Al-Shabaab Opens a New Front in Puntland

Andrew McGregor

May 30, 2015

While the success of Somali government and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) offensives against al-Shabaab insurgent formations in central and southern Somalia is welcome, it has unfortunately resulted in the migration of beleaguered al-Shabaab fighters to the northern Somalia region of Puntland, an area offering superb refuges in rough terrain with only a lightly-armed paramilitary to defend the region, which has only been lightly touched until the last  year by the fighting with al-Shabaab in the rest of Somalia.

Puntland GalgalaPuntland’s Galgala Hills

Puntland emerged as an autonomous region in 1998 in an effort to separate the largely peaceful north from the political chaos consuming central and southern Somalia at the time. Though it acts largely independently of the central government in Mogadishu, Puntland is normally a strong supporter of a federal Somali state with many powers devolved to regional administrations. The region has a population of roughly 4 million, at least half of whom continue to pursue nomadic lifestyles.

Al-Shabaab fighters have been reported pouring into the Galgala Hills, a remote region of Puntland 50 kilometers east of Bossaso (Puntland’s major port and commercial center) that has been the subject of a struggle for control between the Majerteen and Warsangali clans. The region was cleared of Shabaab-sympathetic insurgents with great effort last year but remains attractive to al-Shabaab as it sits outside the mandated range of African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) operations in Somalia, though a UN spokesman has promised the organization is considering an expansion of its operational area (Reuters, May 7).

In the meantime, al-Shabaab maintains a persistent presence in the rocky hill country After a week of heavy fighting in January, Puntland’s security authorities announced the capture of the last al-Shabaab camp in the Galgala region, the death of 20 militants and the capture of two al-Shabaab commanders (Horseed Media, January 7, 2015). Yet a little more than a month later, authorities were announcing a successful battle in the same region that killed 16 al-Shabaab militants (Horseed Media, February 14, 2015; Garowe Online, February 14, 2015). Al-Shabaab gunmen and terrorists are using the hills as a base for attacks on Bossaso and, more recently, the Puntland capital of Garowe:

  • On February 7, al-Shabaab gunmen in four cars attacked a military post in Bossaso, sparking a three-hour gunfight that left a number of terrorists and security personnel dead (Horseed Media, February 8, 2015).
  • On April 5, gunmen attacked a security checkpoint near the Hotell Yasmin in the heart of Bossaso. Two militants and a soldier were killed (Somaliland Sun, April 6).
  • On April 18, three al-Shabaab fighters attacked the Balade police station in Bossaso with RPGs. It was the second such assault on the Balade station in two months (Garowe Online, April 18, 2015).
  • On April 20, a suicide bombing on a UNICEF vehicle killed four foreign UNICEF workers and two Somali security guards while sending a further six (including an American) to a Garowe hospital. It was the first such attack in Garowe, which is otherwise enjoying a wave of development. Following the attack, al-Shabaab spokesman Ali Mohamud Rageh vowed that his movement would continue its strikes against US agencies, accusing the UN of facilitating the “invasion” of Somalia and promising UN staff would “taste our bullets” (Horseed Media, April 23, 2015).
  • On May 5, al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for a grenade-tossing attack on a police post in the port of Bossaso and a larger attack using RPGs and heavy machineguns against another police post at Yalho on the outskirts of Bossaso (Horseed Media, May 5, 2015). The latter post was briefly taken and three policemen killed before security forces retook it in a counterattack (Reuters, May 5, 2015).

Members of Puntland’s parliament have also been targeted in a broader campaign of assassinations similar to those carried out previously by al-Shabaab in southern Somalia. MP Adan Haji Hussein was killed in April while the latest such death was that of MP Saeed Nur Dirir, a close ally of Puntland’s president,  Abdiweli Mohamed Ali ”Gaas” (Garowe Online, May 8, 2015).

Puntland Defense ForceArmed Federalism: Troops of the Puntland Defense Force on Patrol in Mogadishu

The political chaos in Yemen, a short distance from Puntland, is also complicating Puntland’s security situation, with refugees, arms, escaped prisoners and possibly even fighters making the short trip by boat across the Gulf of Aden to Puntland. Some 2,000 refugees have arrived in northern Somalia so far, though UN experts expect as many as 100,000 more in the next few months, a number that simply cannot be accommodated by northern Somalia’s meagre resources. Beside fears that militants might use the exodus to infiltrate Somalia, the fighting in Yemen has collapsed markets for Puntland goods there, including markets for the all-important fish industry (Raxanreeb, April 19, 2015).

