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Al Qaeda and U.S. Policy
in the Middle East and Africa


Carla E. Humud


CRS Report R43756

After nearly a decade and a half of combating Al Qaeda (AQ) in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the United States faces an increasingly diverse threat from Al Qaeda affiliates in the Middle East and Africa. While senior Al Qaeda figures reportedly remain based in Pakistan, the network maintains a number of affiliates across the Middle East and Africa including Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and Al Shabaab. Al Qaeda also retains a small but growing presence in Afghanistan. U.S. officials have stated that Al Qaeda still maintains a foothold in Syria through its ties to Jabhat Fatah al Sham (formerly known as the Nusra Front). This report examines the threat posed by Al Qaeda affiliates in the Middle East and Africa as described by U.S. officials and outside observers, as well as the U.S. approach to date in responding to the threat posed by individual groups.
The rise of the Islamic State and its rapid territorial expansion across Syria and Iraq has at times eclipsed the attention directed towards Al Qaeda, at least in the public debate. However, U.S. officials have warned that Al Qaeda remains focused on attacking the United States, and that some of its affiliates in the Middle East have the capability to do so. AQ affiliates that have primarily targeted local governments in the region have also turned their efforts to Western interests abroad, aiming at soft targets—such as hotels—frequented by Americans or Europeans. U.S. officials have cautioned that some Al Qaeda affiliates may increasingly turn to this type of high-profile attack as a way of remaining “competitive” for funds and recruits, in light of the wide publicity garnered by the Islamic State.
Congressional concerns regarding these issues might shape ongoing reevaluations of the laws that underpin current U.S. counterterrorism policy, including the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF, P.L. 107-40). In addition to the AUMF, Congress has addressed the emergence of Al Qaeda affiliates through a number of channels, including oversight of executive branch counterterrorism policies and practices; authorization and appropriations of U.S. funds for counterterrorism operations; and oversight of assistance for partner nations engaged in such operations.