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Topic: Yemen (Read 9705 times)
January 03, 2010, 09:22:43 AM »
We kick of this thread with a POTH piece by an FBI agent.
Scenes From the War on Terrorism in Yemen
By ALI H. SOUFAN
Published: January 2, 2010
The evidence that Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen had a role in the failed Christmas Day bombing of an American passenger jet has led some to declare that Yemen is the new front in the war against the terrorist organization. But the truth is, Yemen has been a front in that war since at least Oct. 12, 2000, when Al Qaeda blew up the Navy destroyer Cole, killing 17 American sailors, in the port of Aden. The explosives for the bombing were bought in Yemen. And the attackers and their accomplices were predominantly Yemenis. Indeed, after the attack, terrorists in Qaeda camps in Afghanistan would march and chant, “We, the Yemenis, destroyed the Cole.”
As the F.B.I. case agent for the Cole investigation from 2000 to 2005, I spent years with colleagues in Yemen hunting down those responsible, and we unraveled an entire Qaeda network in the country.
Even before the Cole attack, Yemen was linked to terrorist acts. Most of the people who executed the 1998 East African embassy bombings either traveled through Yemen or used fraudulent Yemeni passports. Almost two years after the Cole, Qaeda terrorists based in Yemen struck the Limburg, a French oil tanker, off the coast of Yemen. Qaeda terrorists in Yemen also helped facilitate the attacks of 9/11. Fahd al-Quso, a Yemeni Qaeda member who confessed to me his role in the U.S.S. Cole bombing, also admitted to ferrying money to a Qaeda operative known as Khallad who was part of an important 9/11 planning meeting in Malaysia.
As recently as this past August, an assassination attempt against Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, Saudi Arabia’s deputy minister of interior in charge of security, was plotted in Yemen. The explosive mixture that the suicide bomber used in that attack was the same one that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to ignite on the passenger jet over Detroit — and in each case the terrorist hid the mixture in his underwear.
Yemen is a very appealing base for Al Qaeda for various reasons. From its position at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, the country has convenient access to Al Qaeda’s main theaters of battle, including Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan. Its borders are unsecured, and tribal groups sympathetic to Al Qaeda control many regions, so terrorists can move freely into, out of and around the country. And guns and explosives are readily available from Yemen’s thriving arms market.
The country’s tribal nature also makes it a relatively easy place for Al Qaeda to operate. Yemen has a weak government and powerful regional tribes, which in many ways operate as mini-governments free of central control. In addition, the government is struggling to contain both a secessionist movement in the south and a rebellion in the north. Rampant poverty and illiteracy make it easy for Al Qaeda to buy local support and manipulate Yemenis into believing its propaganda.
When I was in Yemen, I found many extremely capable officials in law enforcement and intelligence who were dedicated to stopping Al Qaeda. With their help, and with support from American intelligence and military agencies, our F.B.I. team was able to arrest and prosecute in a Yemeni court people responsible for the Cole bombing and for planning other attacks. By the time we left Yemen, in 2005, those terrorists were in prison.
Later, however, some of them “escaped,” and others were given clemency. Jamal al-Badawi, for example, a Qaeda terrorist who confessed to me his role in the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole, was sentenced to death by a Yemeni judge in 2004. But in 2006, he “escaped” from jail, only to turn himself in the next year — in a deal that released him from prison on a promise of good behavior. Today, Mr. Quso, the confessed Cole bomber, is not only free, he’s giving interviews and re-establishing himself as a terrorist operative.
During the past year, in an ominous sign of Yemen’s rising importance to Al Qaeda, the Saudi branch of the organization merged with the Yemeni branch to form a single terrorist group for the entire peninsula. Known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, it is based in Yemen and headed by a Yemeni, Naser Abdel-Karim al-Wahishi, who served as a close aide to Osama bin Laden. Mr. Wahishi “escaped” from jail with Mr. Badawi.
Some Yemeni government officials highly value their relationship with the United States, which provides financial aid and military training. During our investigation of the Cole bombing, when the American government made it clear to the Yemenis that they expected full cooperation, the Yemenis who were dedicated to justice were given free rein and those with extremist ties were sidelined. After the trials were over and the terrorists made it out of jail, Robert S. Mueller III, the director of the F.B.I., flew to Yemen to complain, but there was little further protest by the United States. We dropped the ball.
