California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff said Sunday that Al Qaeda is having a “resurgence.”
"In Yemen the news is really all bad," Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told ABC's "This Week." "Just as we feared in the chaos ... Al Qaeda has had a resurgence."
The Al Qaeda offshoot group in the Arab Peninsula has taken advantage of the turmoil in Yemen since it started several weeks ago, using the chaos and deteriorating government to expand its foothold in southwest Asia.
“It’s absolutely a safe haven,” Michael Leiter, former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told ABC.
He also said the administration's policy is correct, compared to the alternative of a massive American occupation.
"That doesn't mean that the administration's strategy is flawless, however," he said. "And I think had we put greater emphasis and resources in trying to deal with the governance issues in Yemen, this might have been prevented."
At least 500 people have been killed in the fighting as Shiite rebels known as Houthis continue to try to overthrow the Yemen government and as neighboring Saudi Arabia leads an airstrike campaign to stop the rebels.
Last week, AQAP took advantage of the fall of Mukalla -- the capital of Yemen's largest province, Hadramawt -- by freeing about 300 inmates from the city's main prison, including scores of militants, according to security officials.
Among those freed was Saudi-born Khaled Batrafi, a senior Al Qaeda operative believed to have masterminded past attacks, officials said. Also freed were 90 death row inmates convicted for a host of criminal offences, according to activists in the city.
The administration has referred to its efforts in Yemen as a “success story” and just several days ago continued to defend its strategy.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told MSNBC that U.S. policy "should not be graded against the success or the stability of the Yemeni government."
He also said the strategy has been to try to bolster the government in Yemen, which has for years been in a chaotic state and the administration’s objective “has never been to try to build a Jeffersonian democracy.”
“The goal is to make sure Yemen cannot be a safe haven that extremists can use to attack the West and to attack the United States," he said.
Late last month, the administration removed U.S. personnel from the Arab country, as the situation deteriorated.
President Obama has said several times in recent years that Al Qaeda has been “decimated” or is “on the run.”
He also has submitted to Congress his Authorization of Military Force against ISIL Terrorists plan. However, neither chamber has acted on the proposal.
Schiff has drafted his own plan and says Congress has to authorize such military action and that he doesn’t want U.S. ground troops getting involved like they did for years in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.