Today we released an issue brief on Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) that highlights the current threat that AQAP poses, the implications of AQAP’s ascension in the wake of the Yemeni government collapse and considers options to address the threat. We contend that the current security vacuum that AQAP has exploited to expand and secure its safe haven, also allows the U.S. greater flexibility of counterterrorism options and maneuverability, providing a unique opportunity to reduce AQAP’s capabilities through the use of special operations forces and armed drones.
Here’s a preview:
This week’s escape of 63 suspected al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) fighters from a Yemeni prison exemplifies how President Saleh’s departure to Saudi Arabia and Yemeni instability embolden this lethal al Qaeda affiliate. In recent weeks, the writ of government in Yemen has evaporated under the twin strains of the Houthi rebellion in northern Yemen and the Secessionist movement in southern Yemen. AQAP leaped into the security vacuum created by Yemen’s political volatility. As the Yemeni military consolidates its strength in an attempt to maintain state control and fight twin insurgencies, AQAP has further expanded its safe haven in the country’s interior, further increasing their operational capacity
AQAP’s ascension in the wake of the Yemeni government collapse again illustrates the dangers of un- and under-governed states as terrorist sanctuaries. As seen in Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan, the Sahel and many other places, al Qaeda exploits underlying conditions in these safe havens to plan, train and execute global terrorist attacks. Thus the question becomes this: how does the U.S. counter AQAP amidst pending state failure in Yemen?
Surprisingly, Yemeni unrest provides U.S. counterterrorism efforts a unique opportunity to interdict and significantly reduce AQAP. AQAP’s proven capability and their intent to strike the U.S. homeland, those of our allies, and our interests in the region, coupled with Yemen’s shift from under- to un-governed territory and the collapsing of the Saleh regime all suggest that an immediate escalation in drone operations and targeted Special Operations Force missions could rapidly mitigate the threat posed by AQAP.