A year and a half ago, when I briefed a bipartisan group of Senate staff members on Yemen, I warned that unless the American government sent a united message to the Yemenis to act against Al Qaeda, the terrorists responsible for the Cole would remain free and there would be future attacks against the United States connected to Yemen. Today, the terrorists behind the Cole are still free, and an attack connected to Yemen has been attempted.
It is possible to defeat Al Qaeda in Yemen without sending American troops. Now that the Yemenis are once again acting against Al Qaeda by striking the terrorist group’s bases and killing or apprehending many of its members, the United States must show that it has learned to stay focused and hold Yemeni officials accountable. This time, the terrorists must be permanently locked up, not allowed to escape or receive pardons. The most important sign of Yemen’s sincerity will be when those with the blood of 17 American sailors on their hands are all brought to justice in the way they deserve.
Ali H. Soufan was an F.B.I. special agent from 1997 to 2005.
Reply #1 on:
January 03, 2010, 09:42:28 AM »
Pay attention to the part about two that were released from Gitmo
SAN'A, Yemen – The U.S. and Britain closed their embassies in Yemen on Sunday in the face of al-Qaida threats, after both countries announced an increase in aid to the government to fight the terror group linked to the failed attempt to bomb a U.S. airliner on Christmas.
The confrontation with al-Qaida's offshoot in Yemen has gained new urgency since the 23-year-old Nigerian accused in the attack, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, told American investigators he received training and instructions from the group's operatives in Yemen. President Barack Obama said Saturday that the al-Qaida offshoot was behind the attempt.
White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan said the American Embassy, which was attacked twice in 2008, was shut Sunday because of "indications al-Qaida is planning to carry out an attack against a target inside of San'a, possibly our embassy."
"We're not going to take any chances" with the lives of embassy personnel, Brennan said. A statement on the embassy's Web site announcing the closure did not say how long it would remain closed.
In London, Britain's Foreign Office said its embassy was closed for security reasons. It said officials would decide later whether to reopen it on Monday.
The closure comes as Washington is dramatically stepping up aid to Yemen to fight al-Qaida, which has built up strongholds in remote parts of the impoverished, mountainous nation where government control outside the capital is weak.
Over the weekend, Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. general who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, announced that Washington this year will more than double the $67 million in counterterrorism aid that it provided Yemen in 2009. On Saturday, Petraeus met with Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to discuss coordination in the fight against al-Qaida.
Britain announced Sunday that Washington and London will fund a counterterrorism police unit in Yemen. Britain will also host a high-level international conference Jan. 28 to come up with an international strategy to counter radicalization in Yemen.
The U.S. also provided intelligence and other help to back two Yemeni air and ground assaults on al-Qaida hide-outs last month, reported to have killed more than 60 people. Yemeni authorities said more than 30 suspected militants were among the dead.
The U.S. has increasingly provided intelligence, surveillance and training to Yemeni forces during the past year, and has provided some firepower, a senior U.S. defense official has said. Some of that assistance may be through the expanded use of unmanned drones, and the U.S. is providing funding to Yemen for helicopters and other equipment. Officials, however, say there are no U.S. ground forces or fighter aircraft in Yemen.
On Thursday, the embassy sent a notice to Americans in Yemen urging them to be vigilant about security.
Yemeni security officials said over the weekend that the country had deployed several hundred extra troops to Marib and Jouf, two mountainous eastern provinces that are al-Qaida's main strongholds in the country and where Abdulmutallab may have visited. U.S. and Yemeni investigators have been trying to track Abdulmutallab's steps in Yemen, which he visited from August until Dec. 7. He was there ostensibly to study Arabic in San'a, but he disappeared for much of that time.
Yemeni media also reported that the coast guard was increasing patrols to stop any incoming militants after an al-Qaida-linked insurgent group in Somalia, al-Shabab, claimed last week that it would send its fighters to help the terror group's offshoot there.
Al-Qaida fighters have dramatically increased their presence in Yemen over the past year, taking advantage of the San'a government's weak control over much of the country. Tribes hold sway over large areas, and many of them are discontented with the central government and have given refuge to al-Qaida fighters, both Yemenis and other Arabs coming from Saudi Arabia or war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Yemen, the ancestral homeland of Osama bin Laden, was the scene of the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, and in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, the Yemeni government worked with Washington to crack down on al-Qaida figures on its soil.
But the terror group has rallied, announcing in January 2009 the creation of Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, grouping fighters from Yemen and neighboring Saudi Arabia. The leader of the group, Naser Abdel Karim al-Wahishi, is a Yemeni who was once close to bin Laden, and two Saudis who were released from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay in 2007 and 2006 have taken up senior roles — Said al-Shihri, the group's deputy leader, and Ibrahim Suleiman al-Rubaish, seen as its theological adviser.
