— Create space for tribes and clerics. The only people in a position to decisively disrupt, dismantle and defeat AQAP are the tribesmen and clerics in Yemen. It is men like Salim al-Jabir, a local preacher, who have the standing and stature to take the fight to al-Qaeda. Unfortunately, the more drone strikes there are, the more difficult this becomes. In al-Jabir’s case, it became impossible: In late 2012, a trio of al-Qaeda operatives called a meeting with the young preacher in an attempt to get him to tone down his rhetoric. That meeting was struck by a drone; al-Jabir, a companion and the three al-Qaeda members were killed.
By taking signature strikes off the table and limiting the number of high-value-target strikes, the U.S. will open up space for Yemen’s tribesmen and clerics to stand up to the terrorists. After all, AQAP has killed far more Yemenis than it has Americans.
The U.S. can’t win this war on its own. Right now, this is a fight between the U.S. and al-Qaeda with Yemen as the battleground. It has to be Yemenis against al-Qaeda, with the U.S. allying with its Yemeni partners.