Yemen: «You have clocks. We have time»

Written by J. Comins

Translation: María Blanco Palencia

The franchise of Al Qaeda in the Arabia Peninsula (AQAP), who saw a breeding ground for directing their operations in the most poor and unstructured country of the Arab world, is profiting from the chaos caused by the break-out of the Yemeni revolt. If at the beginning of the popular insurrection, hardly losing any time, it took control of several cities in the province of Abyan through one of its affiliated groups –named Ansar al Sharia–, during the last weeks a large scale offensive executed by the military and supported by Washington has reverted this situation. Literally, terrorists have lost ground, but just this.

Violence has now moved to the capital, where several suicide attacks against members of the security forces of the Yemeni State have resulted in over one hundred deaths. The military massacre perpetrated last May during the preparation of the parade to remember the 22nd anniversary of the unification of Yemen has been followed by the terrorist attack carried out a few days ago next to the entrance of the police academy in Sana’a. The explosion resulted in the death of eight cadets and the wounding of twenty more, as reported by the state media agency Saba. Moreover we should highlight the renewed interest for foreign embassies as priority targets of terrorist attacks.

The increasing insecurity in the centre of the country indicates that the expulsion of terrorists and the elimination of their southern bastions have not mined to any extent their capacity to spread terror. What does seem to have changed are techniques employed and their strategic objectives of AQAP. Conscious of its strengths and weaknesses, the organization seems to be opting to take control of the situation by changing norms that would favour its interests. Al Qaeda’s direction would be driving the Yemeni Government and its allies from a scenario dominated by direct military confrontation with the Yemeni armed forces, similar to the scenario of any conventional war –and whose possibilities are nearly null–, towards a new scenario of more asymmetric operations, given the positive results obtained in Afghanistan and Iraq.

AQPA still has a huge potential for media and propaganda penetration. The elimination of Samir Jan –to whom the main authorship of the magazine Inspire is attributed–, together with the cleric and global terrorist Anuar al Aulaki, has not avoided the continued appearance of new issues of this bulletin. The last number was published on the 2 May under the title Winning on the Ground. It has neither been an obstacle for the publication of a sort of jihadist manual titled Expectations Full which, moreover, gives great importance to the knowledge of specific techniques used in guerrilla war.

Until now, the progress achieved from an operational point of view has not been reflected at a strategic level. In this sense, Carlos Echevarria, analyst and professor of International Relations at the UNED, states that “the diversity of response to this threat –military operations, on one hand, and selective US attacks on the other, but without constituting part of neither in a unified strategy in search of the enemy’s defeat– will only contribute to weakening this threat without making it disappear”. We must not forget that one of the main characteristics of Al Qaeda in Yemen is its proved versatility in relation to the type of scenario, rural as well as urban, and the type of attacks, conventional as well as suicidal.

As suggested by the old Afghan proverb titled “key”, time is on the side of AQAP. More so given the easiness with which its members can be integrated in the Yemeni society for tactic reasons in moments like this, as stated by blogger and journalist Nasser Arrabyee. Meanwhile, combatants from Pakistan and Afghanistan continue returning and training camps still carry out their activities. This is because the direction of Al Qaeda is fully conscious, as reflected in their propaganda, of the fact that “today, jihad needs of intelligence, patience, and resistance”.

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J. Comins

J. Comins is a political scientist specialising in Diplomacy, International Relations and Security. In recent years, he has served with the United Nations peacekeeping missions in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) and Mali (MINUSMA), and also worked as safety advisor for the International NGO Safety Organisation (INSO) in Afghanistan. He occasionally contributes analysis to the Spanish Institute for Strategic Studies (Ministry of Defence) and the International Security Studies Group (GESI) at the Department of Political Science of the University of Granada.

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