Beijing’s maritime presence means not only its Navy, which experienced an astonishing development in the last two decades. China has built a large coast guard, a merchant fleet and it has one of the biggest shipbuilding industry as well. Its finishing fleet and the building of ships capable of moving under arctic conditions also should not be forgotten. Consider the state-owned China National Nuclear Corporation’s (CNNC) tender published in June 2018 to build nuclear-powered icebreakers.
To meet the ever-increasing demand of the Chinese economy, the country created the Road and Belt initiative, to try securing its land-based supplies. These infrastructural projects may conflict with the interests of Russia or Central Asian countries, therefore China cannot rely solely on land-based trade routes, it has to have maritime routes as well, which needs to be protected.
The Navy has multiple roles, such as to assert and enforce China’s territorial claims in the East and South China Seas, to gain maritime control over the South China Sea, to deny any military activity within its 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and the Nine-Dash Line or the chain of islands also called the Chinese pearls, despite lacking any internationally recognised right to do so, and to protect Chinese commercial sea lines and communication. Especially in case of the Malacca Strait and the Persian Gulf. The Navy also helps to demonstrate China’s status as a leading regional power and an equal global power to the US.
In a little more than two decades, from a largely coastal force, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) became a modern force of multiple classes of ships, not based on obsolete Soviet technology. The Navy has destroyers, corvettes, frigates and all of these classes are in serial production. According to the US Office of Naval Intelligence, Beijing was focusing on the quality improvement of its Navy, not the quantity. With the established shipbuilding industry, the focus is now on to build those ships required to achieve aims of the PLAN.
These objectives are impressive, the Chinese Navy has some strategic weaknesses. It has only two aircraft carriers at the moment, with the third is under construction, therefore the Navy does not have comprehensive fleet air-defence system, It can operate effectively within the range of land-based air support. The other weakness is, that it is focusing on anti-surface warfare and its anti-submarine forces are poor. Its commercial fleet is vulnerable to submarine attacks. One should not forget about the human factor of the Navy. No one really knows the true capabilities of the Navy commanders or the quality of the training of the crew.
Although Chinese leaders expressed it several times that their military development is peaceful, it leads to an arms race in the region. Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and India are just a few of those countries concerned about the continuously growing Chinese naval presence.
Chinese geopolitical intentions and objectives are not always clear. It may want to rival the US in the region and be the dominant sea power; it may use its economic power to change the global political and economic order to its favour or it may try to create a regional trade block stretching from Japan to the Persian Gulf. Whichever is the true aim of China, it sees its maritime power as an essential tool to achieve regional or global power.
Corruption is still a serious problem within Romania and clashes between the ruling Romanian party and the government agency tasked with fighting corruption have only escalated in the last few months following the firing the of The National Anticorruption Directorate’s chief anticorruption prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi on 9 July 2018. Prosecutors, under Kovesi, secured a series of convictions in recent years against lawmakers, ministers and mayors, exposing conflicts of interest, abuse of power, fraud and awarding of state contracts in exchange for bribes.Justice Minister Tudorel Toader first called for Kovesi’s dismissal in February, saying she had exceeded her authority and damaged Romania’s image abroad. While a series of sustained protests followed her firing a significant protest occurred in the beginning of August that has only escalated tension within the country and wider region.