Puntland authorities have lately the appearance of using a firm hand in dealing with al-Shabaab terrorists – in mid-March, three men suspected of planning and carrying out terrorist attacks in Puntland were executed by firing squad only days after a quick trial (Horseed Media, March 16, 2015). According to sources in Puntland, the three were among dozens of al-Shabaab suspects who have been handed death penalties, life imprisonment or lesser terms (Garowe Online, March 16, 2015). However, a report by the UN’s Monitoring Group on Eritrea and Somalia issued last October raised serious questions regarding the determination of the Puntland regime to address the al-Shabaab threat. The report notes the impediments thrown up by the administration (particularly the office of the president) to UN efforts to investigate the growth in al-Shabaab activity in Puntland, suggesting that this “is indicative of its unwillingness to robustly address the threat of al-Shabaab.”[1] The report further suggested the government of President Abdiweli Mohamed Ali had adopted a “catch and release” policy respecting al-Shabaab suspects, allowed the infiltration of its security services and had even intervened in the prosecution and detention of al-Shabaab members.[2]

On February 22, deputy commander-in-chief of police Mohiyadin Ahmed Aw-Musse was sacked by the Puntland president after expressing his fury with the quick release of al-Shabaab members collected in a security sweep, some of whom were allegedly freed by presidential decree. Having been the target of al-Shabaab assassins only two weeks before in an attack that killed two of his bodyguards, Aw-Musse’s displeasure with such policies was understandable. Puntland Intelligence Agency (PIA) director Abdi Hassan Hussein was also fired on February 22 (Garowe Online, February 22, 2015).

Most of the counter-terrorism work in Puntland is handled by the American-trained Puntland Intelligence Agency (PIA), formerly the Puntland Intelligence Service (PIS). Puntland also relies on a frontier paramilitary of roughly 7,000 men known as the Puntland Dervish Force, some of whom have received training in Uganda. Regular payment of security forces remains a problem, leading to frequent strikes by police and troops (Garowe Online, January 26, 2015). Despite these problems, Puntland has agreed to commit 3,000 of its troops to the growing Somali National Army (Reuters, May 7, 2015).

Puntland Galgala 2Puntland Security Forces in the Galgala Hills

Some of the arms used by al-Shabaab appear to be imported through the Berbera port in neighboring Somaliland (a self-declared but unrecognized independent state), a traffic that Somaliland officials claim to be trying to stop, though Puntland officials routinely accuse Somaliland (with whom they are engaged in a bitter and long-standing territorial dispute in the Sanoog-Sool-Cayn region) of supporting al-Shabaab (Raxanreeb, January 30, 2015). Though several top al-Shabaab leaders have hailed from Somaliland in recent years, no evidence has been produced that these leaders have or had any connection to Somaliland authorities. According to the chairman of Kulmiye, the ruling party in Somaliland, Puntland accuses Somaliland of supporting terrorism “only to conceal its [own] security failures” (Somaliland Sun, February 21, 2015).


The obsession of Puntland’s authorities with Somaliland hinders the development of accurate intelligence regarding al-Shabaab’s true aims and activities, while accusing Somaliland of backing al-Shabaab prevents the resolution of the territorial dispute between the neighboring administrations. Puntland intelligence assessments tend to be heavily clouded by dislike of the Somaliland leadership.

Bossaso, due to its importance as a port with connections to Yemen and its proximity to militant bases in the Galgala Hills, will continue to experience a high degree of insecurity until superior military forces can undertake clearing operations in the region while securing entry points, a considerable but not unsurmountable task with some foreign logistical, surveillance and intelligence assistance. If al-Shabaab’s shift north is to be halted, close cooperation will be required between the security forces of Mogadishu and Garowe, cooperation that is threatened by yet another territorial dispute in Puntland’s southern Mudug region, where authorities are working to form a new federal state in combination with the neighboring Galgudud region (a stronghold of the Sufi militia Ahlu Sunnah wa’l-Jama’a), a process strongly opposed by the Puntland government and even by many residents of the Mudug region.


[1] United Nations Security Council, Letter dated 10 October 2014 from the Chair of the Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 751 (1992)and 1907 (2009) concerning Somalia and Eritrea addressed to the President of the Security Council. October 13, 2014,

[2] Ibid, pp. 69-74.

French Foreign Legion Operation in the Strategic Passe de Salvador

Andrew McGregor

Tips and Trends: The AIS African Security Report, May 2015

The Passe de Salvador runs past the northwest side of north-eastern Niger’s Plateau du Manguéni, near the frontier between Libya, Algeria and the Agadez region of Niger. On the Niger side, the pass connects to the smugglers’ route running across the Ténéré du Tafassâsset desert parallel to the Algerian border in northern Niger, a route used by veteran Algerian jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar when he withdrew his forces from northern Mali to southern Libya in early 2013. The Passe de Salvador has traditionally been controlled by Adrar Tuareg centered on the south-western Libyan town of Ubari, unlike the Passe de Toummo on the southern side of the Plateau du Manguéni, which is controlled by the Tuareg’s traditional nomad rivals, the Tubu, who operate on both sides of the Libya-Niger border.

