Officials say the US has tripled the number of airstrikes against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the group’s Yemeni affiliate, this year. This is a desperate attempt to weaken AQAP, and has largely failed.
Though officials are trying to present this as proof they need even more efforts against AQAP, the reality is that US and Saudi policy in Yemen has greatly empowered AQAP over the past three years, which is why the airstrikes aren’t putting a dent in them.
AQAP has long had a presence in certain Yemeni tribal areas, but attempts to fight them on the ground virtually dried up the moment the Saudis invaded Yemen in 2015, and this allowed AQAP to spread across several areas they’d never previously held, including the major city of al-Mukallah.
At this point, AQAP is treated as a rival and sometimes ally of pro-Saudi Islamist groups in fighting the Shi’ites, and while some of the Saudis’ coalition, like the UAE, have tried to contain AQAP more, the group remains substantially stronger than they were before the Saudi invasion.
Desperate to avoid admitting what the Saudi war has actually done, the US is trying to put the focus on airstrikes against AQAP, which have always been of limited value, and pretend the AQAP surge of recent years just happened out of nowhere.