The Yemeni government, meanwhile, has been tied down battling two separate internal rebellions in the north and south. The various conflicts and the country's poverty and lack of resources have raised fears that instability could deepen.
Located at the tip of the Arabian peninsula, Yemen straddles a strategic maritime crossroads at the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, the access point to the Suez Canal. Across the Gulf is Somalia, an even more tumultuous nation where the U.S. has said al-Qaida militants have been increasing their activity. Yemen also borders Saudi Arabia, the world's leading oil producer.
There have been a spate of assaults on the U.S. Embassy in Yemen.
In an attack in September 2008, gunmen and two vehicles packed with explosives attacked the U.S. Embassy, killing 19 people, including an 18-year-old American woman and six militants. None of those killed or wounded were U.S. diplomats or embassy employees. Al-Qaida in Yemen claimed responsibility.
In March 2008, three mortars missed the U.S. Embassy and crashed into a high school for girls nearby, killing a security guard. In March 2003, two people were shot dead and dozens more were wounded as police clashed with demonstrators trying to storm the embassy.
Last January, gunmen in a car exchanged fire with police at a checkpoint near the embassy, hours after the embassy received threats of a possible attack by al-Qaida. Nobody was injured. In April, embassy personnel were put on a one-week lockdown, barred from leaving their homes or the embassy after al-Qaida suicide bombings that targeted South Korean visitors.
As recently as July, security was upgraded in San'a after intelligence reports warned of attacks planned against the U.S. Embassy.
Stratfor: Complex Jihadi Problem
Reply #2 on:
January 06, 2010, 11:51:07 PM »
Some very grim thoughts in here , , ,
Yemen's Complex Jihadist Problem
U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA, in a Jan. 5 televised statement, warned that the United States would target al Qaeda in Yemen. Obama said, “As these violent extremists pursue new havens, we intend to target al Qaeda wherever they take root, forging new partnerships to deny them sanctuary, as we are doing currently with the government in Yemen.” The president’s remarks came after a meeting with top intelligence and national security officials to discuss security reviews following the failed Christmas Day attack on a Detroit-bound U.S. airliner claimed by the global jihadist network’s Yemen-based node.
The Dec. 25 attempt to destroy an American commercial aircraft nearly succeeded. If it had, it would have been the deadliest attack in the United States since 9/11. The incident places considerable political pressure on the Obama administration to take action against those behind the plot to destroy the Delta flight. In other words, it is politically necessary for Obama to order U.S. military action in Yemen to reassure Americans that something is being done to counter this latest jihadist threat.
There are serious limits, however, to how far Washington can go in terms of operationalizing the need to take action. For starters, U.S. intelligence and military have for several years been engaged in limited operations in the country in conjunction with their Yemeni counterparts. Obviously the existing counterterrorism/counterinsurgency cooperation was not sufficient enough to degrade the group.
“Any large-scale military offensive could prove to be the last straw to break the Yemeni camel’s back.”
But limited operations may not satisfy the administration’s critics at home, putting Obama in the uncomfortable position of having to get more aggressive in Yemen. The geopolitical reality of Yemen, however, makes any such venture an extremely risky one. Sanaa is not just threatened by jihadists.
The city faces a sectarian insurgency in the north, which has rendered the Saudi-Yemeni border area a de facto battleground for a Saudi-Iranian proxy war. In the south, President Ali Abdallah Saleh’s government faces a strong resurgent secessionist movement. And while it deals with these two very different forces, which could lead to state implosion, Sanaa relies heavily on support from extremely conservative tribes and radical Islamist forces — especially those in the security establishment — for its survival.
Therefore, any form of overt large-scale military offensive may well prove to be the last straw to break the Yemeni camel’s back. The Yemeni state is having a hard time battling jihadists on its own. One can only imagine the problems it would face if it allowed U.S. military operations on its soil. This is, in fact, exactly what al Qaeda desires.
Not having the wherewithal to topple a sitting government, the signature jihadist approach has been to lure the United States into a military intervention in Muslim countries. From al Qaeda’s point of view, such U.S. military intervention could create conditions of anarchy leading to the implosion of the state in question, thereby creating opportunities for the jihadists. In this case, it is not just about Yemen. There is also the danger of spillover into Saudi Arabia and the other energy-producing Persian Gulf Arab states on the Arabian Peninsula.