It was first reported that on 9 August that Romanians who lived and worked abroad begun arriving back in Bucharest to participate in an anti-government protest where they are demanding that the left-wing government resign, call an early election, and to protest the government’s move to implement new laws that critics say will weaken the nation’s fight against corruption. An estimated 3 million Romanians living abroad say they left because of corruption, low wages and lack of opportunities within the country. On 10 August there were small anti-government protests in several cities, and a handful of protesters had arrived in the large square outside the government offices in Bucharest where the demonstration will be staged. Amid fears of violence at the protest, riot police called for a peaceful demonstration. It was estimated that tens of thousands of protesters rallied against the ruling Social Democrat and in the capital Bucharest riot police fired tear gas into the crowd and hundreds of protesters needed medical attention. As the protests continued throughout the night, riot police used a water cannon and increasingly sprayed tear gas into the crowd. Video footage posted on social media show police beating non- violent protesters holding their hands up. Centrist Romanian President Klaus Iohannis condemned the police’s disproportionate use of force.On 11 August it was reported that more than 450 people had been injured in the protests. Eyewitness reports suggest that what had been a peaceful protest against government corruption degenerated when a hard core of trouble-makers attacked the police. Riot police responded with baton charges. The authorities’ actions appeared to lack discrimination, with apparently peaceful demonstrators being sprayed with water cannon and teargas.
By 14 August more than a hundred Romanians and rights groups had filed criminal complaints against riot police over their violent response to the anti-corruption protest in the capital Bucharest. Video recordings emerged show police beating journalists and non-violent protesters who were holding their hands up. Prosecutors said they were investigating the riot police, Interior Minister Carmen Dan and Speranta Cliseru, the Bucharest prefect who authorized the use of force, on suspicion of abusive behaviour, abuse of office and negligence. On 15 August the general prosecutor of Romania, Augustin Lazar, has said that all investigations into the violent clashes from the protest of the Diaspora will be impartial. Already, there were some 192 protesters that filed complaints against the Romanian Gendarmerie.
On 17 August, Prime Minister Viorica Dancila defended the use of force by police to break up anti-government protests in Bucharest. The Romanian media reported that Dancila sent a letter to EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker claiming that centre-right President Klaus Iohannis and other politicians had attempted to “violently remove a legitimate government.” She asserted that the authorities acted legally in their efforts to defend government offices from protesters who tried to break through police lines. Romania’s interior minister Carmen Dan, on 19 August, reported that the ministry had identified up to 1,000 people who committed acts of violence during the protest. Citing a 90-page ministry report, Dan said police were being investigated on suspicion of committing five cases of abuse against non- violent protesters. She claimed media had broadcast misleading images intended to harm the left-wing government. Liviu Dragnea, the chairman of Romania’s ruling party, on 21 August, called the recent anti- corruption protest that left 450 people injured an attempted coup d’etat. “I saw an attempted coup to overthrow the government,” Dragnea said to media. The Social Democratic Party leader also accused multinational companies of financing anti-graft protests that erupted in 2017 over fears the Social Democrats were backtracking on anti-graft efforts. Romanian prime minister Viorica Dancila, on 24 August, said that she has witnessed an assault on some state institutions after the protest. She accused those who failed to come to power after the elections of trying to take over power by “undemocratic means,” She also told her cabinet members that they don’t have the right to concede to this pressure and to further divide the society.
On 20 August Romanian authorities reported that they are probing the death of a man who sustained injuries during the anti-government protest. Police said the 62-year-old man died in a hospital in southern Romania where he was being treated for internal bleeding. Hospital director Valentina Roibu called for the probe to avoid suspicions surrounding the cause of death. The man was hospitalized after suffering bleeding and vomiting. The Department for Emergency Situations later said the man had pre-existing conditions, including high blood pressure. A statement said he sought medical help for a nosebleed during the riot, but had refused to be hospitalized.
On 6 September Romania’s justice minister nominated a little-known regional official, Adina Florea, to take over the post of national anti-corruption prosecutor. In a document outlining her views around how the anti-corruption office operates, Florea, a prosecutor in the port town of Constanta, wrote the institution has operated at times in a “dysfunctional” way and accused some prosecutors of illegal activities in pursuing cases. To become official, Florea’s appointment will have to be approved by Iohannis, a centrist politician often at odds with the ruling leftists over corruption policy.
It has been announced that on 10 September The Declic and Rezist Zurich civic groups had bought advertising space at the Geneva Airport in Switzerland to run video recordings of the violent protests in Bucharest. The video also contained a message for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, asking her to take a position against abuses in Romania. Bachelet has an office in Geneva.
