By Scott Stewart
In recent weeks, insurgent forces in several countries have been forced to withdraw from territories they once held. Somalia's al Shabaab, which was pushed out of Mogadishu in October 2011, was ejected from Afmadow on May 30. The group now runs the risk of losing its hold once again on the port city of Kismayo, an important logistical and financial hub for al Shabaab.
In Syria, the Free Syrian Army and other rebel groups were forced out of the city of Idlib and Homs' Baba Amr district in March. They also withdrew from Al-Haffah on June 13.
Meanwhile in Yemen, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has been forced to retreat from towns it took control of last year in southern Abyan province, including Jaar, Shaqra and Zinjibar. The organization controlled the area it seized from the government through its Ansar al-Sharia front organization. AQAP was able to capitalize on the infighting that began in Yemen in 2011 and successfully diverted the government's focus away from AQAP and other militant groups. But in February, the election of new Yemeni President Abd Rabboh Mansour Hadi allowed the rift created by the infighting to be slowly healed. As a result, a combination of Yemeni soldiers and local tribesmen, backed by U.S. intelligence and fire support, have been able to push back AQAP and Ansar al-Sharia in recent weeks.
Losing these cities will immediately and significantly affect AQAP's ability to reach its goal of establishing an emirate based on Sharia law in southern Yemen. However, the loss of this territory will not mean an end to the group, just as losses of territory by militants in Somalia and Syria do not mean those insurgent groups have been defeated definitively. The reason for this rests in the very nature of insurgent warfare. To insurgent groups, the loss of territory is a setback, but is only one episode in what they intend to be a very long war.