Half of Yemen’s 24.4 million people don’t have access to clean water — the most basic of human needs. This stark statistic is in clearest evidence in the country’s Hadramaut region, where oil flows freely but water taps run dry and tribal councils are powerless to improve people’s lives. But there’s a group working to change that. A group that, last week — much to the delight of its parched residents — unveiled a freshly dug well in the country’s arid southern territory. The group’s name? Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

AQAP is one of the U.S.-designated terror organization’s most powerful divisions and since the beginning of 2016, the group has quietly seized vast swaths of Yemen, undercutting its rival, the Islamic State group, which has been the main focus of the West’s counterterrorism strategy for the last year. ISIS may have dominated international media coverage, but in Yemen, AQAP has overshadowed its younger sibling with its grassroots approach, providing essential public services to gain the trust of the local population. The group has also been willing to share power with local governing institutions before it establishes its own so-called caliphate.

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