Yemen's pivotal moment

Reuters

A pro-democracy demonstrator shouts slogans during a celebration to mark the anniversary of an uprising against the regime of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa February 11, 2014. (Reuters)

Article Highlights

  • Syria, Iran, and other foreign policy issues are distracting the US and its regional partners from sustained engagement in Yemen.

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  • Al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate remains active and will continue to exploit the security conditions in the country.

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  • There is a very real danger that should Yemen falter, AQAP will once again seek to expand.

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Executive Summary

Yemen is at a pivotal moment today, three years after the outbreak of popular protests, and the future of America's strategy against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is on the line. Yemen is in the midst of a political transition process that will eventually reform and decentralize the government. But the success of the effort is by no means assured. The reforms will not, in any case, address the deteriorating socioeconomic conditions that provide fertile ground for al Qaeda. Moreover, the central state, never fully able to exercise its sovereignty throughout the country, is weaker than it was before 2011. Opposition groups, which have turned to violence in the past, may still seek to form independent states of their own, potentially collapsing the fragile Yemeni state structure entirely. American interests are bound up in this process by the fact that AQAP is among the most virulent al Qaeda affiliates that poses a direct threat to the U.S. homeland. Syria, Iran, and other foreign and domestic policy issues are distracting the United States and its regional partners from sustained engagement in Yemen. Without international support, the country is much less likely to ride this transition process smoothly and our security interests will be severely harmed.

  • Yemen concluded a national dialogue in January 2014 that served as a forum for factions to debate key issues and eventually provide a set of recommendations for reform based on consensus. These recommendations still need to be implemented, and key powerbrokers still have the opportunity to inhibit progress.
  • The al Houthis, an armed movement in the north reportedly supported by Iran, created a statelet in Yemen as the central state collapsed in 2011. They participated in the political process, but have withdrawn in protest. They have also expanded from Sa'ada government into the neighboring areas, at times violently, and it is not clear that they will cede authority to the central state.
  • Certain factions from Yemen's fractious Southern Movement participated in the political process, but nearly all have backed away from supporting the six-region federal state. Some leaders have called supporters to arms and are renewing calls for secession.
  • Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has the capability and the intent to conduct attacks against American interests abroad. It is targeting Yemeni military sites and personnel, and has benefited from political fallout over civilian deaths in drone strikes. A ruthless December 2013 attack in Sana'a caused public backlash, and the group issued a rare apology for the deaths of civilians.

 

Please read the full report at The Critical Threats Project.

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About the Author

 

Katherine
Zimmerman
  • Katherine Zimmerman is a senior analyst and the al Qaeda and Associated Movements Team Lead for the American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project. Her work has focused on al Qaeda’s affiliates in the Gulf of Aden region and associated movements in western and northern Africa. She specializes in the Yemen-based group, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and al Qaeda's affiliate in Somalia, al Shabaab. Katherine has testified in front of Congress and briefed Members and congressional staff, as well as members of the defense community. She has written analyses of U.S. national security interests related to the threat from the al Qaeda network for the Weekly Standard, National Review Online, and the Huffington Post, among others. Katherine graduated with distinction from Yale University with a B.A. in Political Science and Modern Middle East Studies.


     


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  • Phone: (202) 828-6023
    Email: katherine.zimmerman@aei.org

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