Surrendered Commander Says Lord’s Resistance Army Sponsored by Khartoum

Andrew McGregor

Terrorism Monitor, November 25, 2009

Senior Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) commander Lieutenant Colonel Charles Arop has given an interview to a Kampala daily after having been sent to the Ugandan capital following his surrender to Ugandan troops operating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) (New Vision [Kampala], November 23). Arop is best known for directing a massacre of 143 Congolese civilians in the village of Faradje on Christmas Day, 2008 (see Terrorism Monitor, November 13). He is now engaged in helping Ugandan forces convince other LRA fighters to surrender. During the interview, he showed reporters wounds from nine bullets, three of which are still inside his body.

LRA 1Former LRA field commander Charles Arop

Following rumors circulating in October that the LRA had crossed into south Darfur, Arop said it was the intention of LRA leader Joseph Kony to move along the Central African Republic border to Chad and then into Darfur to meet officers of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), long reputed to be the LRA’s sponsors. Kony “told me he was going to meet Fadil, the SAF officer who coordinates LRA activities. He wants the Arabs to give him logistical support and a safe haven” (see Terrorism Monitor, October 23). Arop says Kony urged all LRA units to make their way to Darfur and report to the first “Arab” military post they came across.

Despite a disastrous start to last year’s Operation Lightning Thunder, a joint operation of the militaries of Uganda, the DRC and Southern Sudan, continuous pressure by the Ugandan People’s Defense Force (UPDF) has eliminated many LRA fighters and compelled others to turn themselves in after suffering from exhaustion and hunger. Arop estimates only half of the force of 500 LRA fighters that existed last December are still in the field. “Kony is desperate. Things are really hard. We were constantly on the move. Sometimes we would not rest for a week. The UPDF was pursuing us everywhere.”

Arop suggests it was only a delay by the UPDF in following the LRA into the Central African Republic (CAR) that allowed the LRA a chance to regroup and abduct more people for use as fighters, laborers or sex slaves. Like most LRA fighters, Arop was himself an abductee, taken from his home in Gulu at age 16. Though the LRA began as a Christian fundamentalist/Acholi nationalist movement, there are few Acholis still left in the LRA ranks, with most fighters representing a hodgepodge of individuals abducted from various tribes in Uganda, South Sudan, the DRC and the CAR.

LRA 2Lord’s Resistance Army Fighters

Arop describes LRA leader Joseph Kony as a man obsessed with his own survival. Since Operation Lightning Thunder began, Kony has stopped communicating by phone, sending messages only by couriers on foot or by sending his aides up to 20 kilometers away before they are allowed to use their phones. Arop confirmed earlier reports that Kony never takes part in battles. “Whenever attacked, he runs away and leaves his fighters to fight back. I have never seen him fight.”

The LRA commander elaborated on last year’s horrific Christmas Day massacre at Faradje, describing the attack as retaliation ordered by Kony for the participation of Congolese troops in Operation Lightning Thunder. Arop claims his own role was carried out under duress. “Kony gave 30 of his bodyguards to join my group. There was no way I could not execute the mission. They had a phone and were constantly reporting to him. If I had refused, I would have been killed… It was painful, but you have to do it. I want to ask the relatives of those we killed to forgive me. Whatever we did, we did it under orders.”

According to Arop, the LRA received most of its weapons and military supplies from the SAF. Large caches of arms were concealed in the river banks and hills of South Sudan. “There are still a lot of arms caches the UPDF has not yet unearthed.” Other weapons and supplies were recently seized from UN troops in the DRC and game rangers in Garamba National Park, where the LRA took refuge after the start of Operation Lightning Thunder.

This article first appeared in the November 25, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.


Leading Pakistani Islamist Organizing Popular Movement against South Waziristan Operations

Andrew McGregor

November 25 2009

As the Pakistani Army pushes deeper into South Waziristan, a vocal political challenge to Islamabad’s cooperation in the War on Terrorism has emerged in the form of Syed Munawar Hasan, the Amir (leader) of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI)—the leading party in the religious coalition that rules Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province (NWFP)—and  a member of the ruling coalition in Balochistan Province.

Syed MunawarSyed Munawar Hasan

Syed Munawar was a student of JI founder Maulana Syed Abul Ala Maududi (1903-1979), one of the leading theorists of political Islam. A member of JI-Pakistan since 1967 and the party’s Secretary General since 1993, Syed Munawar has begun a very public campaign to rally support among Pakistan’s conservative religious community against the U.S. role in the region and Islamabad’s offensive against Taliban extremists in South Waziristan. He is also calling for a diplomatic campaign against India for its alleged role in terrorist activities within Pakistan.

In recent well-publicized rallies and Friday sermons, Syed Munawar has issued a series of provocative statements and demands. According to the JI’s Amir:

• Pakistan should sever all ties with India and begin a diplomatic campaign against the country at the United Nations in response to the discovery of Indian arms in South Waziristan and Balochistan. The government has failed to do this because India is backed by the United States. Indian Hindus are organizing atrocities against India’s Muslim, Sikh, Christian and Buddhist communities (Jasarat [Karachi], November 15; The News [Islamabad], November 14). JI is organizing “black days” of protest against India in mid-December.

• Muslim Kashmiris have been waging a struggle for freedom from India for 62 years. India has responded by sending a 700,000 man “army of savages” (Jasarat [Karachi], November 15). Though JI claims it is dedicated to a peaceful and democratic process, the exception is Kashmir, in which case the movement actively supports armed groups fighting Indian rule.

