Today, al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula's (AQAP) is at a crossroads. Does it revert to what it was prior to 2011, a terrorist organization operating in the shadows? Or does it try to reclaim the territory it lost and once again position itself as a governing authority?
The United States has relied heavily on airstrikes to disrupt al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula's (AQAP) activities in Yemen. U.S. forces killed Muhammad al-Kazami in 2009, Jamal al-Anbari and Nayif al-Qahtani in 2010, as well as Anwar al-`Awlaqi in 2011 and Fahd al-Qusa in 2012. As important as these men were, their deaths have done little to diminish AQAP's strength. At the same time, U.S. strikes over the past two-and-a-half years have killed a number of civilians, which has likely helped AQAP's recruiting within Yemen.
By early 2012, as Yemen's military fractured and split amidst widespread popular protests, AQAP seized and held several towns in the southern Yemeni governorates of Abyan and Shabwa. Following the installation of Abd Rabu Mansur Hadi as Yemen's president in February, the United States increased the number of strikes in the country, and in May and June a sustained military offensive by Yemeni troops backed by the United States forced AQAP to abandon overt control of the towns it had captured.
Today, AQAP is at a crossroads. Does it revert to what it was prior to 2011, a terrorist organization operating in the shadows? Or, does it try to reclaim the territory it lost and once again position itself as a governing authority? Whatever the group decides, the four top leaders profiled in this article—Nasir al-Wahayshi, Said al-Shihri, Qasim al-Raymi and Ibrahim Asiri—will play key roles in shaping AQAP's strategy going forward.