Salvador Pass 2Passe de Salvador, top left; Fort Madama, bottom right.

The 2e Régiment étranger de parachutistes (2e REP) was originally raised from Foreign Legion troops in 1948 for use in the French colonies of Indochina. Few members of the regiment survived the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 (in which the “paras” played a prominent role) and the subsequent imprisonment of the survivors by the Viet Minh. Since then, the rebuilt airborne unit has served on numerous operations in the Balkans, Afghanistan and across a host of Middle Eastern and African countries. Now based in Corsica, 2e REP is likely to be the first unit deployed in foreign operations as the lead unit of France’s Rapid Reaction Corps and is kept at a stage of alertness that allows it deploy within 24 hours of receiving orders.

In a world where helicopter-borne air assault operations have largely replaced airborne operations and there is criticism in some Western nations that paratroopers are expensive and little-used, France continues to be an exponent of airborne operations, though it has not carried out such an operation during hostilities for over 35 years (the last being at Kolwezi, Zaïre, in 1978). Since that time, two French airborne divisions have been reduced to a single brigade, the 11e Brigade Parachutiste, consisting of roughly 8500 men organized into eight regiments, only one of which is composed of Legionnaires. Participation in hard fighting in Afghanistan helped sharpen the combat skills of the 11th Brigade and other French military units. [1]

2e REP arrived in northern Mali from a French base in Côte d’Ivoire in dramatic fashion on January 28, 2013 with a parachute drop of a company-size unit into the region just north of Timbuktu to cut off retreating jihadists being pushed north by French armor, marine infantry and Chadian forces during Operation Serval (in the event, no jihadists were encountered by the 2e REP). [2] An unidentified French Special Forces unit (possibly elements of the Commando parachutiste de l’air n°10 (CPA 10 – No. 10 Air Parachute Commando) carried out another drop on northern Mali’s Tessalit Airport on the evening of February 7, 2013 as part of a complex land-air operation involving Chadian troops and helicopter-borne French troops of the 1er régiment de chasseurs parachutistes (1er RCP) and the 21e Régiment d’Infanterie de Marine (21e RIMa – actually a light armored unit despite its name) as well as elements of other units formed into a combined-arms tactical battle group (L’Express, February 21, 2013). [3] Since then, 2e REP has continued operations in northern Mali as part of France’s military strategy for northern Africa, Operation Barkhane.

Operation Kunama II

In mid-April, perhaps as much in an attempt to engage in high-level training in oppressive conditions as from operational concerns, 2e REP made a daring night jump into the unfamiliar terrain of the Salvador Pass linking Libya to Niger, a desolate but strategically important site frequently used by Saharan smugglers, terrorists and insurgents. [4] There are unconfirmed reports that French Special Forces were inserted into the Pass in the early days of Operation Serval and even mounted cross-border operations against jihadists who had fled to the ungoverned regions of south-western Libya.

Rather than drop the paras into the Pass itself, it was decided to land them on the adjacent Manguéni Plateau five kilometers from the Pass. There they were met by their operational partners, 50 men of the much lower-budget Nigerien Army who were forced to drive rather than fly to the rendezvous. Food and water were supplied to the French troops on pallets dropped by C-130 cargo aircraft.

After consolidating control of the Salvador Pass, the French and Nigerien troops left on a long and challenging drive to the old colonial-era Legion fort at Madama on the Djado Plateau, near which French forces set up a forward operating base and airstrip in October 2014.  The fort still has a garrison of Nigerien troops tasked with controlling the smuggling and trafficking routes that run through the area, some of which are used by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the related al-Murabitoun.

Salvador Pass 1French Legionnaires and Nigerien Troops at Fort Madama

The drive to Fort Madama exposed some weaknesses in the six-wheeled Panhard ERC 90 Sagaie armored all-terrain vehicles used by the French in northern Mali, as they began to quickly break down in the harsh conditions and terrain; according to the unit’s colonel, “Our vehicles are designed for Europe. Here, we are left with temperatures rising to 40-45 degrees maybe even 50 degrees. Our tanks are not designed for that and also suffer from the sand. It creeps everywhere and everything deteriorates” (RFI, April 23, 2015).

While no contact was made with jihadist forces or the region’s elusive smugglers during Operation Kunama II, it provided necessary field experience, training opportunities and logistical support practice for French military forces in some of the world’s most hostile terrain. Though jihadist activities were not interrupted by the operation, it nevertheless sent a clear signal to jihadis and smugglers alike that powerful French forces can be deployed in the Niger-Libya border region within hours if the presence of armed groups in the area is detected by French Harfang drones based in the Nigerien capital of Niamey.


