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/or backlash from U.S. counterterrorism operations


Internal instability and backlash against U.S. counterterrorism operations could allow al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to increase recruitment and swell its ranks, thereby expanding its safe haven in Yemen.  Yemen faced instability in September 2014 when thousands of Houthis (Shia insurgents) protested in the streets of Sanaa and seized government buildings, state media facilities, and military bases. The renewed instability caused the military to break apart and the prime minister to resign. President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi announced that the rebels had agreed to an immediate cease-fire and to the formation of a new “technocratic national government,” but it is likely that such political instability could weaken the Yemeni government’s ability to counter the growth of terrorist and insurgent groups.

The 2011 Arab uprisings in Yemen had led to the fall of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, later replaced by Abdurabu Mansour Hadi, resulting 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.

The United States has collaborated with Yemen 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. AQAP, which formed in 2009 when the Saudi and Yemeni branches of al-Qaeda merged, is now considered the most dangerous al-Qaeda affiliate to U.S. national security. AQAP threats in August 2013 resulted in the closing of more than two dozen U.S. diplomatic facilities. In response, the United States escalated its drone campaign.

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