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, backlash against U.S. counterterrorism operations, and interference by neighboring states have contributed to rising violence and factionalization 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 in Yemen has created a vacuum in which al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and other terrorist and insurgent groups 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 intervention of regional powers in Yemen’s conflict threatens to draw Yemen into the broader Sunni-Shia conflict. Iran is believed to be providing the Houthi rebels with military assistance, and in March 2015 a coalition of Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia launched a campaign of air strikes against the insurgent group.

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—and growing chaos within Yemen—increase the risks posed by Yemeni terrorism, while simultaneously threatening the United States’ ability to deal with it.

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