Romania, which joined the European Union in 2007, has long struggled with deep-rooted corruption, however under Kovesi,the country had taken steps to rein in high-level graft, winning popular support and praise from Brussels. Under Kovesi the agency had successfully prosecuted thousands of government officials, lawmakers and business leaders. On 17 August The co-leaders of the European parliament’s Green group called on the European commission to launch its rule-of-law mechanism, which is being deployed against Poland and debated for Hungary. The Greens, who sit with separatist parties to boost their numbers, are only the fifth-largest group in the European parliament, limiting their influence. However the party’s call for a European parliament debate on Romania is likely to win support from some liberal and centre-right MEPs. Romania is likely to face growing scrutiny as it prepares to take up the EU’s rotating presidency for the first time.
It all begun last month when tensions between the US and Turkey due to a disagreement over the fate of North Carolina Pastor Andrew Brunson. Turkey imprisoned Brunson in October 2016, claiming he had ties to a group that Erdogan blames for the failed coup earlier that year. When Turkey failed to release Brunson in July, the Trump administration sanctioned two top officials in the Turkish government. The dispute between the two NATO allies continued with both sides threatening each other with imposing sanctions on one another. Turkey vowed it would not succumb to threats. This indeed led to further escalations earlier last week as the US doubled its tariffs on metal imports from Turkey. This worsened the economic crisis for Turkey’s currency, the lira, which has lost about a third of its value against the dollar since January. Nonetheless, the court refused to release Mr Brunson, and the government in Ankara increased tariffs on imports from the US of cars, alcoholic drinks and leaf tobacco. While this managed to recover the value of the lira slightly, a fresh tweet from President Trump fuelled the dispute as he accused Turkey of had “taking advantage of the United States for many years” and that he was “cutting back on Turkey”. Last Thursday, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said: “We have more that we are planning to do if they don’t release him [Mr Brunson] quickly.”
Mr Brunson has denied charges of espionage, but faces up to 35 years in jail if found guilty. The US insists the pastor, a long-time Turkish resident, is “a victim of unfair and unjust detention”. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Washington of showing an “evangelist, Zionist mentality”. The standoff appears to be one of the most serious crises between Turkey and the United States in modern history, along with the rows over the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus and the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. While the diplomatic crisis deepens, the lira is still going into meltdown and continues to fall again this week. This turmoil has prompted widespread selling in other emerging markets, sparking fears of a global crisis. Nevertheless, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed his country will not be brought to heel amid an ongoing diplomatic crisis with the United States. Without naming the US directly, the Turkish leader on Monday said that there was no difference between attacks on the country’s economy and attacks on “our call to prayer and our flag”. In his speech, Erdogan denounced Washington for declaring “economic war on the entire world” and holding countries “for ransom through sanction threats”. However, he urged Turks to shore up the currency by not trading in dollars and euros. The central bank also said it would provide all the liquidity Turkish banks needed, as it seeks to keep money flowing in the financial system.
Yesterday morning, the US Washington rejected an attempt by President Erdogan to solve the worsening crisis in Turkey’s relations with the United States by linking the fate of an American pastor to a Turkish bank accused of sanctions-busting. More specifically, Ankara offered to release Andrew Brunson, an evangelical preacher who was detained by the Turkish authorities and accused of links to the 2016 coup attempt, in return for relief for Halkbank, a majority state-owned bank, according to reports from Washington. The bank is facing billions of dollars in US fines over accusations that it masterminded the purchase of gold to pay for oil imports from Iran into Turkey. However, the US officials have rejected a deal, saying that Mr Brunson must be released before other issues can be discussed.
