One of the major challenges of Yemen today, specifically after the air campaign of the Saudi-led Arab military coalition, is the increase in the activities of the terror group Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has been used as a means by Saudi Arabia to proceed towards its objectives in dealing with Yemen’s resistant group Ansarulah.
Even before death of Osama bin Laden, the former Al-Qaeda leader who was killed by the US after being on the run for years, it was alleged that the AQAP was the most active affiliate of the terror organization.
The Al-Qaeda has largely benefited from the wide discontent of the Yemenis particularly with the economic injustice to expand its networks and recruit the young Yemeni.
The interesting thing is that Al-Qaeda has directed its criticism to the corruption and injustice of the ruling regime and not the West in Yemen.
On the other side, the West Asian developments over the course of several years have turned the Yemeni Al-Qaeda into a stagnant and even lifeless terror organization. But as a result of recent developments in the region, specifically after 2007, and furthermore as a result of the involvement of the Iraqi tribal groups in a battle with the terror group in Iraq which led to a serious decline in activism of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, the terrorist group’s leaders and commanders have come up with the notion that they needed a new area for their renewed activities. It was amid the quest for new hotbed that Yemen, due to its tense political and social conditions and because of the wide-ranging crisis, presented itself as a safe haven for Al-Qaeda group.
Afterwards, in a relatively short time, Al-Qaeda rose as one of the most prolific destabilizing forces in Yemen in the recent years, especially that the rest of its battlefields were shut in its face in other regions. In fact, the local pressures as well as the US airstrikes have driven the terror group in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other areas in dire straits.
One of the cases that called attention of Al-Qaeda was to re-activate its forces in new places where there was little government control over the areas. Meanwhile, suffering from growing internal challenges, Yemen has won the candidacy of being a convenient replacement for the lost areas once held by Al-Qaeda. Consequently, after a couple of years of cessation of activities, the terror organization has managed to transform, after 2009, its Yemen’s affiliate to one of its most active units.
Reviving its Yemen’s branch and boosting it, Al-Qaeda, in addition to showing off a potential for recreation and expansion to its proponents and adversaries, has played the role of an uplifting factor strengthening the morale of its offshoots and allies in other countries. Actually, the new round of expansion of activities of Al-Qaeda, especially following the outbreak of the poplar uprisings in the region after 2011, should not be viewed as uninfluenced by the terror group’s success in Yemen.
This issue is of significance when it comes to the vision of Al-Qaeda leaders, because they understood that after years of hard work and failure in actualizing the organization’s principal and constitutional goals, it was impossible to survive with a an emphasis on the organization’s essential objectives. So, they decided that a sole survival and invincibility against the West and its massive attacks across the region would be adopted as an alternative goal. This decision is specifically important in terms of convincing the Al-Qaeda members to continue operations in the areas of influence.
Taking advantage from the structural problems including tribal make-up of the society, inefficient economy, staggering unemployment, poor public services and the growing corruption of the regime’s officials as well as local authorities, Al-Qaeda has widened and then intensified motions in Yemen. Al-Qaeda for its growth in Yemen has adopted the same model of its evolution in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It made alliance with the local tribes and recruited their youths. As a result, it became part of the tribes’ social make-up and thus received their support for its organization and members in Yemen.
The interconnection of the Al-Qaeda with Yemen’s tribal social structure has added to the difficulty of confronting the terror group. Following Al-Qaeda’s expansion in Yemen, the Yemeni government and the US in recent years saw a rise in their moves against the terrorist organization.
After eruption of protests and discontent across Yemen, Al-Qaeda launched a propaganda, claiming that the regime was not efficient enough to face the crisis in the country and meet popular demands. The US negative view of the protests and developments of Yemen amid wide-ranging Arab world’s uprisings could also be interpreted from this perspective. For example, the former US Secretary of State Robert Gates had said “Instability and diversion of attention from Al Qaeda are my primary source of concern.” But finally the US has reached with the officials of the transitional government a formula which saw Al-Qaeda a common enemy.
Following the Saudi air campaign in Yemen, Al-Qaeda has tried to profit from Riyadh’s logistic and financial support especially in Yemen’s south by siding with the Saudi-backed Arab coalition against the Yemeni resistance. This is desired by the Saudis themselves, as the assaulting coalition in recent months has increased cooperation with Al-Qaeda terrorists, and in some cases exchanged cities with them in Yemen. During the period, the Al-Qaeda flags flew almost in all regions of southern Yemen; from Lahij and Hadhramaut to Aden and Abyan. Increasing influence since start of Saudi aggression on Yemen, Al-Qaeda, with gaining control of Lahij, has kept expanding presence in Yemen.
Many suggest that Al-Qaeda’s capture of Lahij and earlier Abyan is an outcome of Saudis’ planning and is taking place with their consent. They plan to hand over Yemen’s southern provinces to Al-Qaeda, and thus press the Yemeni revolutionaries in south and block their counterattacks against the assaulting foreign forces, especially in Aden.
Recently, the Arab media reported, in an exaggerated way, that hundreds of the Al-Qaeda militants were killed in Arab coalition’s airstrikes especially in Yemen’s Al Mukalla port city. Many of analysts have cast doubt upon the Arab media reports, adding that exit of Al-Qaeda forces from some regions in Yemen is an outcome of agreement with the coalition and not military power. They call the Saudis’ actions a contemporary political show to proceed towards their future objectives.
All in all, it could be said that Saudi attacks, though bringing about damages and massacres of the civilians to Yemen, have been useful to Al-Qaeda’s advances. Now, the group has turned into an essential factor in military and political equations in Yemen.