Saudis Turn a Blind Eye as al-Qaeda’s Gains Grow Across Southern Yemen

Analysts: Saudis Only Interested in Fighting Houthis

Since the Saudis attacked Yemen in March, the situation has been increasingly complex, and looks to be really taking a new leap in difficulty now that Saudi allies were taking over meaningful territory, and losing it almost immediately to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Analysts affirmed what has been apparent throughout the war, that the Saudis are simply not interested in fighting AQAP, and are as a matter of policy turning a “blind eye” while AQAP seizes important territory, instead focusing wholly on the war with the Houthis.

This reflects the Saudi government’s selling of the war as a sectarian conflict against the Shi’ite Houthis, a narrative which has gained it support from a lot of Sunni Islamist circles. AQAP isn’t interested in “supporting” the war, however, they’re looking to benefit from it.

This started early in the war, when the relatively remote port city of al-Mukalla fell to AQAP, when the Houthis were spread to thin to defend it. In recent days, however, the AQAP territory is growing down the coast, and they’ve got fighters operating with impunity in the major city of Aden, which is nominally the capital city of the pro-Saudi forces.

Even in this case, there was no sign of resistance from the Saudi-backed forces, who are handing AQAP serious territory here. Some analysts are arguing this is because they are simply stretched too thin fighting the Houthis to also handle AQAP, while others insist the Saudis simply believe AQAP is no real threat, and can be safely ignored.

Whatever their thinking, the Saudis seem to be undercutting their claims to be “winning” the war if they’re only taking over parts of south Yemen and immediately handing them over to AQAP.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.