Reuters reports on the growing power of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has been made possible in large part by the Saudi-led war on Yemen supported by the U.S.:
If Islamic State’s capital is the Syrian city of Raqqa, then al Qaeda’s is Mukalla, a southeastern Yemeni port city of 500,000 people. Al Qaeda fighters there have abolished taxes for local residents, operate speedboats manned by RPG-wielding fighters who impose fees on ship traffic, and make propaganda videos in which they boast about paving local roads and stocking hospitals.
The economic empire was described by more than a dozen diplomats, Yemeni security officials, tribal leaders and residents of Mukalla. Its emergence is the most striking unintended consequence of the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen. The campaign, backed by the United States, has helped Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to become stronger than at any time since it first emerged almost 20 years ago.
AQAP has been benefiting from the Saudi-led coalition’s war for many months. The coalition and anti-Houthi Yemenis have been preoccupied with fighting the Houthi/Saleh forces elsewhere in the country, which has allowed jihadists to operate more freely, to seize and hold territory, and occasionally to cooperate with the coalition-backed forces on the ground against their mutual enemy. Because the territory it controls has been spared from attacks by the coalition’s bombing campaign, AQAP-controlled parts of Yemen are in relatively better shape than the rest of the country. This has created the unusual situation in which many of the inhabitants of the area controlled by AQAP prefer to ruled by the jihadists:
“I prefer that al Qaeda stay here, not for Al Mukalla to be liberated,” said one 47-year-old resident. “The situation is stable, more than any ‘free’ part of Yemen. The alternative to al Qaeda is much worse.”
The U.S.-backed, Saudi-led war on Yemen has made it so that AQAP not only controls considerable territory and thrives on the revenue it can extort and raise there, but so that the people living there would rather remain under the control of fanatics than be subjected to the chaos, deprivation, and misery that the rest of Yemen’s civilian population has had to endure. If that continues, AQAP would become even more of a threat than it already is:
A regional diplomat who follows Yemen says that if al Qaeda manages to successfully root itself as a political and economic organisation, it could become a more resilient threat, much like al Shabaab in nearby Somalia.
“We may be facing a more complicated al Qaeda,” the diplomat said, “not just a terrorist organisation but a movement controlling territory with happy people inside it.”
After more than a year of the reckless Saudi-led intervention, the only winner from this conflict is Al Qaeda.