AQAP (al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) recently adopted a new media strategy by providing personal (often embellished or even invented) details of its personnel killed by American UAV missile attacks. Hundreds of AQAP members, including a lot of leaders and key technicians (especially bomb builders) have been killed by these attacks and the new media campaign is meant to mobilize international media to oppose these “assassinations”. As part of this new media strategy AQAP stresses that it exists to oppose the monarchies and dictatorships that rule most Arab countries. AQAP considers the United States complicit for supporting these Arab governments and, worst of all, for supporting Israel. Left unsaid is what would happen if AQAP replaced the current despots. Most Moslems doubt AQAP would provide anything better. Media don’t like to pay much attention to how the majority of people in areas where Islamic terrorists operate approve of the UAV attacks. These locals can do the math and realize the Hellfire missiles are killing people who are dangerous to be around under any conditions. Moreover UAV/Hellfire causes far fewer civilian casualties that older methods (unguided bombs and artillery and lots of gunfire on the ground).
AQAP was formed in 2009 when al Qaeda was effectively driven out of Saudi Arabia after losing a war with the government triggered by the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. AQAP initially consisted of remnants of the Saudi al Qaeda organization (several thousand full and part time members) who fled to Yemen and merged with the smaller Yemeni al Qaeda branch. AQAP also benefitted from hundreds of Iraqi al Qaeda members who arrived after the defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq in 2007-8. Growing unrest in Yemen (against the long-time Saleh dictatorship) enabled AQAP to recruit locally and take over several towns in the south by 2011. Then the government launched a counteroffensive in 2012 and year AQAP got hurt very badly. A thousand or so AQAP survivors established new bases deeper in the rural areas of the south and this was watched, and sometimes attacked with missiles, by the growing number of American UAVs operating in Yemen. At the same time there were few other places for defeated al Qaeda men to flee to. The sanctuary in Mali was destroyed in early 2013 by a French led offensive. The sanctuary in Pakistan (North Waziristan) was increasingly hostile to al Qaeda and mainly for local Islamic terrorists and became less hospitable after the Pakistani Army invaded South Waziristan in mid-2014. Surviving al Qaeda men are increasingly operating in isolation and under heavy attack and many simply went home and abandoned Islamic terrorist activity, at least for the moment. While the al Qaeda situation is desperate in Yemen, AQAP was still al Qaeda’s most capable branch after 2012. Now AQAP is much less capable, in part because of the growing power of Iran backed Shia rebels from the north. AQAP (and al Qaeda in general) also want to capitalize on the fact the ISIL is much more vicious, so much so that even al Qaeda condemns it. Left unmentioned is the fact that al Qaeda and ISIL share the same goals and differ mainly on the tactics used to achieve those goals. AQAP also plays down it ultimate objective of world domination and forcibly converting everyone on the planet to Islam and killing those who refuse. Nevertheless the rise of the Shia rebels has destroyed the effective Yemeni military operation against Islamic terrorists and cut the U.S. off from a valuable source of information on AQAP operations. AQAP has become an ally of the Sunni tribes in southern Yemen who are trying to defeat the Shia rebels. Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab countries are providing air support and threaten to come in on the ground. Until the Arab troops invade, AQAP is secure and still functional.