Yemen’s Post-Arab Spring Threat Assessment

On 26 June 2014, a group suspected to be Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) launched an attack on the International Airport in Seiyun, a city in the remote Hadhramaut region of Eastern Yemen. Seiyun is located in the oil-producing part of the country. While the attack appears to be a dramatic departure from AQAP’s usual tactics of attacking checkpoints, convoys, and assassinations, it should not be surprising for those closely watching trends in the Middle East. In fact, this attack represents AQAP lashing out in desperation.

Inside Yemen itself, the Army – in coordination with U.S. Special Forces – is applying significant pressure to the group as part of a serious counterterrorist offensive that began in April 2014. Increasingly on the defensive, AQAP is casting about for more vulnerable targets, using more high-profile tactics. There will be inspiration from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) recent dramatic and dangerous gains in Iraq. AQAP and other Al Qaida franchises will be competing for headlines and notoriety, as a result.

The above said, the notion of an all-out AQAP insurgency inside of Yemen is far-fetched, at best. AQAP itself abandoned the idea some time ago and frankly, they are too weak to mount a credible insurgency. AQAP is on the defensive and are falling back on attacks on military sites, convoys, checkpoints, and assassinations – a pattern that was more predominate in 2011. The Hadhramaut is one of the most isolated areas of Yemen and government troops struggle with an inherently suspicious population. This has been the case since before the existence of AQAP. Besides counterrorist operations, the government is in negotiations with Hadrami tribal leaders and is planning to form a Hadrami defense force that can interface more effectively with the local population. Measures such as this, coupled with good physical security measures, and carefully developed travel security planning, will mitigate risk to oil and gas operations in the country.

Unfortunately, it is more difficult to counter the threat of big, breathless headlines whenever there is a terrorist attack. Butchko has the expertise and experience to get beneath the surface of today’s headlines and provide a grounded, balanced view of what the risks really are.