During the early 1990s, al-Qa’ida was beginning to coalesce as an organization, honing its operational techniques and dealing with its first internal conflicts. Its private deliberations during this period are revealed by a trove of documents captured in the course of operations supporting the Global War on Terror and maintained in the Department of Defense’s Harmony Database. Al-Qa’ida’s (Mis)Adventures in the Horn of Africa draws on recently declassified Harmony documents, predominately from the 1992-1994 time period, original field work by CTC personnel, and careful country studies.

The Horn provides the backdrop for an intriguing tale of al-Qa’ida’s first efforts to  expand beyond Afghanistan and Sudan. As recounted by its leaders and operatives, al- Qa’ida’s efforts to establish a presence in this region and use it as a base for attacks against Western targets elsewhere were largely a failure. Conventional wisdom suggests that Somalia, a failed state, would be an ideal safe haven for al-Qa’ida. Our analysis, however, indicates that weakly governed regions such as coastal Kenya, not failed states like Somalia, provide an environment more conducive to al-Qa’ida’s activities. In Somalia, al-Qa’ida’s members fell victim to many of the same challenges that plague Western interventions in the Horn. They were prone to extortion and betrayal, found themselves trapped in the middle of incomprehensible (to them) clan conflicts, faced suspicion from the indigenous population, had to overcome significant logistical constraints and were subject to the constant risk of Western military interdiction.

This report assesses al-Qa’ida’s operations in the Horn of Africa by identifying the organizational challenges al-Qa’ida faced in managing the jihad in the Horn. We also examine the individual motivations of the Somali clans and people that largely resisted al-Qa’ida’s recruitment efforts in the region.

After reviewing al-Qa`ida’s Horn operations from a theoretical standpoint, we analyze al-Qa`ida’s prospects in two key Horn countries: Somalia and Kenya. The nations composing the Horn of Africa are often aggregated into one overall counterterrorism strategy. However, each Horn country and even sub-regions within these countries present a unique set of socioeconomic, political and religious factors that create specific challenges and opportunities to both al-Qa’ida and to counterterrorism forces.

We conclude this study by identifying concepts and techniques that may be applicable in other regions based upon al-Qa’ida’s experiences in the Horn. Our primary conclusion is that the U.S. and its coalition partners should prioritize counterterrorism efforts on weak states–not failed ones. Both types of states demand attention but require different policy solutions. Effective and sustainable counterterrorism in failed states requires engaging with sub-state authorities to give them the means and the motivation to resist foreign intrusion. In weak states, successful counterterrorism policies must address core institutional and governance problems that render such states unable or unwilling to fully deal with the threat. Perversely, U.S. support to state and local counterterrorism efforts can create incentives to tolerate low levels of terrorism, a problem best addressed by conditioning aid on counterterrorism effort rather than on the presence of a threat.

Associated Harmony Documents

Abu Hafs Report on Operations in Somalia


Abu Hafs submits a report on al-Qa`ida operations in Somalia, Kenya, and Djibouti, and lists budget needs. According to Abu...

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Letters on al-Qa`ida’s Operations in Africa


A series of letters from various authors that discuss al-Qa`ida's operations in Africa, specifically Somalia and Ogaden region. The first...

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A Quick Review of the Current Political Situation


This document is a letter directed to Abu `Abdullah [Usama bin Laden], Abu `Ubayda [Al-Banshiri], and unnamed others. The author...

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Abu Belal’s Report on Jihad in Somalia


These barely-legible letters are reports written about the situation in Somalia as it pertains to establishing al-Qa`ida training camps there....

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The Ogaden File: Operation Holding (Al-Msk)


This document is apparently a personal narrative by Sayf al-Islam that describes how Abu Hafs of al-Qa`ida sent him and...

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Statement Concerning the Assassination of Brother “Abi Tarek”


In this document, the Eritrean Islamic Jihad Movement denounces the assassinations of Abi Tariq and Sister Zubaidah, and connects them...

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Ciphers and Status of bin Laden’s Security


A series of incomplete documents that consist of (1) codewords and ciphers used by al-Qa`ida | (2) an assessment of...

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Letter from the Taliban


This document consists of one-line summaries of papers from another (not included) document. In the referenced document, there is a...

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Instructions to Abu Usama


This document appears to be a set of instructions to Abu Usama, who is located in Anbar, `Iraq, regarding the...

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Saif Al-Islam Report


This document is an exit report written by Saif al Islam Al-Misri in which he reflects upon the two years...

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A Report from Saif Al-`Adl


In this letter, Saif Al-`Adl reports to al-Qa`ida's leadership about the purchase of a motor boat, a training camp in...

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Photographs of Fazul `Abdullah Muhammed


This document contains various photographs of al-Qa`ida member Fazul `Abdullah Muhammed (also, commonly known as Harun Fazul).

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Kenya Airways Ticket 1


This is a photograph of a passenger ticket and baggage for passage on Kenya Airways for Fazul `Abdullah Muhammed, from...

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Kenya Airways Ticket 2


This is a photograph of a passenger ticket and baggage for passage on Kenya Airways for Fazul `Abdullah Muhammed, from...

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Fazul’s Travel and Educational Documents


This harmony document is a series of training certificates and educational diplomas from Sudan and the Union of the Comoros...

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Student ID Card for Said Bakar


This document is a student ID card for Said Bakar, who is listed as being a 15 year-old student at...

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Passports of Fazul and Maimouna Muhammed


This document contains images of the passports of two citizens of the Comoros, `Abdullah Muhammed Fazul, and Maimouna Muhammed Ali.

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Somalian Passport of Halimo Farah Abdillah


The document contains the passport (issued in Sana`a, Yemen in 1999) of Halimo Farah Abdillahi, a Somalian housewife born in...

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Comoros Passport of [Fazul] `Abdullah Mohamed


This is the Comoros passport of [Fazul] `Abdullah Muhammed.

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Ziad Barre and Events in Somalia


The document is a collection of documents that cover: 1) the Patani United Liberation Organization's fight for independence from Thailand...

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Invoices for al-Qa`ida and Islamic Union Expenses


This document is thirty-three hand-written pages of personal loan accounting, financing sources, and funds disbursement for an al-Qa`ida training group...

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Abu `Ata’ Al-Sharqi Reports from Afghanistan


This document is a letter sent from the leader of a military group, Abu `Ata' al-Sharqi to his training chief....

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Report on the Needs of the Mujahidin in Somalia


These somewhat unrelated documents are barely legible. The first few pages are comments on an audio tape about the prophet...

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Hassan Aweys Kenya Visa Application


The document is a Kenyan visa application, dated 9 March 1993, filled out by Hassan Daih Haji Aweis. The author...

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Political Difficulties and Current Events in Ethiopia


This seven-page document is a two-part synopsis of the political situation in Ethiopia. The first, hand-written part, discusses political difficulties...

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Meeting Notes and a Letter from Al-Wali


The first page of this hand-written document is what seem to be intelligence collection requirements for al-Qa`ida. Among the listed...

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Iraqi Intelligence Service reports on Al-Qa`ida Threats in Djibouti


This 8-page document contains correspondence from the Embassy of Iraq in Djibouti to the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) during 2001...

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Situation Report from Somalia


This document begins with a news report about an Ethiopian incursion into Somalia. The report states that Islamic fundamentalists operating...

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