Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) formed in January 2009 as a merger between the Yemeni and Saudi al Qaeda branches. Operatives work in cells throughout the country and rely on tribal support for shelter. The group seeks to establish an Islamic state and has executed attacks on Western interests.
Capabilities: AQAP has historically targeted western interests in Yemen; however, the 2009 Christmas Day attack, October 2010 parcel plot, and May 2012 bomb plot showed that the group has international capabilities.
English-language outreach: AQAP is the first al Qaeda franchise to publish in English. Anwar al Awlaki, an American-born cleric, headed the group's English-language outreach from Yemen and advocated for the Muslim community to wage violent jihad.
Guantanamo Detainees: Yemen continues to be a destination for former Guantanamo detainees, some of whom are part of the AQAP leadership.
The Threat from al Qaeda
IN THIS SECTION
The al Houthi siege on Sana’a on September 21 sets a dangerous precedent that could lead to the repartition of Yemen. The al Houthis, whether intentionally or not, have set Yemen on a path that puts the existence of an essential U.S. counterterrorism partner on the table.
President Obama strategy’s against the Islamic State is based on what the U.S. is doing in Yemen, combining targeted airstrikes with support for a local partner, a counterterrorism strategy which Obama claims has been successful and has made the U.S. safer. Unfortunately, those claims are not accurate.
President Obama held up America’s strategy in Yemen as a model for the counterterrorism strategy he intends to pursue in Iraq and Syria. By doing so, he committed to a strategy of targeting terrorists from the air and supporting local security forces in their counterterrorism fight.
The horrific images and story of 14 murdered soldiers that came out of Yemen on August 8 pale in comparison to those coming from Iraq and Syria. Yet they may presage the emergence of a renewed threat from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) that the U.S and Yemen are ill-prepared to handle.
President Obama says the United States is looking to its Yemen policy as a model for what to do in Iraq and Syria. But what the president labels the “Yemen model” has not been as successful as the White House claims; indeed, it is in danger of collapse.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula continues its military operations in Yemen. It would be premature to expect a large-scale offensive, but it would also be a mistake to rule out the possibility of a series of significant attacks that could unhinge the Yemeni security forces.
Yemeni efforts since 2011 have reduced AQAP’s control, but the escalating conflict with the al Houthis threatens to divert key resources away from the counter-terrorism fight once again.
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.
The Yemeni military has long been weakened by corruption, fragmentation, and instances of insubordination, but in the past year and a half its soldiers have been bucking orders and casting out commanders at an increasingly faster rate. If this trend continues to accelerate, it risks knocking out a vital pillar of U.S. counterterrorism strategy.
The Yemeni National Transitional Government yesterday issued eight decrees that are aimed at restructuring and unifying this weakened Yemeni military. It will be important to watch whether powerbrokers within the security forces accept the new decisions and whether the Yemeni security forces become a truly reliable partner in the fight against AQAP.