• State terrorism is the real form of terrorism due to the massive firepower available to modern states. Millions of people have died in the “unprecedented” destruction caused by state terrorism (Jasarat [Karachi], November 15)

• The United States is seeking to create a “mini-Pentagon” in Islamabad by expanding its embassy there. Islamabad is “under the occupation of Blackwater [renamed Xe Services LLC in February]” and Washington is pushing for an expansion of the counter-insurgency operations to North Waziristan. The ongoing drone attacks on insurgent leaders are an assault on the sovereignty of Pakistan but come as part of a campaign to change the borders of Pakistan (The News [Islamabad], November 19). Syed Munawar called on Army Chief of Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani to write a letter to President Barack Obama demanding a halt to the drone attacks (The Nation [Lahore], November 20).

• The October attack on the Army’s GHQ in Rawalpindi was not the work of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) (as the movement claimed in an October 12 TTP statement), but was instead the work of the United States and India. “I am not ready to believe that the Taliban are so powerful that they would dare attack the GHQ” (Dawn [Karachi], October 12; The News [Islamabad], November 19).He identified “the secret terrorist force, Blackwater” and India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW – India’s external intelligence agency) as the perpetrators (The Nation, November 20; Jasarat, November 12).

French Operation in Afghanistan Aims to Open New Coalition Supply Route

Andrew McGregor

November 25, 2009

Not far from the site of a disastrous encounter with Afghan insurgents last year, French forces have now mounted an offensive to clear the strategic Tagab valley of Taliban and Hizb-i-Islami fighters. An important mission lies behind “Operation Avalon” – the construction of a new road through the valley as part of a larger effort to create secure supply routes for NATO forces in Afghanistan. The operation is being carried out by the newly created Task Force La Fayette (TF La Fayette).

French Afghanistan 13e Régiment d’Infanterie de Marine (3e RIMa) in Action in Afghanistan (Ministére de la Défense)

The French forces include roughly 700 men from the 3e Régiment d’Infanterie de Marine (3e RIMa), with smaller units from the 2e Régiment Étranger d’Infanterie (Foreign Legion). In recent years the 3e RIMa has taken part in operations in Chad, the 1991 Gulf War, Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Albania and the Central African Republic. The French troops are accompanied by 100 men of the Afghan National Army (ANA) with air support from French and American attack helicopters. The advancing troops have been met with sniper fire and rocket-propelled grenades. A November 15 Taliban rocket attack on the town of Tagab killed three people and wounded dozens more only 300 meters from a meeting between Task Force commander General Marcel Druart and a group of tribal elders (Radio France Internationale, November 15).

TF La Fayette operates from four forward bases in Kapisa and Surobi provinces, with support detachments in Kabul. Most operations are conducted jointly with ANA units. With a command post at Nijab, TF La Fayette is composed of two Groupements tactiques interarmes (GTIA); GTIA Kapisa (currently drawn largely from Foreign Legion infantry, armor and engineering units) and GTIA Surobi (currently drawn largely from Marine infantry and artillery units). The Task Force also includes a command and support battalion in Kabul and a battalion of 11 helicopters based at Kabul International Airport. Within the task force’s zone of operations, French Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams (OMLT) are attached to units of the 3rd Brigade of the ANA’s 201st Corps.

The French Deployment in Afghanistan

French military involvement in Afghanistan began in late 2001 with the arrival of French Special Forces and the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. The first French Special Forces unit to deploy was the 13e Régiment de Dragons Parachutistes (13e RDP), specializing in long-range reconnaissance missions. The 13e RDP was soon joined by the 1er Régiment de Parachutistes d’Infanterie de Marine (1er RPIMa), the other component of the Brigade des Forces Spéciales Terre (BFST), the French army’s Special Forces component. The 1er RPIMa began its existence as a Free French unit of the British Special Air Service (SAS) during World War II. Other French troops began to deploy in 2002 and formed the Kabul Battle Group in 2003. To date, 36 French soldiers have died in Afghanistan.

An air transport detachment is based at Dushanbe in Tajikistan. Security for French air operations in Dushanbe is provided by the Commandos Parachutistes de l’Air no.10, specially trained in assaulting or defending airfields. In October, Spain and France were forced to relocate supply aircraft and personnel from the Manas base in Kyrgyzstan when permission was withdrawn after the expiration of an earlier agreement. The French aircraft and personnel were transferred to the airbase at Dushanbe (AFP, October 25). France also operates a detachment of drones based at Bagram air base. The drones provide surveillance and reconnaissance services, mainly in northeast Afghanistan.

Six French warplanes providing support to Afghan and Coalition forces have been based in Kandahar since 2007. Further combat air support has at times been available from the Charles de Gaulle, operating in the north Indian Ocean. As part of Operation Enduring Freedom, France contributes naval forces to Task Forces 150 and 57 in the north Indian Ocean.

The French military in Afghanistan works closely with reconstruction teams in developing their area of operations. According to the commander of the 3e RIMa, Colonel Francis Chanson, “Success in Kapisa will hinge on development more than the destruction of insurgents… I’m not trying to gain their heart, but their confidence” (Stars and Stripes, October 31).

Battles in Sarubi and Alasay

Last August French troops in the Surubi district of Kabul province were hit by a massive combined Taliban/Hizb-i-Islami ambush that left ten French soldiers dead and 21 wounded. A political firestorm followed in France amidst allegations of inadequate planning, possible Taliban execution or mutilation of French prisoners and a Paris Match interview with the Taliban commander who led the ambush, complete with photos of Taliban fighters wearing the military equipment and personal effects of dead French soldiers.

French Afghanistan 2Mountain Warfare Specialists: The Chasseurs Alpins 27e Battalion in Afghanistan

In March, French troops from GTIA Kapisa and a battalion of the ANA were involved in the Battle of Alasay, a successful attempt to drive the Taliban out of the Alasay valley, which insurgents had controlled since 2006. The French troops belonged to the Chasseurs Alpins 27e Battalion, an elite mountain warfare unit. With the aid of U.S. air support in the form of F15-E fighters, A-10 Thunderbolts, AH-64 Apache helicopters and Predator drones, the operation was able to establish two new ANA bases in the valley despite the refusal of Afghan troops to advance at one point in the battle (Le Point, March 24).

