With the closing of American embassies across the Middle East and Africa, the latest terror threat emanating from Yemen is severe enough to give U.S. security officials pause. In the meantime, as many people curiously seek out Yemen on a world map, we might ask ourselves why a terror threat this serious should arise from such a small player on the world stage. As the United States has withdrawn its troops from Iraq and plans an organized withdraw from Afghanistan, this broad security threat against American diplomatic posts seems unwarranted at the very least, and still has nothing whatever to do with Yemen.

Though largely unreported, the actual account of U.S. relations with Yemen over the past few years has been one filled with war, albeit a very different kind of war. Sheltered from large publicity bouts, President Obama, upon entering the Oval Office, has proliferated the number of drone strikes in Yemen. Although the overall drone campaign includes countries such as Pakistan, Yemen has been the hotbed of drone activity in recent weeks. In a milestone address to the nation in May of this year, Mr. Obama promised transparency and a scaling back of the drone program to hopeful listeners. As far as Yemen is concerned, the President’s remarks in May have not yet gone into effect.

This week alone two drone strikes have killed several people in Yemen. On August 7th a strike killed seven AQAP (Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) operatives in southern Yemen. Predator drones launched several missiles at two vehicles in the Shabwa province. At the moment, the identities of those killed remain undisclosed. Just one day earlier, a drone strike in the Marib province reportedly killed an AQAP operative known as Saleh al-Tays al-Waeli, who was on Yemen’s most-wanted terrorist list. On August 1st another strike killed five AQAP fighters in the eastern Yemeni province of Hadramout.

Drones killed three AQAP fighters on July 30th as well, including a Saudi operative and reportedly a mid-level AQAP commander in the Shabwa province. On July 27th a drone strike attacked and killed six AQAP fighters in the Abyan province of Yemen, which interrupted a seven-week break in drone strikes in Yemen. In 2013 Yemen has been the victim of 17 U.S. drone strikes. The United States launched 42 strikes into Yemen in 2012. * In this context, a terror threat in Yemen has resulted in the shutdown of more than 20 American embassies.

While the particular nature of the threat is unknown, the threat’s source is widely known and available to all. AQAP, an affiliate of Al-Qaeda, is based in Yemen and remains strong despite American efforts to disband the terrorist network with drone warfare. As an Al-Qaeda affiliate, AQAP holds the same Islamist, reactionary, cultish beliefs concerning jihad and terrorism. But, unlike Al-Qaeda, AQAP is primarily based in Yemen and has operations that likewise occur in Yemen itself. Whereas Al-Qaeda usually sends recruits to training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan, AQAP can use homegrown recruits from Yemen, which has numerous implications. Most salient, AQAP militants are often times Yemenis fighting alongside fellow Yemenis, so that a certain type of fellowship is allowed to develop among the fighters. As a result, for every drone strike that lands in Yemen and kills an AQAP operative, another operative has lost a ‘brother.’

Another important factor that has contributed to AQAP’s strength is the Yemeni government itself. As a very weak state, Yemen has been all but completely unable to do anything about terrorism within its own borders. The recent terrorist plot exposure concerning a takeover of oil fields notwithstanding, Yemeni officials have counted on the United States to solve the AQAP problem over the past few years. Unfortunately, whenever a weak state is involved, terrorist insurgencies become easier and easier. For plain examples we need not look any further than Afghanistan and Pakistan, two countries who have refused to properly deal with terrorism on their own for many years.

The terror threat from AQAP in Yemen certainly raises questions and concerns, the least of which involves how such a threat can exist after years of relentless drone warfare. But, a threat this significant can also serve as a turning point in foreign policy. Simply put, the United States is fighting the Al-Qaeda of yesterday. AQAP, based in Yemen, is profiting in members from drone strikes. With every civilian casualty AQAP gains a recruiting tool.

After years of prolonged drone strikes, it is time to call home the equipment and reexamine our policy toward AQAP if we truly desire to decimate the terrorist network. A clear choice between liberalism and totalitarianism confronts us in AQAP, and this most recent terror threat should provide concern to the notion that Al Qaeda and its affiliates are forever destroyed. As civilians we were recruited in this ‘War on Terror’ on September 11, 2001 and it is long past time to rethink our policy in executing a winning strategy to eliminate terrorists while preserving our liberal ideals.


*These figures dealing with recent drone strikes are all according to The Long War Journal: A Project of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies