Al-Qaeda has successfully adapted its message in Yemen to exploit local grievances. Still, the violent jihad it advocates is not widely accepted by Yemenis at this point, and there is a small window of opportunity to take steps to undermine al-Qaeda’s influence.

An effective strategy to combat Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) must identify how the group’s message resonates with Yemenis and develop ways for state institutions to address underlying complaints, contends a paper by Alistair Harris.


  • Avoid over-dependence on hard power. While military and law enforcement clearly have a role to play, civilian casualties need to be avoided and Yemeni-led security operations must be part of a comprehensive approach that prioritizes soft power. 
  • Better understand AQAP’s message. By knowing how AQAP communicates and why local populations are drawn to the messages, the government can more effectively respond to preexisting grievances and exploit any contradictions in al-Qaeda’s narrative.  
  • Support locally-led responses. To counter the threat of terrorism in Yemen, the government must effectively improve local participation, responsiveness, credibility, and service delivery.

“Complementary to targeted intelligence and Yemeni-led law enforcement activities, an effective strategy to combat AQAP must seek to understand which parts of the group’s narrative are resonating and why and how state institutions can address the grievances—real or perceived—articulated by AQAP,” writes Harris.