Italy’s Role in Sarubi in Question

While a French intelligence report was highly critical of the August 2008 Sarubi operation that led to 10 French deaths, media investigations have indicated that an Italian policy of paying off Taliban fighters while Italian troops operated in Surubi prior to the arrival of the French may have played a major role in the disaster (RFI, September 5, 2008). An October 15 report by the Times revealed Italy’s secret service had been paying Taliban commanders and local warlords to keep the region quiet and avoid Italian casualties. The U.S. ambassador in Rome was reported to have made an unpublicized démarche (diplomatic protest) over the Italian policy after American communications intercepts of conversations between Italian intelligence agents and Taliban commanders disclosed the existence of the payoffs. The payments were not revealed to French forces when they took over from the Italians in Sarubi in July 2008. The result was an entirely inaccurate French threat assessment based on the Italian experience in the area. When hundreds of insurgents attacked the French column in Sarubi, it came as a complete surprise to the lightly armed force. [2]

Italian officials have denied the reports, saying the alleged démarche was merely a “request for information.” U.S. embassy officials would neither confirm nor deny the report. Italian Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa described the allegations as “complete rubbish,” suggesting the insurgents had failed to mount attacks because of “the behavior of our military, which is very different compared to that of other contingents” (Times, October 16).

The Times has stood by its report, citing the American intercepts. It also received confirmation of the payments from Afghan government officials, senior ANA officers and a Sarubi Taliban commander, Mohammad Ishmayel (Times, October 16). Families of French soldiers killed in the Sarubi operation are asking if the Italian payments were used to buy the arms used by insurgents in the ambush (France 24, October 16).

Sarkozy’s Balancing Act

With pressure from the U.S. to increase its deployment on one hand—but polls suggesting a majority of French voters oppose French participation in the Afghanistan conflict on the other—President Nicolas Sarkozy declared in late October that French participation was “necessary,” but “France will not send a single soldier more” (Le Parisien, August 22; Le Figaro, October 14).  Sarkozy noted it was France’s goal to see Afghan troops step up to combat the Taliban. “They will be the most effective in winning this war because it is their country. But we need to pay them more to avoid desertions that benefit the Taliban.”

Nevertheless, France has increased the number of vital combat troops engaged in Afghanistan without increasing total numbers by turning over guard duties in Kabul to a Georgian unit, allowing one company to join frontline operations. 150 sailors currently part of Operation Enduring Freedom will no longer be counted as part of the French deployment in Afghanistan, allowing an increase in the same number of combat troops. A detachment of 150 gendarmes trained and equipped as infantry will train Afghan police but will not be counted in the military deployment (Le Monde, November 18). [1] The operational reclassification of 150 sailors will allow the return of 150 members of France’s Special Forces, which have not deployed in Afghanistan since being withdrawn in 2007.

Besides public opposition, the French war in Afghanistan is also facing challenges from French courts. Under a 2005 law, French officers can now be tried in criminal proceedings before the Armed Forces Tribunal in Paris for “unintentional acts committed in the exercise of their duties” if it is established “that they failed to display normal diligence, on account of the power and resources available to them and the difficulties inherent to the missions entrusted to them by the law” (Le Monde, November 12). The latest case has been filed on behalf of two families of French soldiers killed in the Sarubi ambush of August 2008. Senior officers are naturally disturbed by the new role of civilian judges in reviewing military decisions.


French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner recently criticized the German contingent of NATO in Afghanistan, saying they “are not there to fight” (AFP, November 5). France, on the other hand, has indicated through its military reorganization in Afghanistan a commitment to a greater emphasis on combat operations. The professional soldiers of the French Marine and Foreign Legion units are no doubt determined to reverse the damage done at Sarubi and the Special Forces are eager to return to Afghanistan. Though Kouchner has acknowledged that Afghan president Hamid Karzai is “corrupt,” he has resisted setting a date for an eventual French withdrawal from Afghanistan, saying only that “Four to five years [from now] seems to me to be a reasonable prospect” (AFP, November 16).

1. La Libé
2. Jean Dominique Merchet, Mourir pour l’Afghanistan, Éditions Jacob Duvernet, Paris, 2008

This article first appeared in the November 25, 2009 Issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

Tariq Afridi Appointed Head of Taliban in Strategic Khyber Agency

Andrew McGregor

November 19, 2009

The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have filled the post of Taliban chief in the strategically important Khyber Agency following a meeting in Orakzai Agency (The News [Islamabad], November 10). The new leader is Tariq Afridi, the notorious Taliban commander based in Darra Adam Khel.

Khyber Agency


Afridi will replace former Khyber Agency Taliban commander Kamran Mustafa Hijrat (a.k.a. Muhammad Yahya Hijrat; a.ka.a Mustafa Kamal Kamran Hijrat), who was arrested by Pakistani security forces in December 2008. Hijrat was responsible for planning numerous attacks on NATO supply convoys in Peshawar and along the dangerous highway through the Khyber Pass. It can be expected that Afridi will now take over these operations, which are intended to pressure U.S. and Coalition forces in Afghanistan by cutting off their supply lines.

From his base at Darra Adam Khel, Afridi has been responsible for attacks on security forces in Orakzai Agency as well as suicide bombings in Peshawar, Kohat and the Punjab. He is best known outside of Pakistan for his kidnapping and murder of Polish engineer Petr Stanczak in 2008. Stanczak was beheaded by his captors in February 2009 when Islamabad refused to release certain Taliban prisoners in exchange for the hostage. A cash offer was made but refused by Afridi (Dawn [Karachi], April 26).

Despite his rise through the Taliban ranks, Tariq Afridi nonetheless faces opposition from within his own tribe. Last April a lashkar [ad hoc militia] of over 300 mostly Afridi tribesmen was raised to drive the Taliban commander out of Darra Adam Khel. Most members of the lashkar had previously been under Tariq Afridi, but left his group over killings of security personnel. Despite some clashes, the lashkar did not succeed in their mission (Dawn [Karachi], April 23).

