves.

The Fulani are the dominant ethnic group in the Mopti region, and many of them have ties to Islamist groups, targeting Christians in the region with “Islamicization” efforts or even genocide. Their chief rival in the region, the Tuareg, formed the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and led a nationalist rebellion to declare independence for northern Mali in 2012. Prior to their rebellion in Mali, many Tuareg fighters were mercenaries in the Libyan army under Muammar Gaddafi until his death. They returned to Mali well-armed and well-trained.

During the rebellion, the MNLA aligned with Islamists linked to al-Qaeda to fight government forces, although the MNLA desired a secular state in northern Mali. After the rebels ousted the Malian military, the Islamists began imposing Sharia law over controlled territory. The MNLA began fighting with the Islamists, eventually losing control of their territory to al-Qaeda affiliates.

In January of 2013, the French military began Operation Serval to defeat the Islamist rebels. The operation successfully suppressed the rebellion and returned control of northern Mali to government forces in less than a year. The operation was supported by many African Union troops and the MNLA. Since the operation, the French have maintained a small contingent in Mali that has fluctuated between 1,000 and 5,000 troops.

Although the operation was successful, security in central Mali deteriorated and the absence of effective governance increased the amount of crime and violence. The French did not intend to interfere in Mali’s domestic conflicts. Instead their goal was to prevent the creation of an Islamist state and leave Mali’s internal disputes to Malians.

With the ineffectiveness of government in central Mali, cattle theft and resource exploitation became more frequent in the area. Many residents blame the government for these problems, so they are drawn to joining the different factions of Islamists operating in Mali. Terror groups are well known to provide social services after taking control of territory to endear themselves to populations.

Throughout and after the rebellion, many Fulani were targeted by the Tuareg, mostly over tribal disputes regarding land and property. The disputes escalated into armed violence, leaving hundreds dead. To oppose the Tuareg, many Fulani joined jihadi groups linked to al-Qaeda, especially the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA). The MUJWA began a campaign of violence against the Tuareg, and eventually intend to spread Sharia law through all of West Africa.

Because of their relationship to al-Qaeda, their continued violence, and their goal of committing jihad to spread Sharia law, Fulani tribesmen have been routinely subjected to counter terror operations by Malian government forces. Numerous reports of abuse and torture at the hands of Mali’s army and several mass graves predate the discovery of the graves discovered this week.

Recent events of this year demonstrate that jihadists in Mali increased their numbers, enabling them to ramp up the number of attacks taking place both across Mali and abroad. In April of this year, 2 United Nations peacekeepers were killed and 10 wounded in a mortar attack.

Two weeks later, jihadists conducted a rocket and vehicle bombing attack on French and UN peacekeeping forces. The attacks this year follow more than 250 al-Qaeda attacks in Mali in 2017, most of which occurred in central Mali.

The recurring terror attacks and military operations have strained the relationship between the Fulani and Mali’s government. The absence of social services in central Mali has opened the door for Islamist groups to recruit disaffected Fulani into their ranks by offering money, employment, protection, and other public services. Recently, the Islamic State formed a new branch in Mali, the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara. Although the Islamic State isn’t as powerful as al-Qaeda or the other Islamist groups in Mali, their presence reveals global support for the group and the ability to use Mali as another base of operations.

The threat posed by Islamist groups in Mali has the potential to spread beyond Mali’s borders. In 2017, several Islamist groups across West Africa merged into one, the Nusrat al-Islam, also referred to as JNIM. JNIM is al-Qaeda’s official branch in West Africa and is especially active in Mali and Burkina Faso. In the past few months, fighting along the border of Mali and Niger has grown more intense. Last October, 4 U.S. Special Forces soldiers were killed in a firefight near the border. That attack was eventually claimed by the Islamic State.

If speculation that Malian military personnel are responsible for the deaths of 25 Fulani tribe members is true, it will further damage the relationship between Mali’s government and rural tribes. If the government is unable to function in central Mali, Islamist terror groups will fill the gap and violent attacks will probably increase. As the fighting spreads across the border, international forces will be called upon to stabilize the region. The French already have the largest presence in Niger with over 5,000 troops and the U.S. has an estimated troop count of 800. The U.S. also announced in March it will build a drone base to provide border security to prevent jihadists, weapons, and migrants from crossing the Niger border.

