Al-Qaeda in Yemen is currently facing major challenges that are shaking its foundations and weakening its strength. These challenges are represented by three main crises: leadership disputes, security and military pressures, and a financial crisis.
The terrorist organization’s leadership disputes stem from differences in visions and goals between its leaders at the central and branch levels. Some of the organization’s leaders believe that it must follow an independent approach and declare the establishment of a state in some of the areas it controls, similar to what ISIS did in Syria and Iraq.
This is what some of the organization’s leaders tried to implement in the governorates of Abyan, Shabwah, and Al-Bayda, where in 2015 they announced the formation of the Emirate of Shabwah, the Emirate of Abyan, and the Emirate of Zanzibar.
But this approach was not accepted by other leaders in the organization, especially the central organization, who see that this violates the principles of unity and loyalty to the central base, weakens the organization’s strength and influence, and makes it an easy target for air strikes by the Arab coalition and the United States.
There are also disagreements over the organization’s position on the Ansar Allah group (Houthis), which controls most of the north of the country. For religious and political reasons, some of the organization’s leaders see this group as an enemy that cannot be negotiated with or allied with.
The Houthis are from the Shiite Zaidi sect, and therefore, al-Qaeda considers them infidels and apostates who must be fought. Hence, the organization has launched repeated attacks against the Houthis in Al-Bayda, Al-Jawf, and Marib governorates.
But there are other leaders in the organization who believe that this conflict with the Houthis does not serve the interests of the organization, but rather harms it, draining their strength and distracts them from their biggest enemy, namely the Arab coalition and the United States. Therefore, they believe that there is a possibility to negotiate with the Houthis on the basis of common interests.
This is what some of the organization’s leaders tried to implement in Hadramawt Governorate, where they established good relations with the Houthis and allowed them to enter some of the areas they control.
Security and military pressures
At the same time, there are security and military pressures coming from government forces, the Saudi-led Arab coalition and the United States, which pose a major threat to the organization.
These forces have been waging a comprehensive war against the organization since 2015, with the aim of restoring legitimate authority in the country, restoring security and stability, and eliminating extremism and terrorism.
Therefore, these forces use all means at their disposal, from air, land and sea strikes to intelligence and relief operations.
These efforts resulted in major successes in defeating the organization in most of the areas it controlled, especially in the south of the country.
These forces were able to retake the city of Mukalla, the capital of Hadramawt Governorate, in April 2016, after it had been under the control of the organization for more than a year.
They were also able to regain the city of Zanzibar, the capital of Abyan Governorate, in August 2016, after months of battles.
In February 2017, the forces were able to regain the city of Jaar, the largest city in Shabwah Governorate, after weeks of confrontations.
Al-Qaeda in Yemen is also suffering from a severe financial crisis that affects its ability to finance its operations and pay salaries to its members.
This crisis is the result of several factors, including a decline in sources of donations from countries or individuals sympathetic to the organization, due to wars and crises in the region and security and political pressures on donors.
The terrorist organization was also harmed by the loss of some of its local sources of income, such as imposing taxes and fines on citizens and merchants in the areas it controlled, kidnapping people and demanding ransoms for their release, or robbing banks and companies.
The organization has also been affected by the high costs of the wars and conflicts it wages against its opponents, whether in the form of purchasing weapons and ammunition, or paying bribes to tribes or militias to obtain protection or facilities.