This article first appeared in the November 19, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Deputy Amir of Taliban Rejects U.S. Plan to Create an “Awakening” Movement in Afghanistan

Andrew McGregor

November 19, 2009

Late last month, U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin described a new law signed by President Barack Obama authorizing the payment of Taliban militants in return for laying down their arms. Lower-level Taliban fighters would be offered amnesty and employment in new local defense militias patterned on the “Awakening” movement that diverted many Iraqi Sunni militants into pro-government forces that played a major role in expelling al-Qaeda from large parts of Iraq (AFP, October 29; Reuters, October 27).

The Taliban responded to this initiative with an October 30 statement by Deputy Amir Mullah Brader Akhund, released through the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan Voice of Jihad website (, October 30). Mullah Brader described the plan as nothing new, suggesting “old weapons” of this type were already a proven failure in Afghanistan: “The British invaders used it in the 19th century but failed; the former Soviet Union used it; it failed too.”

Mullah Brader issued a number of points for the “moribund rulers of the White House”:

• The existence of “moderate” and “extremist” Taliban does not correspond with reality; these terms are American inventions.

• The Mullah describes the professional soldiers of the Coalition and members of the Afghan National Army (ANA) as “mercenaries and employed gunmen.” By contrast, the Taliban fight solely for independence and the establishment of a Shari’a system. “This war will come to an end when all invaders leave our country and an Islamic government based on the aspirations of our people is formed in the country.”

• The White House should focus on “pragmatic” and “realistic” means of ending the conflict. The United States should stop “shedding the blood of innocent Muslim people” by pulling its forces out of Afghanistan and by putting “an end to the game of colonialization.”

• The huge military expenditure on the war in Afghanistan will deepen the American economic crisis. “Your people will face more problems and suffer from psychological diseases.”

• In a reference to President Hamid Karzai and his brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, Mullah Brader denounced those “few well-known Afghan Americans who sell their country and who have received training in the CIA cells for many years.” The Mullah describes their actions as an unforgivable and shameful act that will carry an “historical taint.” The Mullah suggests American leaders should look at the example of the pro-British Shah Shuja (assassinated in 1842), and the pro-Soviet Babrak Karmal, who was ousted as president by his Soviet sponsors in 1986. The United States should study what status these surrogate leaders had “in the eye of the Afghan masses.”

The Taliban statement came at the close of a month that saw 53 American fatalities in Afghanistan, the worst single month for U.S. military losses since the war began in 2001.

This article first appeared in the November 19, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor


Cracks Begin to Show in the Lord’s Resistance Army

Andrew McGregor

November 13, 2009

A sustained cross-border campaign by Uganda’s Special Forces to eliminate the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in cooperation with the military of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) of South Sudan appears to be yielding results nearly a year after Operation Lightning Thunder began.

LRA PatrolLRA Patrol

The perilous condition of the scattered LRA forces was best revealed by the surrender of senior LRA commander Charles Arop, notorious for his supervision of a typically senseless LRA massacre of 143 Congolese civilians in the village of Faradje using axes, clubs and machetes on Christmas Day, 2008 (New Vision [Kampala], November 5; AFP, November 5).  Continuing in a means of propagating itself, the LRA kidnapped 160 children for use as labor, sex-slaves or fighters (the latter must usually murder their own parents as part of the LRA’s method of breaking the mental resistance of its recruits). Arop recently commanded a force of over 100 fighters, but continuous attacks by the Ugandans devastated his command. Referring to Arop’s surrender, Lieutenant-Colonel Felix Kulayigye of the Ugandan People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) noted, “He was only left with one fighter, so what choice did he have?” (AFP, November 5).

Among those to come in recently was the last of the four wives of feared LRA Brigade Commander Okello Kalalang, who was killed in a September bombardment of LRA positions in the Central African Republic (CAR).

Other rebels are reportedly eager to surrender due to the deteriorating conditions in LRA camps, though all are aware that escape attempts are punished by the LRA with instant death. The breakup of the LRA into smaller units following the onslaught of Operation Lightning Thunder has weakened the movement’s capabilities, with the small units constantly on the move. According to the recently surrendered Lieutenant Francis Opira; “Life has become hard. We are few, which forces us to do a lot of work. Walking in the long bushes has also become tiresome” (New Vision, November 3). The large number of LRA officers and NCOs that have turned themselves in demonstrates a loosening of the iron discipline that once kept the LRA in the field despite a distinct absence of popular support. Without constant indoctrination, many of the abductees who form the majority of the LRA’s strength have begun to think of a return home under the lenient conditions being offered by Kampala.

A group of nine LRA members who surrendered following a late October battle in the Central African Republic cited a power vacuum in the leadership and a shortage of food in the bush as the main reasons behind their submission. All nine were under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Otto Malaba and Lieutenant Ochen, who continue to operate along the DRC-CAR border (Daily Monitor [Kampala], November 2).

This article first appeared in the November 13, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Perspectives on the Future of the Somali Jihad

Andrew McGregor

November 13, 2009.

For nearly a year now, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia has been waging a life or death struggle for survival against the repeated assaults of a radical Islamist opposition; an opposition that remains unsatisfied with the appointment of a fellow Islamist as president and the implementation of Shari’a as the law of the land. Led by the former leader of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmad, the TFG has little effective control over the country outside of a few Mogadishu neighborhoods, despite backing from the United States, the United Nations and the African Union (AU). Members of the TFG work under the constant threat of assassination, keeping many parliamentarians outside of the country. The Islamist militants demonstrated their reach in a bombing that killed the Minister of Security, Colonel Umar Hashi Adan, in Hiraan province last June (al-Jazeera [Doha], June 19; al-Arabiya [Dubai], June 18). Possible directions for the future of the Islamist insurgency in Somalia are offered below.