Mali’s defense minister admitted some soldiers are responsible, but punitive action taken against the soldiers won’t restore trust between the two groups. The mass grave is another instance of further deterioration of Mali’s security, making it an easy target for Islamist groups to exploit. As these groups become larger and stronger, attacks in Mali and in neighboring countries will increase in volume and in severity.

 

Al-Shabaab Preparing for New Leadership

Recent Kenyan intelligence reports have suggested that al-Shabaab leader, Ahmed Umar (AKA Abu Ubeiydah) may be near death after prolonged illness. Possible successors are preparing for his death and are disputing who will take his place. In 2014, Ahmed Umar became emir of al-Shabaab in Somalia after the U.S. military killed former emir Ahmed Abdi Godane in an airstrike.

In 2006, al-Shabaab captured Somalia’s capital city, Mogadishu, prompting the beginning of the United Nations (UN) peacekeeping mission in Somalia, known as the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Facing superior military capability from AMISOM forces and Somali government forces, al-Shabaab was forced to withdraw from Mogadishu in 2011. They have since resumed using guerilla tactics against government forces, such as suicide bombings, ambushes and kidnappings.

Al-Shabaab presents a significant threat to regional security along the Horn of Africa, not just within Somalia. In 2010, al-Shabaab coordinated two bombings in Uganda that killed 74 in the group’s first attack outside of Somalia. They have also built a stronghold in Kenya, routinely attacking Kenyan security forces.

There are many reports that today’s al-Shabaab fighters participated in al-Qaeda’s jihad in Afghanistan in the 90’s, and participated in fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan in response to the U.S. invasions. In 2008, al-Shabaab began working with al-Qaeda to oppose international forces in Somalia. Al-Shabaab’s formal alliance with al-Qaida indicated the group’s desire to support a global jihad against non-Muslims, even if only to draw international support for their struggle in Somalia. Since then, al-Qaeda has routinely cooperated with al-Shabaab, supplying weapons, training, fighters, and propaganda techniques.

Al-Shabaab was weakened by several military defeats, including losing the port city of Kismayo, an important location used to import weapons, supplies, and money. The U.S. and African Union have frequently accused Eritrea, Iran, Qatar, and Yemen of supplying al-Shabaab fighters with light and heavy machine guns and grenades. Their funding also comes from international terror groups and charitable organizations, as well as from theft, racketeering, and blackmail.

Despite so many military setbacks and attacks on civilians, al-Shabaab maintains popularity throughout Somalia by providing security and performing public works tasks, such as building roads and bridges. Al-Shabaab also aligns with key clan leaders to impose a Shariah-based judicial system. The group frequently exploits the clans’ conflicts and grievances to entrench themselves within the community.

Using these tactics, al-Shabaab maintains support in all of Somalia, but their power is concentrated in the South around their de facto capital, Jilib. The group maintains a presence in small, rural towns and often regains control over them when international forces withdraw.

Demonstrating their resolve, al-Shabaab carried out a deadly truck attack, killing more than 500 people in October of 2017. Two weeks later, another 23 were killed in an attack on a hotel in Mogadishu. There were also significant attacks in February and March of 2018 that killed almost 50 people combined.

Al-Shabaab recently cut off large stretches of highway to tax residents and ambush convoys, signifying the group’s resilient strength. There are still between 7,000 and 9,000 members scattered around the southern and central regions of Somalia. Many areas under Somali government control still have a strong al-Shabaab presence to undermine Somalia’s security forces.

Throughout 2017, the U.S. increased its role in Somalia, sending dozens of advisory troops and doubling the number of airstrikes against al-Shabaab and Islamic State jihadists. The renewed intensity drove Ahmad Umar into hiding.

It has also caused fear and mistrust among al-Shabaab’s leadership group. Many al-Shabaab leaders have defected to the government to serve as intelligence assets or ambassadors to their community. Other leaders were caught or killed. Questions of loyalty to al-Shabaab and Ahmad Umar’s illness have raised questions about succession.

Umar’s prolonged illness reportedly caused a leadership and financial crisis among al-Shabaab. The cost of Umar’s medication – purchased with funds intended for the group’s operations – and the loss of key territory on the coast hinders al-Shabaab’s ability to resupply weapons and other operational supplies.