  1. Pp. 38-39,
  2. Footage of the drop shot from a Harfang drone can be viewed here: . Footage of an airdrop of heavy equipment the next day at Timbuktu Airport by the 17e Régiment du Génie Parachutiste (17e RGP – 17th Parachute Engineer Regiment) can be viewed at:
  3. These improvised formations with integrated fire support are known in the French Army as Groupement tactique interarmes (GTIA). French troops typically train and operate in such formations.
  4. Video of 2e REP in the Passe de Salvador can be seen at:

Two Months to War? The Return of RENAMO

Andrew McGregor

From Tips and Trends: The AIS African Security Report, May 2015

Over two decades after the end of the Cold War, nearly all the African guerrilla movements of that era have perished, been absorbed or made the transition to political party. Mozambique’s Resistência Nacional Moçambicana (RENAMO) is one of the few such movements to have never tasted power yet still retain an active armed (albeit aged) wing. Mozambique’s vast size, poverty and inefficient security forces allow a few hundred armed men to apply a disproportionate degree of pressure on the governing party, RENAMO’s long-time rival the Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (FRELIMO). FRELIMO has ruled Mozambique without interruption since independence from Portugal in 1975.

mozambiqueIndependence was followed by a 16-year civil war that ended in 1992. Portugal’s African colonies were notorious for their general disregard for projects such as education, development and the creation of a political and judicial infrastructure that had any other purpose than the furtherance of Portuguese interests. The civil war destroyed the nation’s economy and it was generally assumed that what had long been interpreted as a proxy conflict (RENAMO/the West vs. FRELIMO/the Communist bloc) would quickly collapse as in so many other places. While RENAMO did make the transition to opposition political party, the disarmament and integration process was never completed, leaving RENAMO with an armed wing able to apply political pressure on authorities in Maputo, the capital. Many of the RENAMO fighters are now in their forties and fifties and are growing impatient with the inability of movement leaders to take power and reward their loyalty. From April 2013 to July 2014 there were small-scale clashes between RENAMO fighters and government forces in Sofala province as well as blockades of roads and rail-lines before a ceasefire agreement led to a commitment from RENAMO to contest October 2014 elections.

Suddenly, however, Mozambique’s future looks a little brighter, due to evidence that the nation may be sitting on important offshore and inland energy reserves. Exploration in the Rovuma Basin off the coast of northern Mozambique’s Cabo Degado province (a FRELIMO stronghold) has yielded exciting results, with speculation that desperately poor Mozambique could become one of the world’s top three producers of liquefied natural gas (LNG). Italy’s Eni SpA and the American Anadarko Petroleum Corporation are prepared to take the finds into production, though political instability could force a revision in plans.

The current crisis in Mozambique began, oddly enough, with RENAMO leader Afonso Dhlakama’s surprisingly successful showing in last October’s general election. While still losing the national vote to FRELIMO’s candidate, former defense minister Filipe Jacinto Nyusi, RENAMO improved its share of the national vote from 17% in 2009 (the last general election) to 37% overall despite numerous irregularities in the voting process. The expected negative influence of several years of clashes with the ruling party and the national army did not appear to shape the vote significantly, partly because FRELIMO was viewed as having started the confrontations and because RENAMO restricted its armed opposition to attacks on military personnel rather than the civilian population (, November 5, 2014). The unpopularity of FRELIMO’s cronyism and high unemployment rates for graduates has enabled RENAMO to begin drawing support from younger voters, even in FRELIMO strongholds like Maputo.

Mozambique - RENAMOAn Aging Movement: RENAMO guerrillas in the field

Nonetheless, RENAMO rejected the election results as tainted and its MPs refused to attend parliament until a “gentleman’s agreement” was forged between Nyusi and Dhlakama that specified Dhlakama’s demand for autonomous RENAMO administrations in the six north and central provinces that voted in a majority for RENAMO would be considered in parliament (the six provinces claimed by RENAMO include Sofala, Manica, Tete, Zambezia, Nampula and Niassa).When the RENAMO-sponsored bill to create autonomous regions finally came up in parliament on April 30, it was quickly and decisively defeated by the FRELIMO majority (APA, May 1, 2015).

Eduardo Namburete, head of external relations for RENAMO, said the movement felt the ruling party had not honored the spirit of the agreement by treating it seriously and issued a deliberately ambiguous warning in response:

To our surprise, the ruling party in parliament did not even consider discussing this bill. They just voted it out… In our view what was defeated was not RENAMO, what was defeated was the will of the people… We are not proposing war. People are taking our stance very wrongly. But we are saying we are not just going to cross our hands and wait and just watch things happening. Of course the ultimate decision will be the people’s decision. If the people decide that they don’t want a FRELIMO government in those provinces where RENAMO won, then the people will take that decision (VOA, May 6, 2015).

