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 instability and backlash against U.S. counterterrorism operations could allow al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to expand its safe haven in Yemen. Additionally, Yemen faces an insurgency led by the Houthi, a Shia rebel group with links to Iran. The Houthi rebellion has been remarkably successful: the insurgents took control of Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, in September 2014. Following widespread violence and an inability to maintain political and territorial control, Prime Minister Mohammed Salem Bassindwa resigned in September and the Yemeni military fractured as a result of Houthi advancements.

While the rebels agreed to a cease-fire and the formation of a new “technocratic national government,” political instability persists in Sanaa. Ongoing political turmoil could weaken the Yemeni government’s ability to counter the growth of terrorist and insurgent groups. The 2011 Arab uprisings in Yemen resulted in a power vacuum that allowed AQAP to seize territory in the south. The National Dialogue Conference was created to identify roots of instability and facilitate state-building and the establishment of good governance, but AQAP was excluded from the process. Still, 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 December 2014 murder of an American hostage, Luke Somers, after a failed rescue attempt.

The United States is deeply invested in combating terrorism and violent extremism in Yemen. The United States has collaborated with the Yemeni government on counterterrorism since the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, beginning drone strikes there in 2002. In 2012 alone, the United States carried out approximately 44 drone strikes in Yemen. However, the Houthi insurgency not only increases the risks posed by Yemeni terrorism but also draws Yemen into the broader Sunni-Shia conflict overtaking much of the Middle East. 

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