As the diplomatic deterioration continues, and the economic crisis deepens, speculation is rife that Germany could be ready to offer Turkey financial aid when President Recep Erdogan visits the country next month, but analysts say it’s unlikely that Ankara would ask for help. Moscow is also expected to stand by Turkey if the crisis continues. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, visited Ankara on Tuesday, branding the US sanctions an illegitimate policy. Reports amid all speculations, state as the financial situation due to the sanctions has left citizens with little or no option than to advance towards the cryptocurrency to survive.
Whilst the entire world watches the two NATO allies continuously failing to end this dispute, an announcement by Russia could spark greater renewed tensions and even sanctions as analysts fear. Yesterday, Russia’s state arms exporter, Rosoboronexport, says it will begin delivering its advanced S-400 antiaircraft missile systems to Turkey in 2019. Washington has voiced concern over NATO-member Turkey’s purchase of Russian-made S-400 missiles, arguing that its deployment could risk the security of several U.S-made weapons that Ankara uses. U.S. lawmakers have been working to block the delivery in response to the American pastor’s arrest and Turkey’s pledge to buy Russian S-400 missile systems.
Videos featuring the Islamic State’s ‘West Africa Province’ (ISWAP) are released infrequently making each one a notable occurrence. What was particularly noteworthy about the video released on 11 July 2018, titled “Tribulations and Blessings”, was the fact it represented the first official confirmation by the group of armed conflict with the break-away faction Jamaa’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’wah wa’l-Jihad (JASDJ) led by former leader Abubakar Shekau. Of additional interest was the fact that the video also featured the first evidence of the group using an up-armoured suicide car bomb (SVBIED). Nevertheless, despite being interesting revelations the release of this video was quickly overshadowed by news of a series of deadly attacks by jihadist insurgents targeting military convoys and bases in Nigeria’s Borno and Yobe states.
Perhaps the video was overlooked because neither revelation adds materially to what is known about the group. The rivalry between ISWAP and JASDJ has been well documented since their split in August 2016 after the Islamic State moved to remove Abubakar Shekau as leader for his use of violence, including suicide-bombings and kidnapping, against Muslim civilians. After Shekau refused to accept this decision reports soon began to emerge of clashes between the factions. While hundreds of fighters are believed to have been killed during this in-fighting the situation did not erupt into open warfare as both forces concentrated on consolidating their forces in differgent regions of Nigeria. For ISWAP this was around Lake Chad and the region along the Nigeria-Niger border while for JASDJ this was the centred on the Sambisa forest from which then extended its influence across the central and southern regions of Borno State as well as across the border into Cameroon. Likewise, the up-armoured SVBIED demonstrates either the transfer of technical expertise from Syria and Iraq – which would not be a surprise – or else it indicates an ability to adopt and adapt tactics that are well documented in Islamic State propaganda.
But to allow this video to be shelved alongside all the other propaganda churned out by the Islamic State’s media department is to miss its actual message and purpose. That is, to lay out a justification for the beginning of open warfare, a type of jus ad bellum, against Abubakar Shekau and his faction should there be no reconciliation between them. This is evident in the general order and content of each major ‘theme’ addressed in the video namely: governance, military operations, remaining and expanding; and martyrdom.
The first major theme of the video is governance. This is depicted through scenes of crops, market activity, the catching and smoking of fish as well as the testimonies of a farmer and herdsman regarding life under the rule of ISWAP . Each of these represent the primary economic activities engaged in by communities in areas under the influence or control of the group. This demonstrates ISWAP efforts to develop an effective system of administration in areas under its influence and control. It also underscores the ongoing attempts to differentiate itself from its JASDJ rival, which maintains a reputation for extreme violence in its search for food and other supplies.
The second major theme concerns military operations and can be seen in footage of attacks targeting forces belonging to the Nigerian military and the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF). The use of an up-armoured jeep as an SVBIED is indicative of the group learning from and adopting tactics employed in Syria and Iraq. However, it is the use of suicide-bombers against military targets that serves as a contrast to JASDJ, which uses them to target civilians; often Muslims themselves. This serves to emphasize the point that ISWAP is targeting the ‘correct’ enemy and in doing so has enjoyed success on the battlefield.