Dhlakama has since given Nyusi and FRELIMO a two-month deadline to reconsider their position or face unspecified consequences.

The FRELIMO leader has suggested opposition to his plan emanates from a “radical” faction within FRELIMO (LUSA, April 27, 2015). The opposition leader is under pressure within his party after RENAMO has failed in every multi-party election since they were introduced in 1994. Patience is running out, and Dhlakama appears to view the autonomous provinces proposal as his party’s best chance at getting their hands on the levers of power. So far, the RENAMO leader is trying to give the impression he does not accept failure as an option: “I, Dhlakama, shall form a government by force, even if I have to use a Plan B to reach power without FRELIMO’s approval” (AIM, April 7, 2015).

FRELIMO still appears to be willing to used its armed wing to apply pressure on the national government – in recent weeks RENAMO gunmen have been observed moving south from their bases in Sofala Province into the pro-FRELIMO southern provinces of Gaza and Inhambane, even attacking an FADM position in strength in the Guija district of Gaza in early April (AIM, April 3, 2015). RENAMO also threatened to create a new general staff headquarters in central Sofala, a RENAMO stronghold and the center of the movement’s 2013-14 insurrection (AIM, April 6, 2015).

The Armed Forces

The Mozambique Armed Defense Forces (Forcas Armadas de Defesa de Moçambique – FADM) was formed in 1994 and was intended to incorporate fighters from both FRELIMO and RENAMO. The armed forces continue to be undermanned with an estimated strength of 13,000 (the post-civil war army was intended to have 24,000). This is due to several factors, including the underfunding of the military, poor pay and career prospects and a failure to attract ex-RENAMO fighters. The military is possibly better known for corruption and indiscipline than for fighting prowess and most of its equipment is unserviceable due to lack of maintenance. So little progress has been made on the integration of RENAMO personnel into the armed forces that an international team of observers tasked with monitoring the process has largely dissolved as there was nothing to observe (AIM, April 6, 2015). Talks between FRELIMO and RENAMO have ground to a standstill after over 100 largely fruitless sessions. One of the major problems facing FADM Chief of General Staff General Graca Thomas Chongo is the question of whether former RENAMO fighters in the FADM are willing to confront their former comrades in the event of an internal conflict.


In the current political-economic climate, RENAMO’s ability to muster external support for a wide-scale rebellion has been severely downgraded. Despite its weaknesses, FRELIMO has succeeded in making the jump from communist-allied Cold War pariah to a reliable partner for Western investors, particularly in the emerging and promising energy sector. In the event of open conflict with RENAMO, FRELIMO might conceivably attract foreign military support (arms, equipment, logistical support, intelligence, etc.) but would far more likely be encouraged to find a negotiated solution with foreign diplomatic support. Mozambique’s ports are essential to the prosperity of its land-locked neighbors, making it likely that Maputo would face intense pressure from the 14 other members of the South African Development Community (SADC) to do whatever is necessary to ensure the security of transport routes cutting through Mozambique.

Neither the government nor RENAMO has the strength and firepower that would necessarily encourage them to engage in a prolonged test of arms. RENAMO’s demands are unconstitutional and the institutionalization of another level of government outside the control of the national ruling party would do much to discourage new foreign investment or the development of Mozambique’s promising energy sector. While RENAMO does not have the strength to rule in the six provinces “by force,” as it has promised, it does have the potential to create economic havoc by cutting roads and other transportation routes. In this scenario, some form of international intervention (diplomatic, economic or military) should be expected before Mozambique’s political paralysis is allowed to disrupt the economic life of the entire southern region.

The Battle for Tripoli: Can it bring Libya’s Civil War to an End?

Andrew McGregor

Tips and Trends: The AIS African Security Report

May 30, 2015

Armed groups supportive of Libya’s internationally recognized House of Representatives (HoR) government in Tobruk are slowly closing in on positions around Tripoli defended by armed groups supportive of the Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC), an Islamist-dominated rival government formed by parliamentarians who did not accept the results of Libya’s June 2014 elections. However, real military progress is still impeded by factionalism and tribalism in the pro-HoR Operation Karama (“Dignity”) military coalition that opposes the Islamist and pro-GNC militias gathered under the Fajr Libya (“Libya Dawn”) umbrella.

Tripoli MapThe military pressure on Tripoli appeared to be working in terms of eliciting a more conciliatory approach from the GNC to a UN-recommended unity government (Anadolu Agency, April 17; April 18, 2015). However, hardliners in the GNC seem to have come out on top after quickly rejecting a UN peace plan that was eight months in the works but heavily favored the HoR in its details. Part of the plan called for the replacement of local militias by Libyan National Army (LNA) units currently under the command of General Khalifa Haftar, who is widely distrusted in Tripoli.

