Yemen On Frontline With Al-Qaeda

By Manish Rai

 Yemen, a country that neighbours top oil exporter Saudi Arabia and is home to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), one of the group’s most lethal wings. Yemen has been fighting AQAP but the group, which has attacked military targets, tourists and diplomats in the country and taken over territory for long periods, is proving hard to beat so far alone by the Yemeni authorities. Yemen has been in turmoil since mass protests forced long-term leader Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down in 2012. His successor, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, has been struggling to restore order. Since al-Qaeda quite openly admitted back in 2012 that its ultimate target in Yemen would be to establish an Islamic Caliphate, a base from which to launch all future attacks against its enemies, the idea that the group could be moving toward such goal does not seem too far-fetched. Yemen remembers only too well how al-Qaeda exploited 2011 power vacuum to seize control over large swathes of land in the southern province of Abyan. As it happens it seems the entire southern Yemeni region is now at risk of a terror take-over. Moreover Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has been linked to a number of failed terror plots against the United States, and its leader recently appeared in a rare video in which he vowed to attack Western “crusaders” wherever they are.

In retaliation of these activities an unprecedented US and Yemeni aerial campaign has killed more than 55 Al Qaeda militants in recent days in a bid to thwart attacks by the network’s local affiliate. US drones in a single day killed more than 30 militants when they fired “several missiles” into an AQAP training camp in the rugged Wadi Ghadina region in the southern province of Abyan. The United States has defended the use of drones against Al Qaeda, saying they allow it to target the global terror network without sending soldiers into lawless areas where local authorities have little or no control. It should be know that the United States is the only country operating drones over Yemen, but US officials rarely acknowledge the covert drone programme. The strikes came just days after al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), released a highly produced propaganda video showing its leader, Nasir al-Wahishi, speaking before hundreds of fighters, including other high-level AQAP targets. The U.S. considers Yemen’s branch of Al Qaeda, also known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, to be the most dangerous in the world. The group is blamed for a number of unsuccessful bomb plots aimed at Americans, including an attempt to bring down a U.S.-bound airliner with explosive hidden in the bomber’s underwear and a second plot to send mail bombs hidden in the toner cartridges on planes headed to the U.S.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, based in Yemen, has been targeted by U.S. drone attacks in the past, leading to the death of several suspected AQAP figures, including, in 2011, Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born Islamist cleric accused of links to the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner in 2009 and U.S. cargo planes in 2010. However, civilian casualties in these drone strikes have sparked anger in the country and among human rights groups. President Hadi’s tolerance for U.S. drone strikes in Yemen is a direct consequence of the threat posed to his fragile transitional government by the militant activities of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. For example, in the very same province where Saturday’s drone strike took place, the deputy governor was assassinated earlier this week, allegedly by al Qaeda. Drone strikes remain controversial within Yemen as well as elsewhere, with the Yemeni parliament even voting to ban them. The activities of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula continue to constitute a potent threat to Yemen’s fragile security environment, contextualizing the ongoing US drone strikes. Yemen and Saudi Arabia have been high on al Qaeda’s list of target countries. Al Qaeda also struggled, at first, to establish a full-scale insurgency in Yemen. But prison escapees such as Wuhayshi and Guantanamo returnees such as Rubaish have replenished al Qaeda’s leadership in the Arabian Peninsula and contributed to al Qaeda’s resurgence. Yemen offers al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula the advantages of a weak central government, the authority of which does not extend much beyond the capital city of Sanaa, and a history of jihad. Yemen’s current security situation is fragile and volatile. So it turning into a dream destination for Al-Qaeda.

Yemen has been fighting AQAP but the group, which has attacked every walks of life in the country is proving hard to beat so far. Yemen has been in turmoil since mass protests forced long-term leader Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down in 2012. His successor, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, has been struggling to restore order. These recent these drone strikes definitely lower the morale and capability of AQAP. But it has to be understood that only the militaristic approach of the United States won’t serve the purpose. Yemen has the youngest population in the world, with an unemployment rate as high as 40%. A quarter of the Yemeni economy rests on oil which will probably run out by 2017 and much-needed rebalancing plans have been overshadowed by unrest. Half the population still lives below the poverty line. The International Monetary Fund has offered medium term financing deal to Sanaa the issue is that no economic body yet exists to receive and manage the loan. Yemen isn’t a failed state yet, but it’s come close too many times to mention. Where there is chaos, there is blood. In today’s fractured Yemen, a terrorist group could not choose a better place to call its home. But the answer to removing them is not with Hellfire missiles, it is with fixing Yemen.

(Author is freelance columnist for Middle East and Af-Pak region based in New Delhi and Editor of a geo-political website can be reached at

About the Author
Manish Rai is a columnist for the Middle East and Af-Pak region; Editor of a geo-political news agency Views Around (VA)