Thoughts on the attacks in Uganda
Re: the attacks reportedly carried out in Uganda by Harakat al-Shabab
If it is them, it is an interesting development. Not the first time that the group has tried to carry out an attack outside of its area of operations, and/or sanctioned attack plots outside of its operational ambit. First time it’s been successful on this scale though.
I’m interested to see the propaganda output from this. While the attacks could have been targets of opportunity, to my mind it is starting to look like a formal AQ-al-Shabab merger could be on the way or at least greater efforts are underway by al-Shabab to secure this outcome for whatever reason is driving it to do so.
So with the caveat firmly in place that these attacks may well have been targets of opportunity and more to do with local and regional dynamics, I’m going to engage in a little speculation, based on what I’ve been thinking as I read the news.
First, a little explanation on why the formal merger idea comes to mind in the aftermath of these attacks…
If it carried out these attacks al-Shabab just earned its stripes, which as we’ve seen with previous mergers, is a pre-requisite before formal AQ core recognition.
This raises a few questions.
First, were the attacks designed to push forward with its expansion, since the group has already recognised OBL but had been pretty much ignored by AQ for membership status because of internal dynamics in Somalia?
Second, were the attacks the outcome of completed negotiations and designed to depict the group’s new operational ambit under an AQ umbrella? AQ could use the benefits a merger with the group would bring. **If** reports of hundreds of foreign fighters being in its ranks or fighting alongside it are correct, this means it has more foreign jihadist boots on the ground than AQ does in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
All of AQ’s EO’s have been disrupted of late and because of this AQ brand power is starting to wane, which would concern AQ far more than a loss of material capacity. In fact I’d guess that as a result of this AQ has revisited its stance on al-Shabab over the past little while, even though very real concerns exist about al-Shabab’s conflict with other groups within Somalia, some of whose leaders have historical links with AQ.
So…. if my speculation pans out, what can we expect to see??
Well, first a polished al-Shabab propaganda video, referencing the attacks and labeling them with some derivative or signifier of the Battle of Badr, and announcing the new AQ branch name. Alternatively an announcement from AQ HQ, but with Adam’s piss poor efforts at As Sahaab lately that’s not likely and I’d bank more on a slick presentation from al-Shabab.
Anyway, there’s my two cents worth on it all. As I said it could very well be a case of these attacks being opportunity driven and related more to regional dynamics.
However, it is also worth bearing in mind that an expansion of a group’s operational ambit in a manner like this has been a feature of group behaviour just prior to a merger with AQ core, as well as being a trait of those seeking formal sanction.
update: just to clarify, I’m *not* saying the attacks weren’t driven by local/regional dynamics. This is a speculative post based on patterns of group operational behaviour that I have observed take place prior to groups merging with AQ.