The HoR launched an offensive designed to retake Tripoli in mid-March. By April 3, pro-government forces were struggling to take control of Aziziya, 35 kilometers south-west of Tripoli (AFP, April 3, 2015). LNA forces under the command of Colonel Idris Madi (the commander of LNA operations in western Libya) claimed to have taken Aziziya by April 5, with the LNA’s use of superior French-made guided missiles cited as playing a major role in the victory (Middle East Eye, April 5, 2015).

Tripoli 1Fighting Southwest of Tripoli

Fighting inside Tripoli proper began in mid-April in two anti-Libya Dawn districts, the central Fashloum district and the eastern suburb of Tajura. The HoR claimed that authorities in Tripoli were using power and water cuts to pressure the residents of the two districts (Reuters, April 18, 2015; AFP, April 18, 2015). A pro-HoR rising in Fashloum lasted several days before it was smashed by Libya Dawn forces. Abdullah Sassi, the leader of the rising and commander of Tajura’s 101 Brigade, was captured and apparently killed – photos of a bloodied and seemingly lifeless Sassi with Libya Dawn slogans and insults such as “Dog of Karama” crudely written on his face with markers appeared widely on social media, though Libya Dawn leaders later claimed he was still alive and had simply had a “fit” (Libya Herald, April 19, 2015). A Twitter message allegedly sent by Sassi on April 19 accused General Haftar, Colonel Madi and the Zintanis of having “duped” the Tajurans by failing to provide promised military support.[1]

The central district of Fashloum endured three days of fighting in which Libya Dawn forces emerged victorious after destroying much of the district. According to GNC Interior Minister Muhammad Shayter, the destruction of Fashloum was the responsibility of supporters of the HoR: “In the Fashloum district, murderers and criminals who support [LNA commander General Khalifa] Haftar and Operation Dignity closed roads and started shooting workers and simple people, including revolutionaries” (Middle East Eye, April 23, 2015).

With Tripoli’s International Airport out of action since July 2014, control of Tripoli’s Mitiga International Airport, a former airbase lying between the city center and Tajura, has become of major importance for the continued existence of the GNC and Libya Dawn. It was struck by a mortar on April 3 and was the target of an airstrike by LNA forces on April 15, though, typically, little damage was done by the airstrike. The airport has been used by Libya Dawn to launch its own (generally ineffective) airstrikes on LNA targets, including an April 15 airstrike on a military base in Tajura, east of Tripoli (for Libya’s “air war,” see Tips and Trends for March, 2015).

The Role of the Warshefana

A surprising development in the struggle for the capital was the withdrawal of the Misratan pro-Libya Dawn Halboos Brigade from western Tripoli sometime between April 22 and April 25 after reaching an agreement with Warshefana elders, a move that angered the brigade’s Libya Dawn allies in Janzur, the Mobile Forces and the Janzur Knights militias. Once the Misratan forces had pulled out of the region south-west of Tripoli, Warshefana militias assisted by pro-HoR militias from Zintan began to make solid gains, working themselves closer to the western Tripoli suburb of Janzur. The Warshefana generally occupy the region south of Tripoli and are regularly identified by their rivals as having pro-Qaddafist tendencies. The Misratans may have decided to focus on defeating the Islamic State extremists with which it is clashing in both Misrata and in Sirte, east of Tripoli (Reuters, March 25, 2015).

Warshefana military leader General Omar Tantoush had earlier announced “all of Warshefana and the surrounding villages will be under official Army control and the capital’s city center will be only 13 kilometers [away] with all of the main entry points surrounded.”[2] However, Tantoush has stated that his forces have no intention of entering the capital and seek only to consolidate control over traditional Warshefana territory (which could include Janzur) (Libya Herald, April 29, 2015). On April 29, armed men kidnapped Tantoush’s cousin Mohamed Tantoush in Tripoli as retaliation for Warshefana advances (Libya Herald, April 29, 2015).

For now, the offensive seems to have slowed; further progress into Janzur will likely be met by heavy resistance from Libya Dawn-allied militias still occupying the district (Libya Herald, April 30, 2015). Warshefana militias may decide to postpone an attack on Janzur until it can be mounted as part of a broader offensive on the Tripoli region coordinated with the Libyan National Army (LNA) and its allies. The LNA is also active in the Warshefana region, advancing on Tripoli’s international airport and fighting battles for control of the coastal highway between Zawia and Tripoli (Libya Dawn, April 22, 2015). Control of the road means control of petroleum supplies to the capital, where power cuts are already common due to the Warshefana clashes. Water is also in short supply since the power cuts have affected the pumps on the Man-Made River that supplies water to Tripoli. In the meantime, Warshefana elders appear to have had several successes in negotiating the withdrawal of various Libya Dawn militias from Warshefana communities.

