Qasim al-Rimi, the current leader of AQAP, who assumed the position after his predecessor was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2015, said that his fighters have joined with other militias in their fight against the forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh to form a broader network of loosely affiliated Sunni groups.
“We fight alongside all Muslims in Yemen, together with different Islamic groups,” al-Rimi said, including “the Muslim Brotherhood and also our brothers among the sons of (Sunni) tribes.” Many of these Sunni rebel groups receive weapons and training from the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthi insurgency.
AQAP’s presence in the war-torn country has expanded as the civil war has dragged on. They still control large tracts of land. Their control over certain swaths of Yemeni hinterlands has encouraged the United States to up its kinetic operations in the country, as well as its contributions to the Saudis as they lead the fight against the Houthis.
The civil war has morphed into a de facto proxy war between the forces of Iran—who the U.S. has openly accused of providing direct aid and support to the Houthi rebels—and a broader coalition of Sunni Arab states who do not wish to see Yemen become a surrogate of Iranian influence on the Arabian Peninsula.
In his press statement, al-Rimi did not specify the extent to which AQAP was “alongside” other Sunni militia groups. But as the war has drawn to a stalemate, the Saudis are looking for ways to break the conflict in their favor. The war has, at this point, dragged on for over two years and claimed the lives of over 10,000 civilians, killed thousands of fighters on both sides, and displaced millions.
Image courtesy of CBS News
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