Yemen is very closely located to another major jihadist arena, across the Red Sea in Somalia — a country with a much worse jihadist problem and with Islamist militant linkages with Yemen. But the regional spillover would not only manifest itself in the form of jihadists. The fight between the Yemeni state and the jihadists could provide an opportunity for the Iranian-supported al-Houthis in the north to further escalate their insurgency. In essence, the Saudis would be faced with both an intensified jihadist and Iranian threat.
The Obama administration is well aware of these repercussions and is thus unlikely to opt for any major military campaign in Yemen. Instead it is likely to try to tackle this in a surgical manner through the use of intelligence, special forces and unmanned aerial vehicle strikes. The strategy employed in Yemen will largely be used to satisfy a political necessity at home, because any serious increase in involvement could make matters on the ground in Yemen even worse. But the problem is that similar measures are currently in place and are already making matters worse, albeit in a very gradual manner.
Reply #3 on:
January 08, 2010, 10:11:54 AM »
IIRC I heard yesterday that we are going to be selling various military toys, including night vision capabilities, to the Yemeni government.
I'm wondering if this, particularly the NV gear, is a good idea , , ,
WSJ: Smart Power in Yemen
Reply #4 on:
January 14, 2010, 07:21:33 AM »
No opinion on the merits of this piece. I post it simply to begin the conversation on Yemen:
By FREDERICK W. KAGAN AND CHRISTOPHER HARNISCH
President Barack Obama has made it clear that he does not intend to send American ground forces into Yemen, and rightly so. But American policy toward Yemen, even after the Christmas terrorist attempt, remains focused on limited counterterrorist approaches that failed in Afghanistan in the 1990s and have created tension in Pakistan since 2001.
Yemen faces enormous challenges. Its 24 million people are divided into three antagonistic groups: a Zaydi Shiite minority now fighting against the central government (the Houthi rebellion); the inhabitants of the former Yemen Arab Republic (in the north); and the inhabitants of the former Peoples Democratic Republic of Yemen (in the south), many of whom are engaged in a secessionist rebellion. Its government is corrupt, its security forces have limited capabilities, and a large swath of its population is addicted to a drug called qat.
The World Bank estimates that Yemen will stop earning a profit on its oil production by 2017 (oil now accounts for more than half of the country's export income). Only 46% of rural Yemenis have access to adequate water (40% of the country's water goes to growing qat), and some estimates suggest Yemen will run out of water for its people within a decade.
American policy in Yemen has focused heavily on fighting al Qaeda, but it has failed to address the conditions that make the country a terrorist safe haven. Targeted strikes in 2002 killed key al Qaeda leaders in Yemen, and the group went relatively quiet for several years. The U.S. military has been working to build up the Yemeni Coast Guard (to prevent attacks similar to the one on the USS Cole in 2000) and to improve the counterterrorist capabilities of the Yemeni military in general.
But the U.S. has resisted supporting President Ali Abdallah Salah's efforts to defeat the Houthi insurgency, generating understandable friction with our would-be partner. As we have found repeatedly in similar situations around the world (particularly in Pakistan), local governments will not focus on terrorist groups that primarily threaten the U.S. or their neighbors at the expense of security challenges that threaten them directly. A strategy that attempts to pressure or bribe them to go after our enemies is likely to fail.
Mr. Salah is an unpalatable partner, and we don't want to be drawn into Yemen's internal conflicts more than necessary. But he is the only partner we have in Yemen. If we want him to take our side in the fight against al Qaeda, we have to take his side in the fight against the Houthis.
The U.S. must also develop a coherent approach that will help Yemen's government improve itself, address its looming economic and social catastrophes, and improve the ability of its military, intelligence and police organs to establish security throughout the country. The U.S. now maintains an earnest but understaffed and under-resourced USAID mission in the American embassy in Sana, the country's capital. But because of security concerns, U.S. officials are largely restricted to Sana and therefore cannot directly oversee the limited programs they support, let alone help address systemic governance failures.
Yemen received $150 million in USAID funds in 2009—one-tenth the amount dispensed in Afghanistan; less than one-fifth the amount provided to Gaza and the West Bank; and roughly half of what Nigeria received. The Pentagon recently said it would like to double the roughly $70 million Yemen received in security assistance. But the total pool from which that money would come from in 2010 is only $350 million, according to Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell, and there are other pressing demands for those funds.
The problems in Yemen will not be solved simply by throwing American money at them. But dollars are the soldiers of the smart power approach. Having a lot of them does not guarantee success, but having too few does guarantee failure.