Tripoli 2Bombing Damage inside Tripoli’s al-Quds Mosque (Reuters/Ismail Zitouny)

The Role of Islamist Extremists

Islamist extremists seeking to disrupt ongoing Libyan peace negotiations in Morocco are now targeting foreign embassies in Tripoli, though most missions are empty due to the instability in Tripoli:

  • The Islamic State organization used social media to claim responsibility for an attack by gunmen on the South Korean embassy that killed two Libyan security guards (Reuters, April 12, 2015).
  • The Islamic State organization used Twitter to claim responsibility for an April 13 bombing of the Moroccan embassy (AP, April 13, 2015).
  • Social media accounts again claimed responsibility for the bombing of the Spanish embassy on April 20 (Reuters, April 20, 2015; IBT, April 21, 2015).

Earlier this year, Islamic State militants carried out bomb attacks on the Iranian and Algerian embassies. Islamists are also believed to be responsible for the bombing of Tripoli’s al-Quds Mosque, a leading place of worship for Tripoli’s many Sufi Muslims, whose religious sites are frequently targeted by Salafist extremists (Andolu Ajansi, April 23, 2015).


The threat of urban warfare and its attendant civilian suffering and damage to buildings and infrastructure is becoming particularly acute in Tripoli, one of the world’s oldest cities, founded by Phoenician traders in the 7th century BC to take advantage of its natural harbor. With clashes already breaking out in the city center, public life and the local economy are both suffering from bombings, blockades and roaming gangs of masked gunmen seeking out opponents of Libya Dawn.

For Libya Dawn, the successful defense of Tripoli is an imperative. While keeping control of the city will not ensure Libya Dawn’s eventual victory on the national stage, its loss is a virtual guarantee of the collapse of the GNC and the dispersion or surrender of Libya Dawn militias, some of which might decide coming to a negotiated arrangement with the LNA/HoR that will allow them to retain their arms and some continued measure of self-importance would be the best way to survive. While sparing Tripoli, such an arrangement will only postpone an eventual reckoning between the emerging LNA and the unruly but well-armed militias. Integration of most Libya Dawn fighters in a unified LNA seems unlikely due to the polarizing presence of LNA commander-in-chief Khalifa Haftar, who is commonly described by Libya Dawn commanders as “a terrorist.”



[2] (April 15, 2015).

Why is the Ugandan Military Still in South Sudan?

Andrew McGregor

May 30, 2015

A full year after the planned departure date of the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) from its military intervention in South Sudan, the Ugandan military presence in South Sudan is growing in size and cost.

Uganda in SSudanThough the Uganda government recently announced $5.4 million in funding for its military operations in South Sudan, the true costs of the mission are obscured by conflicting claims from Kampala and the South Sudanese capital of Juba. While Juba has insisted it is paying the cost of the deployment (which has prevented the overthrow of the Dinka-dominated South Sudan government of President Salva Kiir Mayardit by Nuer-dominated rebel groups), Ugandan MPs claim figures related to the South Sudan deployment have not been made available to the parliamentary defense committee responsible for approving them and demand to know who is funding the Ugandan military operations. In response, Ugandan Defense Minister Crispus Kiyonga said providing such details would endanger the lives of Ugandan troops in South Sudan, though he did not specify exactly how that would occur (Uganda Radio Network, April 24, 2015; Observer [Kampala], April 27, 2015).

In early April, Ugandan government of President Yoweri Museveni came under criticism from John Ken-Lukyamuzi, the leader of the opposition Conservative Party, who claimed the Ugandan military mission in South Sudan “grossly violates international law.” The opposition leader cited a number of other problems with the mission:

  • The actual deployment came before it was approved by a January 14, 2014 parliamentary vote;
  • The mission’s extent has vastly exceeded the Ugandan government’s original declared intention to evacuate Ugandan citizens and protect the airport and presidential palace in Juba;
  • No documentation of a formal invitation for Ugandan troops from the South Sudanese government has been provided despite a request from parliament;
  • It is unclear who is paying for the UPDF’s presence in South Sudan (Observer [Kampala], April 9, 2015).

The Ugandan deployment was soon opposed by the other seven members of the regional trade bloc, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) who have continued without success to urge President Museveni to withdraw his forces and allow a political settlement to take shape.[1]  Both the rebels and the United States have also called for a full withdrawal of foreign troops from South Sudan. Instead, South Sudanese media noted a major increase in the numbers of UPDF troops deployed in the region in February, 2015, claiming the size of the force had grown from 3,000 to 7,000 (Sudan Tribune, February 11, 2015; Uganda Radio Network, February 11, 2015).