According to Kenya’s TUKO news, a series of meetings among the 8 member Shura council to pick Umar’s replacement have been characterized by animosity and ended with no permanent resolution. The most likely successor, Hussein Ali Fiidow, has leadership experience and is a member of the Hawiye clan, which makes up the majority of al-Shabaab’s council and fighters. He is currently a financial administrator and formerly led a regional relations division in Mogadishu. Kenyan intelligence reports he is attempting a coup to take over from Umar, though the reports are several months old.

In January of 2018, Fiidow met with elders from some of his region’s largest clans to prevent them from breaking their support for al-Shabaab. Maintaining support of their elders is critical to al-Shabaab’s ability to recruit and garner money and weapons to continue their operations against the Somali government, so Fiidow’s meeting is indicative of his leadership ability and public relations experience.

The internal leadership crisis within al-Shabaab presents a dilemma for AMISOM and U.S. forces. There is a risk that potential successors begin ramping up attacks to distinguish themselves from their rivals and prove their leadership. The attacks would also serve as a reminder of the strength of al-Shabaab. On the other hand, the internal division may be an opportunity for international forces to gain ground in al-Shabaab strongholds in south-central Somalia and eastern Kenya.

Primarily, the U.S. seeks to prevent Somalia from functioning as a refuge for terror groups. The strength of al-Shabaab and weakness of Somalia’s government are obstacles to this goal. Complicating matters is the presence of Islamic State, which recruits disaffected al-Shabaab members into its ranks.

The presence of Islamic State potentially splits al-Shabaab further apart. There is a limited possibility of cooperation between al-Shabaab and Islamic State. Both al-Shabaab and Islamic State share the goal of building an Islamic caliphate, though they operate on different timelines.

Ultimately, the Somalian government must rid itself of corruption and improve efficiency to defeat al-Shabaab. The government is far from reaching that point, although participating AMISOM countries are preparing a full withdrawal by 2020 because they each face domestic unrest or funding issues.

The mission to defeat al-Shabaab is guaranteed to fail without the support of AMISOM countries. U.S. airstrikes will not have enough of an impact and Somali government forces are incapable of providing security for the country. Historically, when AMISOM countries have withdrawn, al-Shabaab quickly moves in to reclaim those territories. A permanent withdrawal would have the same effect.

The possible succession of Fiidow or a rival deputy to the emir of al-Shabaab could be a good opportunity to deliver an enduring blow to the terror group, as long as international forces don’t repeat their mistake from 2014. After the death of Godane in 2014, al-Shabaab came back strong, recapturing formerly lost territory because of security gaps between AMISOM troops and Somali government forces, who thought they had permanently secured some of these territories.

Attacks in 2017 prove that al-Shabaab has mostly regained its strength, so internal division over new leadership and financial issues cannot be expected to break the group apart and weaken them.

Although it was reported that al-Shabaab pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, recent propaganda efforts emphasize ties with al-Qaeda by praising al-Qaeda’s leadership, expressing support for al-Qaeda’s goal, and honoring al-Qaeda’s “martyrs.” Another propaganda video trumpets al-Shabaab’s position in the al-Qaeda network.

In 2016, two al-Shabaab commanders left to join the Islamic State, but al-Shabaab leadership has reaffirmed support for al-Qaeda based on their historical ties. Al-Shabaab has also employed its internal intelligence group, Amniyat, to seek pro-Islamic State fighters and arrest or execute them.

For the time being, al-Shabaab is the preeminent terror group operating out of the region. Neither the presence of the Islamic State nor a new emir will change that. Younger al-Shabaab fighters may be swayed by the Islamic State’s recruiting efforts though, so Islamic State will certainly factor into the conflict.

Much is at stake in Somalia. Located on the horn of Africa, securing Somalia is key to securing a critical shipping chokepoint in the Red Sea. Al-Shabaab also presents security concerns to Somalia’s neighbors, Kenya and Ethiopia. For the U.S., Somalia is yet another battleground in the War on Terror, where it seeks a lasting defeat of global terror threats presented by al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Egyptian Authorities Raid Apartment, Killing 6 Linked To Hasm Movement

On March 25th Egyptian authorities raided an apartment building in the Beheira governorate region killing 6 people linked to Hasm, an armed wing of the Muslim Brotherhood that was put on the U.S. Department of Treasuries’ in January of 2018 and the United Kingdom’s (UK) proscribed terrorist organizations list in December of 2017. Several weapons were confiscated during the raid including six explosive devices, and four safes containing ammunition.

Hasm, a group founded by Mohamad Kamal who was a former council member for the Muslim Brotherhood, was constructed after the Brotherhood was ousted from power in 2013. In addition to Hasm, Kamal structured multiple terror cells like Ajnad Misr and Liwa al-Thawra. These groups targeted security forces on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood’s interests. But in October of 2016 Kamal was killed during a firefight with security forces in Cairo.

In 2016-17 Hasm carried out multiple attacks on Egyptian security personnel. The group had first announced its creation in July of 2016 after an attack in the Fayoum Governate. Then, in December of 2016 6 police officers were killed due to the explosion of a road side bomb at a police checkpoint. In October of 2017, 16 police officers were killed and 13 others were injured after attempting to raid a “desert hideout” 84 miles west of Cairo.

Hasm’s latest attack occurred on March 24th when the motorcade of Major-General Mostafa al-Nemr, the head security chief of Alexandria, was attacked. The motorcade was traveling through the neighborhood of Rushdi when a bomb under a car exploded killing two soldiers. The interior ministry said Brotherhood leader Bassem Gad was responsible for ordering the attack on al-Nemir’s convoy.

The attack came just days before Egypt’s 2018 presidential election which was held from March 26th-28th. Egypt has been beefing up security nationwide ahead of the election. In March of 2018 the Islamic State (IS) published announcements on a website called Akhbar al-Muslimeen warning the people of Egypt to stay away from election centers. IS also stated that if your home is adjacent to an election center, you should leave it temporarily.

The Islamic State has had relative success in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, but on February 9th, 2018, the Egyptian military launched an offensive against the Islamic State and have killed 105 IS fighters since the beginning of the operation. A military spokesman said that there is no time limit for the operation and it will conclude when it achieves its goal(s).

The Egyptian government should continue to target the Hasm Movement as their attacks continue throughout the nation. The designations from the UK and US will help Egyptian government officials in their fight against the movement.

Israeli Defense Forces Destroy Hamas Tunnel

March 17th an explosive detonated on the Israeli/Gaza border, with no casualties and minimal damage to the security fence separating Gaza and Israel. The Israeli Defense Forces responded with tank fire shelling a Hamas outpost just east of Gaza City, where one person was slightly injured.

On March 18th, the Israeli air force destroyed an underground Hamas facility located in the Gaza strip and a separate tunnel which ran from southern Gaza into Israel.

The tunnel was destroyed from within Israeli territory, using a compound developed for the purpose. According to the IDF Hamas was seeking to reconnect an older tunnel which was destroyed in 2014 to a new section of tunnel in southern Gaza.

This is the fourth tunnel Israel has destroyed since October of 2017. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Hamas should invest money in the welfare of the people in Gaza because the Israelis intended to destroy the Hamas tunnel project “by the end of the year.”

 

In 2014 Israel launched Operation Protective Edge which was a war between Israel and Gaza. It started due to three Israeli teenagers being kidnapped and killed by Hamas operatives in the West Bank. Israel launched a military operation to find the three boys and arrested hundreds of Hamas members. Hamas responded by launching rocket attacks out of Gaza. During the conflict Israel had placed a high priority on the tunnel threat when Hamas fighters infiltrated Israel killing 5 Israeli soldiers.

 

The Israeli military said it did not know the scope of the tunnel system until troops were put in the area, that year Israel destroyed 32 tunnels.

 

The tunnels were established to undermine Israeli control of borders to and from the Gaza strip. The tunnels ran from south Gaza into Egypt, with Hamas controlling tunnel access for a profit. Weapons, people, and cars were smuggled through the tunnels as well as Egyptian gasoline due to Israeli fuel being too expensive.

 

Egypt’s prior President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were sympathetic towards Hamas. But after Morsi was ousted in 2013 and the beginning of a Muslim Brotherhood-backed insurgency against now Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the Egyptian Army has targeted and destroyed many cross-border smuggling tunnels.

 

The Islamic State (IS) is currently fighting the Egyptian military in the Sinai Peninsula and much of their success has come from trade with Hamas through the tunnel system. The IS smuggled weapons into Gaza and Hamas helped train IS fighters. But in early 2018 IS declared war on Hamas, publicly ending their relationship.