The third theme regards ‘remaining and expanding’ (baqiya wa-tatamaddad). This is seen in the decision to emphasize attacks on the Nigerian military encampment in Buni Yadi (Yobe State) and Faruk – located south of Goniri and east of Buni Yadi in Yobe State. This demonstrates the continued expansion by ISWAP into the region south of the cities of Damaturu and Maiduguri. As recently as April, the presence of ISWAP in this area was believed to be weak or else absent. In contrast, the strength of JASDJ in adjoining region which lies south of Maiduguri and runs eastwards from Chibok towards Buni Yadi was assessed as moderate to strong. This will lead to a further reduction in the geographical separation between the operational areas of both factions and is likely to result in an increase in violence between them.
But it is in the fourth and final theme, martyrdom, that the Islamic State offers the clearest indication that it has run out of patience with Abubakar Shekau, and may be prepared to declare open war on him and his faction. This can be found in the eulogy for the ISWAP commander Abu Fatima al-Lagosi, who was reportedly killed in a battle with JASDJ . As part of a description of the exploits of this jihadi the narrator, speaking in Hausa, states: ‘He made the khawaarij of Shekau and the apostates of Africa drink from a bitter cup’. This comparison between JASDJ and the historic Kharijite movement may have some legitimacy due to the extreme position both have adopted on the matter of ‘excommunication’ (takfir) as it applies to fellow Muslims. However, by making this association the Islamic State is not only attempting to undermine the religious legitimacy of Abubakar Shekau and his supporters, but also establish a legitimate basis for attacking them should they not ‘repent’ and seek a reconciliation (tawba).
Observers of the jihadist insurgency in Nigeria may disagree on the meaning behind this video, and it is possible some will view it as a typical example of the propaganda churned out by the Islamic State’s media team. However, this video was released only weeks after the publication online of the book “Taking Out the Tumor of Shekau’s Khawarij Through Pledging Alliance to the People of Benevolence”. This book (which has fortunately received been translated for those interested) was allegedly written by the sons of Muhammed Yusuf, the founder of the Boko Haram movement, and presents a version of the two factions shared history and seeks to undermine reputation of Shekau leader as well as the religious legitimacy of his ideology, strategy and tactics.
Taken together it would appear that the Islamic State has finally grown tired of the game Abubakar Shekau has attempted to play by not revoking his oath of allegiance but still defying the orders of its central leadership. This raises a number of important questions: In an open conflict would ISWAP or JASDJ be more likely to prevail? What impact could an increase in inter-jihadi violence have on other conflicts eg herdsmen v farmers? Could an expanded conflict force one or both factions to try and expand into new regions? Are the Nigerian and other regional military forces capable of successfully exploiting any opportunities presented by inter-jihadi conflict? Could an expanded conflict actually encourage or force a reconciliation between the factions? … These are questions that will not only present a challenge for both local and foreign policy-makers as well as military planners but also intergovernmental organizations, government aid agencies, multi-national companies and non-government organizations that are active in Nigeria, neighbouring countries and the wider region. It will remain important for each of these actors to continue to monitor the state of the ‘Boko Haram’ insurgency, as the campaigns of both factions continue to be populalry refered to as, in order to ensure their activities, operations and interests are not threatened or negatively impacted.
Concern continues to be raised about the potential ability of jihadist actors to exploit the on-going stand-off between Somaliland and Puntland over the town of Tukaraq. The town which is at the centre of this crisis is located in the Sool region was (re)captured by forces belonging to the self-declared region of Somaliland in January 2018. Highlighting the importance with which regional and international actors view the situation – not only in regards to this threat but the wider impact that a worsening conflict may have on these two regions and their inhabitants – was the recent 28-30 July visit to Garowe and Hargeisa by the United Nations Special Representative for Somalia, Mr. Michael Keating, and the the Intergovernmental Authority on Development’s Special Envoy for Somalia Dr. Mohamed Ali Guyo. The town itself has has been a frequent flashpoint in a two-decades long dispute between Puntland and Somaliland over the regions of Sool, Sanaag and Cayn. Puntland has also sought to assert its own right to govern them based on the clan affiliation of local inhabitants; this being primarily Dhulbahante and Warsangali who are part of the Darod/Harti clan family to which the dominant clan in Puntland, the Majerten, also belongs This latest episode in the long-standing conflict between Puntland and Somaliland over these regions has brought them both to the brink of open war and caused thousands of civilians to be displaced.
Rise of terror groups in the region
It is in the context of this already complex and volatile environment that concerns have been raised by observers such as the International Crisis Group that the local affiliate of the Islamic State in Puntland- known variously as Abnaa al-Khalifa (sons of the caliphate), Islamic State in Somalia and Wilayat as-Somaal (meaning the Somali Province of the Islamic State) – could exploit the crisis to strengthen and expand its own presence in northern Somalia.
Such concern is not without cause
The Bari region of Puntland, which lies on the north-eastern corner of Somalia on the tip of the Horn of Africa, has remained a poorly governed space. Local authorities and their security forces have been able to maintain only a weak presence in this region allowing a mixture of jihadist insurgent groups, including both al-Shabaab and the Islamic State, along with clan militias and criminal networks with considerable freedom to operate. Puntland has had limited success in containing this threat and there are genuine reasons to be concerned that a worsening of the crisis, especially if it became open war, could lead to further strain on its already overstretched military resources. This could not only lead to a lessening of military pressure but also result in a worsening of existing inter and intra-clan rivalries and conflicts all of which may create openings that the Islamic State could be expect to exploit. However, even in the ever of such developments the local operational context in Puntland may not on fact be as permissive as may be first feared.
Can Islamic State thrive in Northern Somalia?
This is not to say that the group is not well positioned to try and take advantage of a worsening of the current crisis. Although still relatively small the group under the leadership of its leader Abdul Qadir Mu’min has already displayed a remarkable level of resilience. It has grown in size from several dozen men when it first defected from al-Shabaab in 2015 in response to the announcement by the Islamic State that it had re-established the Caliphate and now has an estimated 200-300 fighters. Since first emerging as a separate jihadist faction the Islamic State in Puntland has also managed to successfully maintained good relations with local clans in the Bari region despite military and diplomatic pressure from both al-Shabaab and the Puntland administration. Nevertheless, there are three key factors that could limit – perhaps even threaten – the ability of the Islamic State to exploit an eroding security situation and expand beyond its existing area of operations in the Golis and Bari mountains.
Shifting clan loyalties could mitigate support for IS
The first of these factors is the continued reliance of the Islamic State group on the hospitality (perhaps better described as tolerance) given to it by the Majerteen/Ali Saleeban and other minority clans. This hospitality has been offered to the group because of kinship ties and the belief that its activities serve local interests. Other groups, such as al-Shabaab, Abdisamad Mohamed Gallan (former governor of Bari in an ongoing state of semi-rebellion), and the Qandala-Hafun network of pirates and smugglers also rely on these local clans for support. Support is given to these groups, including the Islamic State, because local clans are engaged in their own long-standing dispute with the Puntland administration over issues of political and economic marginalization. The Islamic State affiliate in Puntland is seen as one of several useful proxies and a potential future bargaining chip by local clans in their conflict with Garowe. In the context of Somali clan politics, it would not be unheard of to see the loyalty shown Puntland’s IS leader Abdul Qadir Mu’min (a member of the Ali Saleeban clan) superseded by other loyalties and interests.