Uganda in SSudan 2Uganda Chief of Defense Forces Katumba Wamala and Brigadier Kayanja Muhanga in Bor, 2014. Kayanja commands Ugandan forces in South Sudan. He is the former deputy commander of Ugandan forces in Somalia and is currently commander of the UPDF’s 4th Division.

The UPDF, which has received extensive American training through its participation in the African Union Mission in Somalia and the anti-Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) Operation Lightning Thunder, consists of five divisions with one armored brigade and one brigade of artillery. President Museveni restructured Uganda’s Special Forces (including the Presidential Guard Brigade) into a new unit, the Special Forces Command (SFC), under the leadership of his son Brigadier Muhoozi Kainerugaba in 2012.[2] The move solidified Muhoozi’s meteoric rise through the ranks of the UPDF and gave him full control of well-trained and armed troops responsible for the security of all oil installations and important government facilities. According to Fungaroo Kaps Hassan, the opposition’s shadow minister of defense, “Muhoozi is the de-facto army commander… Museveni has personalised the army… He calls it his army and has put Muhoozi in-charge, which is why you see Muhoozi posturing, going to Somalia doing things that should be done by his seniors” (Independent [Kampala], February 1, 2015).

Juba’s reliance on the UPDF comes despite massive defense spending by the young state; a report released last week by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) revealed a steady rise in South Sudan’s military spending from $982m in 2013 to $1.08bn in 2014, making it the biggest spender in the region. As a non-diversified petro-state, South Sudan is almost entirely dependent upon oil revenues in a stagnant market while still devoting an astonishing 60% of its net income on the military (Sudan Tribune, April 26, 2015; East African [Nairobi], April 25, 2015). Insecurity in South Sudan has immediate economic effects on Uganda – South Sudan is Uganda’s most important export market.

Uganda in SSudan 3

South Sudan


The danger of Uganda’s deployment and the risk it may ignite a wider conflict was displayed in March, when Sudan’s state news agency reported the massing of 16,000 Ugandan troops along the border with (north) Sudan (SUNA, March 2, 2015). With Khartoum ready to act after receiving this alarming report, UPDF spokesmen were forced to issue quick denials to prevent an outbreak of hostilities between Sudan and Uganda, which have been fighting a proxy war for regional dominance for years at the expense of the region’s civilian population.

Juba is on the verge of economic collapse and cannot sustain its all-consuming defense budget, particularly as it comes at the expense of nearly all other forms of development and government services. No amount of defense spending will heal the political rift between Dinkas and Nuer (not to even mention the numerous other tribal rivalries that have spilled over into open conflict as a result of the current rebellion). Declining oil prices and interruptions in oil delivery through northern pipelines are placing financial strains on the Salva Kiir government.

Uganda will eventually present Juba with its bill for preserving the existing government; in earlier Ugandan interventions in the Democrat Republic of the Congo (DRC), these frequently took the form of concessions in resource-rich areas for leading Ugandan officers and friends of the Museveni regime. With discussions ongoing regarding a joint Ugandan-South Sudanese pipeline through Kenya to the Indian Ocean that would allow South Sudan to avoid Khartoum’s prohibitive transfer fees, Kampala may be looking to claim a share of South Sudan’s oil production, further assisting Uganda’s efforts to become a regional economic and military player in east Africa. This would also have the benefit of providing an additional pool of patronage funds to ease the political transformation from President Museveni to his son.

With a strong degree of opposition to such a move even within the UPDF (where Muhoozi is unpopular), Museveni’s efforts to turn Uganda’s single most important institution, its military, into a personal army loyal to the president alone may ultimately backfire, particularly at a time when similar efforts to extend presidential terms beyond constitutional limits or to create family dynasties in supposedly democratic systems are meeting heated opposition in many other African nations. Officers of the UPDF are forbidden from engaging in politics while serving; Museveni routinely denies UPDF officers who wish to enter opposition politics permission to resign their commissions, effectively bottling up opposition while simultaneously and inadvertently ensuring it has access to arms. Several senior officers who have managed to retire now figure in the leadership of several opposition parties despite starting out as Museveni loyalists during their military careers. President Museveni continues to surround himself with long-time loyalists in the upper ranks of the UPDF, but loyalty to Museveni does not necessarily extend to Muhoozi, who is viewed within the military as an arrogant upstart whose promotions have come at the expense of more senior and capable officers. The establishment of Uganda’s Special Forces Command as an army within an army under Muhoozi’s personal control is no doubt a response to this situation intended to guarantee a family dynasty in the president’s office, whether by acclaim or by force.

[1] Besides Uganda and South Sudan, IGAD includes Djibouti, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea and Kenya.

[2] Not to be confused with Ugandan land forces commander Major General David Muhoozi.