 

In January of 2018 Israel unveiled plans to have a 40-mile-long underground wall built around Gaza. Israeli military officials said this wall will stop Hamas from launching attacks from the tunnels into southern Israel. The wall is expected to take two years to build and cost 500 million euros.

U.S. State Department Designates The Maute Group As A Terrorist Organization

On February 27th, the U.S. State Department designated ISIS-Philippines and the Maute group as Specially Designated Global Terrorists. As a result, U.S. persons are prohibited from engaging in transactions with the group.

Founded approximately 7 years ago by Omar and Abdullah Maute, the Maute group declared its allegiance to ISIS in 2014.

The Maute group is responsible for multiple attacks throughout the Philippines, including the September 2016 Davao market bombing killing 15 people and wounding 70 others, as well as an attempted bomb attack in November of 2016 near the U.S. embassy in Manilla.

The group is also responsible for the siege on the city of Marawi located in the southern island of Mindanao which occurred in May of 2017. The Maute group executed the attack in concert with the jihadist terror group Abu Sayyaf.

Born in the city of Marawi both brothers studied in the Middle East and became fluent in Arabic.

Omar attended Al-Azhar University in Egypt and Abdullah studied in Jordan. Their father Cayamora Maute had ties with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). MILF’s goal is to liberate the Mindanao region from the Philippines.

Abu Sayyaf broke away from MILF in 1991 because they disagreed with MILF’s policy of wanting to pursue regional autonomy. Abu Sayyaf seeks to establish an independent Islamic state in the southern Philippines. The U.S. State Department designated Abu Sayyaf  as a terrorist organization in 1997 and the group has long standing ties to Al Qaeda.

The battle began due to government forces attempting to arrest a top IS leader Isnilon Hapilon, an Abu Sayyaf leader. This prompted the IS-affiliated groups Abu Sayyaf and the Maute to fight back. The groups burned buildings and took control of major bridges leading into the city.

The siege lasted 6 months and ended in October of 2017 after government troops stormed a hideout killing Hapilon. The battle resulted in 920 jihadist fighters, 165 government troops, and 45 civilians being killed.

The Maute brothers were both reportedly killed during the siege, Abdullah Maute was killed during an air strike in August of 2017 and Omar Maute was killed by a Filipino sniper in October of 2017.

Islamic terrorism is not a new phenomenon is the Philippines, MILF was founded in the 1970s and Abu Sayyaf split off from MILF in the 1990s. The identity and whereabouts of Maute Group’s current leader are unknown.

It is difficult for the Filipino government to maintain control over the entire country because it is made up of 7,107 islands.

The U.S. declaring the Philippines IS and the Maute group as terrorist organizations will limit the groups resources they need to carry out terrorist attacks which may help the Filipino government better take control of their country. However, over past years since 9/11 the U.S. has helped the Philippine military both financially and strategically.

After 9/11, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo pledged her support for the U.S. saying that the Philippines are “prepared to go every step of the way,” allowing U.S. forces to use Philippine airspace, sea lanes, and military facilities. President Arroyo also stated that the country is ready to “deploy support and medical personnel and combat forces if requested by the United Nations.”

The Philippine government hoped that by working so closely with the U.S. military this would help them in their fight against terror groups like Abu Sayyaf in Mindanao, which the U.S. in fact did.

In 2003, U.S. aid to the Philippines was $78.65 million as well as $2.4 million for military education and training and $93.2 million worth of military equipment. The U.S. has also directly supported the Philippine military by conducting military operations such as the Balikatan exercise.

The Balikatan exercise in 2002 lasted between January 15th through July 31st where 1,650 to 2,665 U.S. military personnel conducted for the first time in hostile areas in southern Mindanao, which was a big change from the original Balikatan exercises that began in 1981.

The latest Balikatan exercise was held in 2017 between May 8th – May 19th. The Balikatan exercise has been scaled down focusing more on humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and counter terrorism.

Throughout 2018 the Philippine and U.S. militaries are planning on holding a total of 261 activities focusing on exchanges and exercises such as territorial defense exercises and humanitarian assistance.

