The Washington Institute : Al-Qaeda's Current Threat

The Washington Institute published a report detailing the nature of al-Qaeda’s robustness in the face of evolving geopolitical challenges, such as the rise of the so called Islamic State and the increased intensity of United States counterterrorism operations. The 124-page report discusses the nature of al-Qaeda outside of Syria and the group’s finances.

Within the report, Katherine Zimmerman writes a 13-page chapter discussing al-Qaeda’s Yemeni branch, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). She argues that the combination of civil war and weak central governance has allowed AQAP to make more permanent territorial gains inside the country. While the Hadi government has been able to push back the militants, these victories are often temporary, as Zimmerman points out:

The Yemeni military partnered with local tribes to clear Abyan and Shabwa governorates in southern Yemen during one month in early summer 2012, pushing Ansar al-Sharia from population centers; it did not fully drive Ansar al-Sharia from the area, however, nor did it leave a holding force that would prevent Ansar al-Sharia from returning—which it did within a few months.

Emirati forces and their proxies make similar mistakes in combating AQAP, according to Zimmerman. UAE forces have targeted “AQAP’s visible presence on the ground but did not eliminate or sufficiently disrupt AQAP safe havens or support zones.”

Zimmerman concludes that while American “counterterrorism actions have degraded AQAP’s senior leadership cadre...they have not eliminated AQAP’s threat to U.S. interests.” To this end, the US must treat AQAP not as a terrorist organization but as an insurgency. She contends that the group has established a foothold in Yemen by “harnessing the support of populations alienated by their governments.”