Somali JihadAl-Shabaab

Leadership of Harakat al-Shabaab Mujahideen

The leadership of Somalia’s Harakat al-Shabaab Mujahideen (Youth Mujahideen Movement) appears to be in a state of flux at the moment. The movement’s reclusive leader, Shaykh Ahmad Abdi Godane “Abu Zubayr” (a.k.a. Ahmad Abdi Aw Muhammad, a.k.a Shaykh Mukhtar “Abu Zubayr”), was seriously wounded in May when a suicide bomb went off prematurely in a safe house where an al-Shabaab meeting was being held (Garowe Online, May 18, May 20;, May 18). Little has been heard of him since. Only days after the blast, the public face of the movement, Shaykh Mukhtar Robow “Abu Mansur,” was replaced by Shaykh Ali Mahmud Raage (a.k.a. Shaykh Ali Dheere) (Radio Simba, May 21; Shabelle Media Network, May 22). No explanation was offered for the sudden change and Mukhtar Robow briefly faded from public view before reappearing with a statement threatening the administrations of semi-autonomous Puntland and Somaliland, a self-declared independent state (, October 31). He was then reported to have appeared at an anti-Israel demonstration in Baydhabo, where he announced that there would be a hunt for anyone who holds Israeli citizenship or who might be Jewish (Puntland Post, October 31). Though there are no public signs of enmity, there is always the possibility that Godane’s death or prolonged incapacitation could set off a power struggle within the Shabaab leadership.

Factionalism in the Islamist Opposition

The Hizb al-Islam movement, led by Shaykh Dahir Aweys, is the successor to Shaykh Aweys’ earlier organization, the Eritrean-based Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia – Asmara (ARS-Asmara). While Hizb al-Islam is larger than al-Shabaab, the latter is better organized and possibly better equipped. At the moment, Hizb al-Islam operates as an ally of al-Shabaab in the fighting in Mogadishu, though there are differences between the two groups that could erupt into open warfare at any moment. There have already been skirmishes between the groups.

Al-Shabaab’s Salafist orientation has brought it into conflict with Somalia’s Sufis, who have responded to the desecration and destruction of their shrines and places of pilgrimage by forming their own formidable militia, the Ahlu Sunnah wa’l-Jama’a. With Sufis rather than Salafists representing mainstream Islam in Somalia, al-Shabaab has created a determined enemy that is unlikely to cease fighting until the radical Islamists have been defeated.

Internationalization of the Somalia Conflict

Reflecting its narrow vision of what constitutes righteous rule, al-Shabaab has, in the last year, threatened all of its neighbors as well as Burundi, Uganda, Ghana, Israel and the United States. The conflict already has an international element, with Ugandan and Burundian troops of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) deeply involved in the active defense of the TFG, Ethiopian troops conducting cross-border incursions after a lengthy and costly occupation of Somalia, and U.S. airstrikes being launched on terrorist targets. The TFG has also issued appeals for neighboring countries, including Kenya, Djibouti and Yemen, to send troops to Somalia to bolster the government (al-Jazeera, June 22).  It is clear that the TFG has little local support it can rely on and would quickly collapse without international backing.

Al-Shabaab is active in fundraising and recruitment of Somali diaspora groups in Sweden, the UK, the Netherlands, Canada and the United States (NRC Handelsblad, November 13).  While these activities have not yet escalated to politically-motivated violence, the possibility exists, particularly as al-Shabaab becomes more vocal in its threats to Western states. The recent arrest of three Somali men accused of targeting a military installation in Australia with a suicide attack has alarmed other nations hosting large Somali communities (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, August 7).

Al-Shabaab has pledged retaliation against the United States in response to the mid-September airstrike that killed al-Qaeda suspect Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan (Daily Nation [Nairobi], October 8). Though direct retaliation is probably beyond the means of al-Shabaab, it is entirely possible that its agents in the American diaspora could arrange some kind of internal attack by young people sympathetic to the Islamist cause in Somalia. Al-Shabaab leader Shaykh Abdi Ahmad Godane has made clear the international ambitions of the movement: “We will fight and the wars will not end until Islamic Shari’a is implemented in all continents in the world and until Muslims liberate Jerusalem…” (AFP, May 13). For the moment these goals may exceed the grasp of a movement that has yet to take Mogadishu.

What Will Happen in Somalia in the Event of a Shabaab Victory?

•    Popular support for the movement (which is difficult to gauge but certainly does not include a majority of Somalis) would inevitably diminish due to the movement’s ordinances against popular pastimes such as watching soccer or chewing qat, as well as the movement’s affection for hudud punishments for violations of Shari’a, such as stonings, amputations, beheadings and whippings. Though Shari’a law has already been implemented in Somalia, al-Shabaab is only interested in its own interpretation, one not shared by a majority of Somalis.

•   Shabaab’s foreign connections will work against them. Shabaab’s international ties are all with non-state actors, none of which will be of any assistance in running a state. On the contrary, these ties will invite embargoes and other sanctions. International isolation and the suspension of humanitarian aid are likely outcomes for an organization which has referred to UN aid agencies as “enemies of Islam.”

•   The movement’s revanchist program to establish a “Greater Somalia” places it immediately at odds with every one of Somalia’s neighbors. Any attempt to expand Somalia’s borders as part of the development of an Islamic Caliphate in the Horn of Africa would require full national support, in the absence of which disaster would surely befall the movement and the nation. Al-Shabaab’s revanchism would quickly mobilize regional opposition.

•   Civil war with Puntland and Somaliland would quickly follow an al-Shabaab victory in Mogadishu. Al-Shabaab terrorist attacks on autonomous Puntland and self-declared independent Somaliland have already introduced political violence into these pockets of Somali stability. Shabaab’s declared intention is to bring both regions under the control of an Islamist caliphate, a program with almost no popular support in these two regions. With Puntland and Somaliland already embroiled in a bitter and occasionally violent border territorial dispute, the possibility of a three-sided civil war exists.