The continued presence of terror threats like the Maute Group on the Philippine Islands is a reminder of the ongoing global nature of the U.S.-led fight against jihadist organizations, which takes place on every habitable continent. The U.S. must continue to coordinate with regional allies, and provide the necessary support to prevent the growth of ungoverned territory where terrorists can freely operate.

 

Islamic State Attacks Yemeni Government Counter Terrorism Center, Killing 14

On February 24th in the city of Aden in southern Yemen 14 people were killed and another 40 wounded during an attack on a Yemeni government counterterrorism center.

The attack took place in an area called Gold Mohr in Aden’s Tawahi district. Security sources said two suicide bombers detonated cars filled with explosives at the camp’s entrance just before six attackers attempted to enter the camp but were killed by guards. Many of the dead were soldiers, but a woman and two children were also killed.

This was the first terrorist attack since battles broke out last month between the Yemeni government and separatists over the control for Aden. Aden is the temporary capital of Yemen’s Hadi Government. The traditional Yemeni capital of Sanaa remains in the hands of Iranian-backed Houthi rebels after being captured early in the ongoing civil war.

Islamic State (IS) claimed the attack on their Amaq website. Over the past few years the IS has repeatedly attacked Aden mainly targeting government forces and Shia mosques.

As the civil war in Yemen continues to create problems for U.S. Counterterrorism operations. In December of 2017 the U.S. Defense Department acknowledged that the U.S. had launched “multiple ground operations” in Yemen and that the IS has doubled in size throughout 2017. The IS fighters are fleeing the fallen strongholds of Raqqa and Mosul through secret deals with Kurdish or other Arab forces and making their way to Yemen.

The U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) also said that the U.S. had conducted more than 120 airstrikes against al-Qaeda and the IS throughout 2017.

Up until these statements, very little was known about U.S. involvement within Yemen. In January of 2017 officials acknowledge a ground raid against al-Qaeda where one Navy Seal was killed.

The goal of the U.S. attacks was to disrupt the IS and al-Qaeda from using ungoverned spaces in Yemen as a hub for recruitment.

Donald Trump said in his National Security Strategy that “We crushed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorists on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq,” “and will continue pursuing them until they are destroyed.”

In order to do that the Trump administration will need to do more than “destroy” the IS with airstrikes. As long as Yemen remains a largely ungovernable space, it will continue to draw IS fighters and attacks will continue.

Egyptian Military Killed 53 Islamic State Fighters During Operation

On February 9th the Egyptian military launched an operation against the Islamic State (IS) focused on defeating them in the Sinai peninsula. Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ordered the armed forces in November of 2017 to defeat the IS-Sinai affiliate within three months after an attack on a mosque in north Sinai killed 300 people.

The campaign covers north and central Sinai as well as the parts of the Nile Delta and the western desert that runs along the border with Libya, authorities say that Islamic State fighters as well as smugglers use this route into the country.

The official spokesperson of the armed forces Tamer al-Refai announced on February 15th that after the first six days of the operation 53 IS members have been killed. While another 680 “criminal elements” have been arrested. Al-Refai added that 378 hideouts used for medical, arms, and explosive materials had been destroyed as well as 177 explosive devices have been neutralized.

The IS-Sinai has had substantial success in this region of Egypt for the last few years for several reasons. IS-Sinai developed out of Ansar Bait al-Maqdis (ABM) after the group pledged allegiance to the IS and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2014. There are also thought to be at least four al Qaeda-aligned groups active in the area.

The goal of these groups in Sinai is to create a breakaway state that adheres to the same rules ISIL imposed on people under their control. The Egyptian military has had trouble in the past controlling these groups in Sinai in part because of the transient nature of the flow of people and goods in the area.

The IS has also had success in the region due to cooperation with Hamas through the underground tunnels that connect the Gaza Strip to Sinai. The IS helps smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip and Hamas helps train IS fighters.

But in early 2018 the IS reportedly declared war on Hamas apparently ending their relationship. The IS claims it stopped supporting Hamas because Hamas receives support from Iran.

Current Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently visited Egypt on February 12th and spoke with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry with counterterrorism being one of the primary focuses.

Tillerson said on Monday that Washington stands with Egypt on its fight against the IS, before briefly touching upon the upcoming Egyptian election in March. Tillerson stated that the US supports a credible and transparent election in Egypt. The President of Egypt Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is running against a single challenger during the March 26-28th election, though he is expected to win comfortably.