Yemeni tribes as collective entities have not backed or allied with AQAP, agreed to give its fighters safe haven, or endorsed its radical ideology; to the contrary, tribes have tended to see the group as a potentially serious challenge to their authority
This timely report by Nadwa Al-Dawsari unpacks the dynamics between tribes and AQAP to explain that Yemeni tribes are not an inherent part of the problem, but instead could represent a key to countering the group effectively. The report describes the evolution of al-Qaeda in Yemen since the late 1980s; what tribes are, the government’s relations with tribes, and tribes’ governance and value systems; and AQAP-tribal interactions before and during the civil war, when some tribes have coordinated with AQAP against the Houthis, a common enemy.
The report goes on to discuss how the excessively militarised U.S. counterterrorism approach has worsened some of the conditions on the ground that fuelled al-Qaeda in Yemen in the first place.
Finally, the report offers four broad recommendations for U.S. policy including 1) Work to end the war as soon as possible; 2) Do not wait until the end of the war, however, to help Yemenis strengthen security and improve living conditions; 3) Limit the use of airstrikes and raids against AQAP, especially in areas where clashes between Houthis and tribes are ongoing; and 4) Explore the possibility of rehabilitation for some tribesmen who joined AQAP for economic, political, or social reasons, not out of ideological commitment.
AQAP exploited the security vacuum created when Yemen’s military and security forces split into pro-and anti-Saleh factions, or simply disintegrated.