Al-Qaeda is gaining ground in Yemen and could benefit from military actions like the deadly raid by elite US forces ordered by President Donald Trump, the International Crisis Group warned Thursday.
“The Yemeni branch of Al-Qaeda is stronger than it has ever been,” ICG said in a report documenting the spread of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
The report was released after Sunday’s US air raid ordered by President Donald Trump on Bayda province in which more than a dozen civilians were killed in attacks on a school, a mosque and a hospital.
“The first military actions by the [US President Donald] Trump administration in Yemen bode poorly for the prospect of smartly and effectively countering AQAP,” read the report.
Although the US has said the strike killed at least 14 suspected terrorists and one US Navy force, the ICG said the death toll included “many civilians, including at least 10 women and children.”
The think tank warned that similar attacks could escalate fear and anti-US sentiments among civilians, laying the groundwork for recruitment by AQAP.
“The use of US soldiers, high civilian casualties and disregard for local tribal and political dynamics… plays into AQAP’s narrative of defending Muslims against the West and could increase anti-US sentiment and with it AQAP’s pool of recruits,” it said.
According to a Yemeni provincial official in Bayda, the US attack on Sunday killed 41 suspected militants and 16 civilians, eight of whom were women and eight children.
AQAP, however, announced in a statement that the strike killed 30 people “only women and children… with some tribal leaders who have no connections” to the group.
The al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen has taken advantage of the chaos fueled by a deadly Saudi military campaign to tighten its grip on parts of southeast Yemen.
The Takfiri ISIL group has also gained ground in and around the main southern city of Aden after the army and their Houthi allies were evicted by the Saudi-led offensive launched in support of the former Hadi government.