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Research Report

A New Model for Defeating al Qaeda in Yemen

Copyright Date: Sep. 1, 2015
Pages: 71
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 3-4)

    The United States needs a new strategy in Yemen. Its current approach to combating al Qaeda there has collapsed as the country has slid deeper into civil war. Yet the al Qaeda threat is growing, fed by regional dynamics that are driving radicalism and sectarianism. Yemen has become a third battleground for the Iran–Saudi Arabia proxy war. Al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) are already dominating forces in Iraq and Syria, and the global jihadist movement, in which the two compete, is on the rise. So also in Yemen both the al Qaeda...

  2. (pp. 5-28)

    The United States has never fully taken on the challenge that Yemen presents. American strategic interests in Yemen remain limited: prevent al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) or any other group from targeting the American homeland, people, and regional infrastructure, and prevent regional instability. These interests have shaped American engagement in Yemen over the past two decades, which has fluctuated largely in correlation with the al Qaeda threat, punctuated by attacks that trace back to the country, such as the October 2000 USS Cole bombing and the December 2009 attempt by the underwear bomber. Yemen’s fractious nature, its government’s...

  3. (pp. 29-47)

    AQAP’s expansion over the past year demonstrates the failure of the American strategy to counter it. This counterterrorism strategy, which relied on degrading leadership and disrupting operations, was based on the assumption that AQAP is fundamentally a terrorist group. It focused on defeating the components supporting AQAP’s external operations cell—the cell plotting imminent attacks against the US, or the AQAP threat node. The objective was to defeat the threat to the US homeland from AQAP, not to defeat the organization itself. This distinction is key because it permitted AQAP to grow as an insurgent organization in Yemen and downplayed...

  4. (pp. 48-48)

    There is no easy solution in Yemen. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula remains a threat to the US despite the group’s leadership losses. AQAP’s resiliency comes from support networks it has developed within Yemen’s insurgency, and it is not possible to defeat AQAP through attrition. There is no government with which to partner, nor is there an army to fight AQAP on the ground. Longstanding grievances that remained unaddressed were the force that led to Yemen’s collapse and will continue to drive instability. The US must abandon its strategy predicated on a counterterrorism partnership and instead develop one that...