•   Continued fighting with Ahlu wa’l Jama’a would be a near certainty with al-Shabaab hardliners appearing to have won the internal debate over the wisdom of deliberately antagonizing Somalia’s vast Sufi community through the continued destruction and desecration of Sufi shrines, graves and places of pilgrimage.

•   Though al-Shabaab has cooperated with Shaykh Hassan Dahir Aweys’ Hizb al-Islam militia on the Mogadishu battleground, the Shabaab leadership has serious differences with the ambitious Shaykh Aweys and would likely prefer to exclude him from any Islamist administration. If Shaykh Aweys could keep his fighters from going over to al-Shabaab, further intra-Islamist fighting could be expected.

•   Having very little influence with Somalia’s tribal elders, the movement has little expectation of resolving existing clan disputes or preventing the eruption of new ones, leaving little hope that the movement could impose stability without a massive increase in violence.

•   Without a core of technical experts or experienced administrators, the inability of al-Shabaab to carry out the basic administrative functions of a national government would inevitably lead to the collapse of the regime, leaving Somalia in perhaps an irreparable state.

•   The return of Ethiopia’s military would be a real possibility. The rise of Islamist forces in Somalia is likely to increase ethnic-Somali resistance to Ethiopian rule in the Ogaden region. If Addis Ababa has a choice between fighting the war in Somalia or their own in eastern Ogaden province, it will choose Somalia, especially if further U.S. arms and training are made available. The United States would like to act through a proxy in Somalia rather than open a new front in the War on Terrorism through direct military intervention.

•   The possible effect of an al-Shabaab victory on the piracy situation is difficult to gauge. In the past al-Shabaab has expressed its opposition to piracy, even attacking a party of pirates at one point, though this was just as likely to be inspired by clan rivalries or a dispute over distribution of ransom money. Since most pirate activity emanates from Puntland, an al-Shabaab victory in Mogadishu might have little impact unless the movement acts to invade Puntland and end its semi-autonomous status. This would bring al-Shabaab into direct contact with the armed forces of neighboring Somaliland and an almost inevitable confrontation that would stretch al-Shabaab’s supply lines and capabilities in a region where they have little influence.

•   An al-Shabaab victory would represent a major blow to African Union (AU) peacekeeping efforts. The AU mission to Darfur could be described as having a mixed record at best – in Somalia it has only been through the commitment of Uganda that AMISOM has survived. Though the mission has been bolstered by the addition of Burundian troops, it is still severely undermanned and subject to greater stress than ever since the AMISOM mandate was changed to provide for military action against the insurgents in Mogadishu. In the event of a TFG collapse, AMISOM troops and equipment (including artillery and armor) would have to be quickly evacuated, a capability the AU does not possess. With little peace to keep, the AU peacekeepers face daily combat losses and are subject to suicide bombings even in their own camps, such as the one that killed 17 Ugandan and Burundian soldiers on September 17, including the mission’s second in command, Major General Juvenal Niyoyunguruza of Burundi. The attack was retaliation for the U.S. airstrike that killed al-Qaeda operative Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan (New Vision [Kampala], September 17; Daily Nation [Nairobi], September 18). ).

•   An al-Shabaab victory would present jihadis in other theaters with a temporary morale boost, but a large scale movement of jihadis to Somalia is still unlikely. Somali clannishness and factionalism are anathema to hardcore jihadis, who are in the habit of placing organizational needs and group identity over personal or tribal needs and identities. Lack of infrastructure and modern communications will inhibit rather than enhance international operations based in Somalia. The prevailing xenophobia of many Somalis does not offer the same sort of welcome and refuge al-Qaeda found in the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan and northwest Pakistan. Southern Somalia also offers a possible trap for global jihadis, as seen from the experience of the ICU in December 2006, when Ethiopian troops on land and U.S. ships at sea squeezed the ICU fighters towards a reinforced Kenyan border. Getting out of Somalia could be much harder than getting in if an international effort is mobilized against al-Shabaab.

•   A mass exodus of Somali civilians would surely follow an al-Shabaab victory, leading to a further humanitarian crisis that might require international intervention. Already parts of Mogadishu have been largely depopulated and Somali refugees make desperate attempts to reach Yemen daily on craft that are barely seaworthy. With most land borders closed to refugees, smuggling people out of Somalia has become one of the few growth industries in Puntland, the closest point to Yemen.

•   In the event of an al-Shabaab victory, the movement may ironically rely on Somali factionalism for its survival. Much the same way as the TFG only survives due to the inability of the Islamist opposition to unite effectively, al-Shabaab could survive for an extended time because of the inability of the anti-Islamist opposition to unite.


Despite international support, the TFG of President Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmad appears to have little chance of survival. Almost continuous pressure from the armed Islamist opposition threatens to undermine the current administration, sending it to the same fate as the failed administrations of former President Abdullahi Yusuf and the earlier Transitional National Government (TNG) of Abdiqasam Salad Hassan. With little hope of relief from the apparently incessant warfare in south and central Somalia, there are signs that further attempts will be made to carve out independent, locally-ruled mini-states along the lines of Puntland and Somaliland. Combined with the entrenchment of clan rivalries and interference from neighboring states, regional interests and international powers, prospects for the establishment of a united Somalia at peace with its neighbors are disappointingly slim.

This article first appeared in the November 13, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Taliban Aim to Eliminate U.S. Bases in Nuristan

Andrew McGregor

November 13, 2009

In the wake of an attack that nearly overran a U.S. military outpost in Afghanistan’s Nuristan province, the Taliban have released a statement in the name of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan describing the attack as part of a larger campaign to drive the U.S. military out of their bases in Nuristan. The statement appeared in the October-November issue of the Taliban’s Al-Sumud magazine.

