Author’s Note: This is a three-part series on AQAP in Yemen. Part II will cover recent AQAP activity at the tactical level, to include assassinations, TTPs, leadership information, and its effect on US foreign policy.  Part III will discuss the future of Yemen as it pertains to US counterterrorism efforts and the strength of AQAP, as well as possible courses of action AQAP could take as a result of ongoing US operations there.

As the US pursues joint counterterrorism operations in various hotspots around the globe, a brutal shadow war in Yemen against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has consistently remained at the forefront of US efforts. Assassinations, targeted killings, drone strikes, bombings, and lawlessness are the frequently referenced terms used to describe this war.

The purpose of this article is to describe the current operating environment in Yemen with respect to its stability and condition, identify the basic capabilities of and appropriate background information regarding AQAP, and describe the status of ongoing counterterrorism efforts in Yemen.

The Operating Environment

In Yemen, there are no holds barred.  As the Arab world’s poorest country (with a poverty rate of over 50%), security issues such as political unrest, organized and violent crime, tribal clashes, secession movements, sectarian violence, and terrorism infest the country.

The key to AQAP success is a direct byproduct of Yemen’s political instability and security issues. These problems have provided AQAP operatives and other nefarious actors with the freedom of movement necessary for the facilitation, support, and operational capacity to conduct extensive terrorist activity, its most deadly threat.

In 2011, after 33 years of clinging to power, Yemen’s elected president Ali Abdullah Saleh was finally forced to resign due to significant demonstrations, political discord, and extensive sectarian violence that plagued the country. Having assumed the presidency following a civil war in 1994, Saleh had consistently dealt very aggressively with the messy sectarian violence and politics in Yemen, but to no avail.

Currently, under the leadership of interim president Abdo Rabo Mansour Hadi, Yemen continues to struggle with the same domestic unrest, protests, sectarian violence, and  extensive AQAP threat within its borders that Saleh faced.  As recently as Monday 9 September, open source news reported at least 42 people were killed in the past 10 days as a result of sectarian violence between various Sunni and Shia tribes.

As Hadi works to consolidate governmental control over Yemen’s fractured territory, the Yemeni government must work even harder to contain the damage done by Saleh while he was still in office.