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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

The momentum of weakening Al Qaeda in Yemen must be seized

Resolution of Houthi conflict will be key to curbing extremism in Yemen and beyond

Yemeni fighters loyal to the government backed by the Saudi-led coalition ride in the back of a pickup truck while closing in on a suspected location of an Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leader during their the offensive in the Mesini Valley in the vast province of Hadramawt in February. Saleh Al-Obeidi / AFP
Yemeni fighters loyal to the government backed by the Saudi-led coalition ride in the back of a pickup truck while closing in on a suspected location of an Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leader during their the offensive in the Mesini Valley in the vast province of Hadramawt in February. Saleh Al-Obeidi / AFP

The news that the UAE’s counter-terrorism strategy is weakening Al Qaeda’s grip in Yemen is to be celebrated, by the region and the wider world. But as the date for UN-backed peace talks with Yemen’s Houthi rebels fast approaches it comes as a timely reminder that the future stability of the country faces a range of threats from multiple actors.

That is why Dr Anwar Gargash, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, has chosen this moment to highlight the impressive progress that has been made against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has held territory in the east of Yemen since the Houthi insurgency erupted in 2014. The Houthis and AQAP, each pursuing their own agenda, are no allies and have each exploited the instability caused by the other group to spark chaos.

That means the Saudi-led coalition working to restore the internationally recognised Yemeni government has been obliged to conduct operations on multiple fronts. But there is a dangerous symbiosis. The instability created by the Houthis has fostered the sort of power vacuum in which militant groups like AQAP thrive. Resolution of the Houthi conflict, therefore, will be key to the long-term suppression of terrorism in Yemen and beyond.

As Dr Gargash has made clear, AQAP is not just a threat to Yemen and the region but to the entire world. The group has been linked to various outrages, including an attempt to detonate a bomb on an aircraft bound for the US in 2009, a plot to conceal explosives in printer cartridges on a cargo plane bound from Yemen to the US in 2010 and the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris in 2015. While playing a significant role in the offensive against the Houthis, the UAE has simultaneously maintained relentless pressure on AQAP, training a Yemeni taskforce that has eliminated hundreds of its core members and the bulk of its leadership. Such has been the success of this counter-terrorism strategy that Dr Gargash can now confidently proclaim that AQAP has been significantly compromised.

The next few weeks are crucial in maintaining that momentum. Peace talks convened by the UN’s special envoy to Yemen are scheduled to take place in Geneva on September 6. Those backing the Houthi insurgency have a vested interest in seeing the peace talks fail and, if they do, AQAP can only benefit. But regardless of how events unfold in Geneva, weakening the extremists' grip on Yemen will have a ripple effect worldwide. As Dr Gargash says, the UAE’s commitment to defeating AQAP “is ironclad and unwavering". Whatever the outcome of talks seeking a political solution in Yemen, the coalition will not relent until it has defeated AQAP completely.