Al-Qaeda falls into disarray in Yemen

By Abu Bakr al-Yamani in Sanaa


A Yemeni soldier stands in the back of an armoured vehicle in Zinjibar on August 16th after entering the Abyan provincial capital to recapture it from al-Qaeda. [Saleh al-Obeidi/AFP]

Al-Qaeda has fallen into a state of decline in Yemen due to its loss of control over a number of areas and the resulting dwindling of the revenue stream that has enabled it to recruit and arm fighters, experts told Al-Mashareq.

In Hadramaut and Abyan provinces, "al-Qaeda is reeling from the blows it sustained", said strategic expert Adnan al-Humairi.

As Yemeni forces pursue its fighters in the southern provinces, he told Al-Mashareq, international airstrikes continue to target the group's operatives.

As a result of these losses, al-Humairi said, al-Qaeda has lost multiple sources of funding, in particular the profits it used to generate when it was in control of the Hadramaut provincial capital of al-Mukalla.

These include revenue from the port, customs duties and tributes from merchants, in addition to proceeds from the sale of oil in Hadramaut, he said.

All this used to provide al-Qaeda with considerable financial streams, which it used to buy loyalty, recruit additional fighters and expand its influence, he said.

"Al-Qaeda’s influence expanded in cities and areas surrounding al-Mukalla thanks to its multiple sources of strength -- money, fighters and weapons," al-Humairi said.

Defeat in al-Mukalla sparks decline

Al-Qaeda took a hit in al-Mukalla when a coalition campaign in April successfully cleared it from the city and surrounding areas , al-Humairi said. "That was the first step that scattered the group and plunged it into disarray, and now weakness."

Other al-Qaeda branches are currently preoccupied with local battles in their areas of influence, he said, and with trying to fend off global efforts to eliminate the group and prevent the movement of its funds via a financial blockade.

Although the traditional methods of moving funds remain, al-Humairi said, they are few and fraught with risk due to the current circumstances in the region, and in Yemen in particular.

"Breaking al-Qaeda’s back [and expelling] it from Hadramaut in April facilitated the subsequent purging of Abyan province [of al-Qaeda] and deprived the group’s leaders and elements of areas they considered their domain," he said.

This is particularly the case in Jaar , he said, which has fallen under the group's control several times since 2011, when it declared the area an "Islamic emirate" before being expelled in 2012 by the army and popular resistance committees.

"Al-Qaeda returned in 2015 to seize control of several areas in the southern provinces, taking advantage of the division of state and military institutions in the ongoing war," al-Humairi said.

Local and international pressure

Al-Qaeda is suffering under local and international financial blockades, political analyst Nayef Haidan told Al-Mashareq.

The group had relied on various financing streams to recruit fighters, he said, exploiting the high rates of poverty and unemployment exacerbated by the war.

"This enabled it to seize control of al-Mukalla and its financial resources, especially the revenue from the export of oil," he said.

The loss of these sources of revenue has caused al-Qaeda "a major setback, and will cause it to lose many more of its elements due to the lack of money, which was a draw factor to them", Haidan said.

This also will have an adverse effect on the group’s influence in other areas, as evidenced by its exit from Abyan, which exemplifies the state of weakness into which it has descended, he added.

The fierce rivalry between al-Qaeda and the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) is also undermining both groups .

"Al-Qaeda is facing several variables on the ground, both locally and regionally, that have led to weakness in its ranks and ushered in the withdrawal of the group’s elements from cities it had dominated for years," political analyst Tariq al-Zuraiqi told Al-Mashareq.

The group does not give up areas it controls easily, but in the face of the campaign mounted by Yemeni and coalition forces, it was forced to pull out of al-Mukalla, he said.

"Al-Qaeda also withdrew from the city of Azzan in Shabwa province in August, and later that same month, the army and coalition retook major cities in Abyan province without a real fight," he added.

This is in sharp contrast to 2012, when the army regained control of Abyan’s cities after difficult battles, al-Zuraiqi said.

This is an indication of the group’s current state of decline, he added, calling on the army to not give al-Qaeda an opportunity to regroup.

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