NuristanTraditional Housing – Nuristan

An October 3 attack by some 300 Taliban and Hizb-i-Islami fighters on Combat Outpost (COP) Keating (occupied jointly by U.S. and ANA forces) left eight Americans dead and 24 wounded. The attack on COP Keating was similar, in both scale and ferocity, to the Taliban attack on the U.S. outpost at Wanat in July, 2008 that left nine U.S. soldiers dead and 27 wounded.

The isolated outposts in Nuristan were meant to provide some control of the passes through the rugged terrain of the Hindu Kush along the border with Pakistan. In winter these outposts are extremely difficult to supply. COP Keating, surrounded by high ground on three sides, was unable to conduct patrols outside the perimeter.

Nuristan’s Governor, Jamaluddin Badar, told an Afghan daily that the Taliban commander of Kamdesh and Barg-i-Matal districts, Mullah Abdur Rehman Mustaghni, was killed in an American airstrike on October 9. The report was verified by General Muhammad Afzal, commander of the 201st “Selab” (Flood) Corps of the Afghan National Army (ANA), but was denied by a Taliban spokesman (Pajhwok Afghan News, October 10).

As might be expected, the Taliban have exaggerated their success at COP Keating, describing the camp of 90 Afghan policemen and 50 U.S. troopers of the 61st Cavalry Regiment as “one of the most important and biggest U.S. bases.” While the Taliban forces overran part of the outpost, the arrival of air support allowed U.S. forces to retake the post before destroying it in their withdrawal. The Taliban claim “army soldiers are surrendering to the mujahideen [in Kamdesh district] on a daily basis.” They also warned of “more dangerous outcomes, such as an armed mass rebellion, which happened many times in the units of the Soviet army in Afghanistan.”

The Taliban statement also claimed that the expulsion of U.S. forces from Nuristan would deal a blow to Israel, which it alleges to be profiting from a trade in “plundered” diamonds from Nuristan, a known source of gemstones. “As usual, where there is wealth and opportunities, there must be Jews around.” The Taliban see the U.S. occupation of the region as part of the region’s economic exploitation. “From the beginning, the U.S. Army estimated that the blood of its soldiers is cheaper than diamonds, precious stones, interests of Jewish banks, the oil of Afghanistan and middle Asian countries, and 9,000 tons of opium plundered for free from Afghanistan at the beginning of every summer.”

With Wanat already abandoned, U.S. troops pulled out four days after the attack from COPs Keating and Lowell as well as Observation Post Fritsche in Kamdesh in what was described as a pre-planned withdrawal (Army Times, November 3). Some U.S. forces remain in the Nuristan capital of Parun to protect the governor and the local administration (Asia Times, October 29). Qari Ziaur Rahman, a Taliban commander closely tied to the Arab militants of al-Qaeda, now has effective control of most of Nuristan. The Taliban described the decision to withdraw as “one of the realistic decisions taken by the U.S. Army, which will certainly be followed by similar ones.”

The U.S. withdrawal from its outposts in Nuristan and four others near the South Waziristan border has not been well received in Pakistan, where Pakistani government forces are in the middle of a major military operation designed to eliminate the Taliban terrorist threat in South Waziristan. With the operation having been long encouraged by Washington, Pakistani observers now wonder why an apparent Taliban escape route has been opened along the border with Afghanistan. Pakistani intelligence intercepts are said to reveal that Qari Ziaur Rehman has invited at least one Pakistani Taliban commander to move his operations to Nuristan (The News [Islamabad], October 18). The American withdrawal during Pakistani operations on the other side of the border is a major change from 2008’s Operation Lion Heart, when U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan coordinated with the Pakistani military to put pressure on Taliban groups along both sides of the border.

According to the statement, the Taliban of Nuristan now have their sights set on destroying a U.S. military base in Nuristan’s Nurgram district and three other military bases in the Ghaziabad district of bordering Kunar province. The remaining posts of the “local enemy forces” (i.e. the ANA) “are not considered a big obstacle against the operations of the mujahideen.”

Nuristan, with its remote and inaccessible mountain settlements, provided a refuge for the older religions and languages of Afghanistan. The region was known as Kafiristan (Home of the Unbelievers) until its largely pagan population was converted to Islam after being conquered by Amir Abdur Rahman Khan in 1896. The Nuristanis became famous for their resolute resistance to British and Soviet invaders and have shown their intention to add Americans to the list of unsuccessful occupants of the area. According to the Taliban, “The occupiers themselves have repeatedly said that Afghanistan is the graveyard of the empires and the daily events prove the veracity of their review of historic events.”

This article first appeared in the November 13, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Uzbek Militants Withdraw after Pakistani Army Seizes Kaniguram

Andrew McGregor

November 6, 2009

After heated fighting, Pakistani forces in South Waziristan have captured the towns of Sararogha and Kaniguram, the latter a main center for fighters of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a militant organization that has operated in the region since it was forced from its bases in Afghanistan in late 2001. Pakistani security services claim over 360 militants have been killed since the start of Operation Rah-e-Nijat, to the loss of 37 soldiers (The Nation [Islamabad], November 4).

KaniguramThe slow start to the air and ground offensive involving 30,000 troops provided the militants ample time to prepare escape routes, but continuing suicide bomb attacks in Pakistan’s major urban areas by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have provided a new sense of urgency in eliminating the terrorist threat in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of northwest Pakistan. Chief of the Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has described the elimination of the Uzbek militants as one of the three main goals of Operation Rah-e-Nijat.