For this reason any success by the Islamic State in strengthening and expanding its presence in the Bari region could be seen by local clans as upsetting the current balance of power between jihadists, clan militias, and criminal networks operating in the region. This could provoke resistance from these same clan actors if it is felt that their own interests and influence are threatened by this development. Such a desire to maintain a balance between the various forces operating in their territory may have been the reason behind the seemingly reckless and ultimately disastrous attempt by al-Shabaab in May 2016 to send hundreds of fighters from south-central Somalia by boat to the region. If local clans welcomed, or at least were willing to tolerate, the establishment of the Islamic State as another anti-government actor then the leadership of al-Shabaab may have felt that its hand was forced to act. This would explain why al-Shabaab attempted reinforce its local branch in Puntland with hundreds of fighters despite already possessing an overwhelming advantage in numbers and firepower over its jihadist rival. It may have been feared by al-Shabaab that it would not be ‘allowed’ to destroy Abdul Qadir Mu’min and his (then) small band of fighters and that it would also need to guard itself against any potential backlash from local clans; not only for being seen to act against their political interests but for killing their relatives who are members of the group.
IS could no longer be viewed as supporting local interests
A second factor that may threaten the ability of the Islamic State to exploit a worsening of the conflict between Puntland and Somaliland concerns the potential of the group to try and organize and influx of foreign fighters. This been a long-standing concern since the emergence of the Islamic State as a separate jihadist faction in Puntland and has been raised by various observers including the United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea. Such a development would further reduce the groups reliance on the Ali Saleeban and other local clans for recruits; representing an acceleration of a process already underway as it draws fighters from across a broader range of clans and sub-clans. But this would not be without its own risks.
The greater the reliance on non-local leaders and fighters, the less the Islamic State will be seen as a representing local interests. This may already be a growing problem as the group has drawn increasing numbers of fighters from other clans and sub-clans from across Somalia. There is a risk that this could place the group in a situation similar to that experienced by al-Qaeda when it first attempted to establish and embed itself in Somalia during the early 1990’s. Even if Islamic State were to be successful in adding dozens if not hundreds of new fighters to its ranks such an influx of foreign fighters could actually undermine its position as it faces an increasingly lukewarm or even hostile reaction from local clans because of being seen as ‘foreign’. Not only would this present al-Shabaab with an opportunity that present itself as a defender of local interests but also undermine what protection (or tolerance) the Islamic State has enjoyed because of the ties of kinship enjoyed by Abdul Qadir Mu’min and other members of the group.
Other groups seeking growth amid the security vacuum
A third factor that needs to be considered is that the Islamic State is not the only group that would be well positioned to take advantage of a worsening of the security situation in the Bari region. Any vacuum emerging in the wake of the redeployment, retreat or defeat of Puntland’s military and security forces in the region would also offer similar opportunities to these other actors. This would not only include Abdisamad Gallan and his militia but also smugglers and arms dealers like the members of the Qandala-Hafun network.These other actor s, unlike al-Shabaab, may choose to ally themselves (if only temporarily) with Puntland authorities in order to protect their own interests. But perhaps of greater concern would be the problem of al-Shabaab almost certainly devoting significant political and military efforts to contain (and if possible, destroy) its Islamic State rival while taking advantage of its own opportunities to expand its presence across the region.
It is also important to note that even in an environment in which Puntland’s military and security forces have been significantly weakened, this would not necessarily present equal opportunities to each group. Some (including the Islamic State) may face advantages or indeed disadvantages due to the current location of their forces, relations with local clans, financial resources and access to arms. These would also be important factors that may limit the ability of the Islamic State to exploit any worsening of the current crisis.
As such, although there is no question that a conflict between Puntland and Somaliland ‘could’ be exploited by the Islamic State, the actual ability of the group to do so may in fact be more limited than observers and analysts have feared. The local factors that may advantage or disadvantage a group such as the Islamic State in the Somali context are highly complex, and may shift quickly in response to local, regional and sometimes even external developments. This may present challenges to external observers but it is important that they are understood and included in any assessment of the Islamic State and current efforts to establish a sustained presence not only in Puntland but across other regions of Somalia as well.