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The Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda AQ is stronger than it has ever been. Reversing this trend requires ending the conflict that set it in motion. With at most several hundred members, it had limited local appeal and was both sustained and constrained by complex and sometimes contradictory relationships with the governing authorities and tribes.
A primary security concern for the West and especially the U. It was far less threatening to state stability than growing regime infighting, southern separatist sentiment or Huthi militancy in northern areas. AQAP and, later and to a much lesser extent, a new outcrop of IS, emerged arguably as the biggest winners of the failed political transition and civil war that followed. AQAP adapted to the rapidly shifting political terrain, morphing into an insurgent movement capable of controlling territory and challenging state authority.
IS, with its more brutal tactics, has been less successful in gaining recruits or capturing territory, but war has opened space for it to operate in places that have experienced sectarian-tinged violence, such as the southern port city of Aden.
The United Arab Emirates dislodged AQAP from its Mukalla stronghold in April , but such successes are fragile and could easily be reversed in the absence of more effective and inclusive governance. The evolution of AQAP into an insurgent force with the ambition and capacity to govern territory, showing pragmatism and sensitivity to local concerns, does not negate the international risk posed by the group.
Countering its gains poses a complex long-term challenge and will require an urgent yet measured response, focused on bringing the civil war to a negotiated end.