Uzbek fighters and TTP militants were reported to be fighting from fortified positions and bunkers at Kaniguram as Pakistani troops struggled to take the town street by street, clearing IEDs as they went. Jet fighters, helicopter gunships and artillery were all used to hammer the militants’ positions (Daily Times [Lahore], November 3; Dawn [Karachi], November 4). The number of Uzbek fighters based at Kaniguram was estimated somewhere between 1,000 to 1,500. The town is primarily populated by members of the Pashtun Barki tribe (Nawa-i-Waqt [Rawalpindi], November 1).

While many accounts of the operation have described the Uzbeks as being “on the run” after the army’s attack on Kaniguram, Brigadier Muhammad Ihsan allowed that the Uzbeks “might have made a strategic withdrawal” (Dawn, November 4). Major General Khalid Rabbani, commander of Pakistan’s 9th Infantry Division, said Uzbek militants “gave us a very good fight” in the army’s earlier effort to take the village of Sherwangi, a known base for foreign fighters. The Uzbeks eventually made a disciplined withdrawal from the village to continue resistance elsewhere (AFP, November 1).

The IMU leader, Tahir Yuldash, is believed to have been killed in a missile strike in August, but it is unclear what changes, if any, have been made to the IMU leadership structure, particularly with IMU spokesmen denying reports of his still unconfirmed death. Locally the options for IMU fugitives are limited, as the Uzbek gunmen have developed serious differences with TTP factions beyond the Mahsud tribe of South Waziristan. There are reports that the Uzbeks may be moving into North Waziristan, but this would bring them into close proximity to TTP factions that have long opposed the Uzbek presence. Crossing the border into east Afghanistan via established Taliban routes may be the best option for the surviving IMU fighters, many of whom are traveling with their families. The military operation in South Waziristan is expected to last another one to two months.

This article first appeared in the November 6, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Al-Shabaab Blamed for Assassination of Military Commander in Disputed Somali Region of Sool

Andrew McGregor

November 6, 2009

Violence in the strategically located Somali city of Las Anod continues to threaten a new round of warfare in a region that has largely evaded the interminable fighting consuming Mogadishu and southern Somalia. Las Anod is the administrative capital of Sool region, one of three Somali regions at the center of a territorial dispute between the self-declared independent state of Somaliland and the autonomous Somali region of Puntland.

Las AnodColonel Osman Yusuf Nur, commander of Somaliland’s 12th infantry division, was killed in a November 1 roadside bombing that appeared to target his vehicle (Shabelle Media Network, November 1). The Colonel was on his way to visit the scene of an earlier explosion in Las Anod when a remote-controlled bomb blew up his vehicle, killing as many as five other members of his entourage. There were reports that troops rushing to the scene opened fire on civilians gathering at the scene of the bombing (Garowe Online, November 2).

The bombing came at a time of high tension in Las Anod as the dispute between Somaliland and Puntland over the regions of Sool, Sanaaq and Cayn (SSC) heats up, with reports of clashes between Somaliland forces and Puntland militants in Sanaag region at the end of October (Waaheen, October 29). Hundreds of Las Anod residents have also taken to the streets to protest the presence of Somaliland troops, who were reported to have fired on the stone-throwing demonstrators in response, wounding two (Shabelle Media Network, November 2; Garowe Online, November 2; Mareeg Online, November 2). The town was placed under curfew and over 20 individuals arrested in connection with the bombing.

The day before the assassination, former al-Shabaab spokesman Mukhtar Robow “Abu Mansur” threatened Somaliland and Puntland with invasions by al-Shabaab due to their failure to implement Shari’a (, October 31). It was the first statement from Mukhtar Robow since he was replaced as the movement’s spokesman in May (see Terrorism Monitor, June 4). Only three days before the attack, Somaliland’s president, Dahir Riyale Kahin, called for war against al-Shabaab, which is led by Somaliland native Shaykh Ahmad Abdi Godane “Abu Zubayr.”

To date, there has only been one claim of responsibility for the bombing, coming from one Burale Yusuf, who claimed the act was carried out by a heretofore unknown anti-Somaliland group, the Jabarti National Movement. Burale escaped an early morning raid on his house in Las Anod by Somaliland police forces, though tribal elders quickly organized a press conference to reveal Burale is known as an insane person in the community and was completely incapable of organizing such an attack (Somaliland Press, November 3).

While suspicion has fallen on al-Shabaab, the radical Islamist group is far from the only suspect in the bombing. Besides the radical Islamists, there is also the Northern Somali Unionist Movement (NSUM), which opposes the secession of Somaliland and its control of the SSC region (, May 14).

There is also the Somali Unity Defense Alliance (SUDA) of Colonel Abdi Aziz “Garamgaram” Muhammad, a pro-Puntland militia which has committed several attacks on Somaliland security forces since its formation earlier this year (Garowe Online, November 9).  Garamgaram is a former commander in the militia of notorious warlords and accused war criminal General Muhammad Said Hersi Morgan, known as “the Butcher of Hargeisa (the capital of Somaliland)” for his brutal campaign in the region in the late 1980s against opponents of dictator Siad Barre. SUDA has been described as the military wing of NSUM (, November 19, 2008).

Another armed pro-Puntland group determined to liberate the disputed territories from Somaliland’s rule was formed in Nairobi in October by Puntland politician Saleban Ahmad Isse and Colonel Ali Hassan Sabarey (, October 11; Somaliland Press, November 2). In January 2008, former Puntland president Adde Musa Hersi declared his government’s intention to resume control of Las Anod (Somalinet, January 15, 2008).

Though the SSC region falls within the boundaries of the former British Somaliland, which Hargeisa used in determining the borders of Somaliland, the majority of its citizens belong to the Darod/Dhulbahante clan, which has close ties to Puntland. Hargeisa’s rule over the regions has proven increasingly unpopular since it sent its troops in 2007 to expel Puntland forces that had been present in the area since 2003. The Dhulbahante made a brief effort in 2008 to form an autonomous state from the three regions to be known as the Northland State of Somalia, though some members of the clan support Hargeisa’s rule.

This article first appeared in the November 6, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor