Author’s Note: This is the final instalment of a three-part series on AQAP in Yemen. Part I described the operating environment in Yemen, identified the basic capabilities and background information on AQAP, and summarized basic US counterterrorism efforts.  Part II highlighted the success of AQAP assassinations in Yemen, identified several E-TTPs, and discussed AQAP’s effect on US foreign policy.

Unlike the fast-approaching drawdown of US forces from Afghanistan in 2014, US counterterrorism efforts in the Arabian Peninsula are unlikely to show signs of slowing down.  Since 2009, following the Christmas Day bomber incident, the US has only increased its effort to remove senior AQAP leadership, operatives, local commanders, and even low-level fighters from the Yemeni battlespace.

While these efforts in Yemen will likely continue in support of ongoing joint US and host-nation counterterrorism operations, recent activity by AQ affiliate al Shabaab (AS) has highlighted the next regional gateway for AQAP in its efforts to export terror.  By establishing sufficient freedom of movement for terrorist planning and execution in Yemen, AQAP has recognized the benefits of providing significant regional support to affiliates it deems capable of further exporting core AQ’s ideology.

Due to close geographical proximity, extensive human terrain relationships, and pre-existing nefarious networks, AQAP has begun to shape the future of Yemen as it pertains to AQ’s strategic outlook.  It is through these factors that AQAP maintains even further relevance in the face of ongoing US counterterrorism operations.

Just Across the Pond

Yemen’s historic instability and high threat environment has enabled AQAP to create an operating environment in which freedom of movement throughout Yemen’s tribal regions is generally uninhibited (save for extensive US efforts to prove otherwise).