Al Qaeda in Yemen: Countering the threat from the Arabian Peninsula

Article Highlights

  • #Yemen, #AQAP, and why US strategy might fall short

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  • American strategy in #Yemen leaves determinants for its success against #AQAP primarily outside US control

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  • It's too early to determine whether #Yemen will be a steadfast counter-terrorism partner against #AQAP

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Al Qaeda’s affiliates seized on the opportunities presented during the Arab Spring across northern Africa and the Middle East to gain and consolidate safe havens. These groups continue to pose significant threats to the United States and its interests despite the killing of Osama bin Laden and senior al Qaeda leaders. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al Qaeda’s Yemen-based affiliate, has dramatically increased its strength since 2009, while the Yemeni government, America’s counter-terrorism partner, is weaker. AQAP’s launch of a territorial offensive in 2011 through a new insurgent arm directly challenged the Yemeni state and has supported the terrorist network. The American strategy to counter AQAP has relied on its partner in Yemen to reduce AQAP’s safe havens and on direct action operations to manage AQAP’s immediate threat to the United States. There are indications that Yemen may not be able to counter AQAP’s insurgency, and will therefore not be able to reduce AQAP’s safe havens. The United States will need to incorporate this possibility into its counter-terrorism strategy in Yemen.

KEY FINDINGS

  • Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) poses a direct threat to the United States. The group is stronger now than it was before the start of the Arab Spring, despite better counter-terrorism cooperation from the Yemeni government.

  • America’s strategy to counter AQAP has relied on direct action operations to manage the immediate threat and on Yemeni counter-terrorism efforts to reduce the group’s safe haven. AQAP launched an insurgency in Yemen that took advantage of opportunities presented by the Arab Spring

  • Targeted strikes have partially degraded AQAP’s leadership. Despite the deaths of key figures such as Anwar al Awlaki, the group maintains the capability and intent to attack the United States.

  • Direct action operations alone will not neutralize the threat from AQAP, which is directly supported by its insurgent arm. A growing body of evidence indicates that Yemen will not be able to counter AQAP’s insurgency. The United States will need to re-orient its strategy to include approaches that will combat both AQAP and its insurgent arm.

 

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.


     


    Follow Katherine Zimmerman on Twitter.

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

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