In the past few years, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, as the group's branch in Yemen is known, has been bolstering its operations in the Middle East nation after key Saudi operatives fled there following a major crackdown in Saudi Arabia. The franchise has been blamed for directing a string of unsuccessful bomb plots on U.S. soil from its hideouts. Those included a foiled plan to down a U.S.-bound airliner using a new, sophisticated explosive to be hidden in the bomber's underwear, and a plot to send mail bombs on planes to the U.S. hidden in the toner cartridges of computer printers.
In response, the U.S. has stepped up its drone war, carrying out 42 airstrikes last year — four in one week last month — against al-Qaida militants in Yemen, according to statistics gathered by the Long War Journal.
AQAP overran entire towns and villages last year by taking advantage of a security lapse during nationwide protests that eventually ousted the country's longtime ruler. Backed by the U.S. military, Yemen's army was able to regain control of the southern region, but al-Qaida militants continue to launch deadly attacks on security forces that have killed hundreds.
The Islamist extremist rebels of al-Shabab, who are allied to al-Qaida, have lost considerable ground in Somalia. The United Nations-backed government now controls the capital, Mogadishu, and all major cities, although the rebels still carry out terrorist bombings.