Strengthening of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula

Strengthening of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula

Strengthening of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula resulting from continued political instability in Yemen and the expansion of Houthi territorial control

Internal political instability and backlash against U.S. counterterrorism operations could allow al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to expand its safe haven in Yemen. The country faces an insurgency led by the Houthi, a Shia rebel group with links to Iran. Houthi insurgents took control of Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, in September 2014 and, following failed negotiations, seized the presidential palace in January 2015, leading President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and his cabinet and newly appointed Prime Minister Khaled Bahah to resign. Despite continued UN-mediated talks among Houthi militants and opposing political parties, Yemen remains without a government.

Ongoing political turmoil is weakening the Yemeni government’s ability to counter the growth of terrorist and insurgent groups and has created a political vacuum in which AQAP can freely operate. AQAP, which formed in 2009 when the Saudi and Yemeni branches of al-Qaeda merged, is considered the most dangerous al-Qaeda affiliate to U.S. national security, underscored by the January 2015 murder of eleven employees of the French satirical weekly newspaper, Charlie Hebdo.

The United States is deeply invested in combating terrorism and violent extremism in Yemen. It has collaborated with the Yemeni government on counterterrorism since the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, beginning drone strikes there in 2002. Through 2014 the United States had carried out approximately ninety-five drone strikes. However, the overall U.S. strategy for counterterrorism in Yemen relies heavily on Yemini ground forces, a relationship that effectively ended when Bahah and Hadi resigned. The Houthi insurgency not only increases the risks posed by Yemeni terrorism, which have resulted in the closure of U.S. diplomatic facilities in the country, but also draws Yemen into the broader Sunni-Shia conflict overtaking much of the Middle East.

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