Developing a coherent strategy focused on the right objectives is important, and hard to do. The country team in any normal American embassy (like the one in Sana) does not have the staff, resources or experience to do so. The limited American military presence in Yemen does not either. Despite years of talk about the need to develop this kind of capability in the State Department or elsewhere in Washington, it does not exist. It must be built now, and quickly.
The president could do that by instructing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to form a Joint Interagency Task Force on Yemen. Its mission would be to develop and implement a strategy to improve the effectiveness of the Yemeni government and security forces, re-establish civil order, and eliminate the al Qaeda safe haven. Its personnel should include the Yemen country team, headed by the ambassador, and experts from other relevant U.S. agencies as well as sufficient staff to develop and execute programs. An immediate priority must be to provide security to American officials in Yemen that will enable them to travel around, even though there will not be American forces on the ground to protect them.
This strategy will require helping Yemen defeat the Houthi insurgency and resolve the southern secessionist tensions without creating a full-blown insurgency in the south. It will also require a nuanced strategy to help the Yemeni government disentangle al Qaeda from the southern tribes that now support or tolerate it.
One of the key errors the Bush administration made in Afghanistan and Iraq was to focus excessively on solving immediate security problems without preparing for the aftermath. Too narrow a focus on improving counterterrorist strikes in Yemen without addressing the larger context of the terrorist threat growing in that country may well lead to similar results. If the Obama administration wants to avoid sending troops to Yemen, it must act boldly now.
Mr. Kagan is resident scholar and director of the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute. Mr. Harnisch is a researcher and the head of the Gulf of Aden Team at the Critical Threats Project.
US teams and intel deeply involved
Reply #5 on:
January 27, 2010, 08:49:41 AM »
Reply #6 on:
February 10, 2010, 01:02:02 PM »
Yemen: A Hezbollah Withdrawal?
Stratfor Today » February 10, 2010 | 1714 GMT
Yemeni soldiers in Saada province on Feb. 10According to several STRATFOR sources, Hezbollah, upon orders from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, allegedly has withdrawn the remainder of its 400-strong contingent from Yemen. According to one source, the remaining Hezbollah operatives currently are in Khartoum, Sudan, and are awaiting flights to Beirut. They are expected to return to Beirut in small groups on Sudanese airlines.
This information — particularly the claim that Hezbollah had 400 men in Yemen — has not been verified. It must be noted that Iran and Hezbollah have an interest in playing up their involvement in Yemen as a way to amplify Iran’s militant threat against the United States and its Arab allies. STRATFOR therefore is deeply skeptical about the claims that Hezbollah sent 400 fighters to Yemen, where allegedly 70 of its operatives were killed and 90 wounded in Saudi aerial bombardments. The sheer logistical challenge of moving 400 armed men behind enemy lines, supplying them and then dealing with a high number of casualties is highly daunting, especially with U.S. intelligence helping with surveillance in the area.
However, the report of Iran downsizing Hezbollah’s (however limited) presence in Yemen tracks with information STRATFOR has received in recent weeks. The report also follows a decision by Yemen’s al-Houthi leadership to negotiate a cease-fire with Saudi Arabia.
STRATFOR first reported in September 2008 that Hezbollah operatives had perished in fighting alongside al-Houthi rebels in Yemen’s northern mountainous region. The al-Houthi insurgency escalated from a domestic conflict in Yemen to a proxy battle between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the summer of 2008, when Iran began increasing financial and military support for the rebels as a way to emphasize its possession of another lever that could be used against U.S.-allied Arab Gulf states in the event of a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Iran’s push to send Hezbollah operatives to Yemen reportedly caused a major split within Hezbollah’s senior ranks over whether the militant group should be expending assets on Iran’s proxy project in the Arabian Peninsula.
Iran had hoped to use its operations in Yemen as additional leverage in its nuclear negotiations, but Washington was careful to avoid being publicly drawn into the fray by acknowledging Iran’s role in the conflict. STRATFOR received indications in January that Iran, frustrated by its inability to exploit the al-Houthi rebellion in its dealings with the United States, had begun selectively supporting elements of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). STRATFOR does not believe such support has reached a significant level, but the AQAP threat is of far greater concern to the United States, particularly following the Christmas Day 2009 failed AQAP attack on a U.S. airliner. If Iran has indeed decided to withdraw its Hezbollah assets from Yemen, particular attention must be paid to Iran’s AQAP connection. Though these links are not yet critical, AQAP is unlikely to turn down support from Iran, even if the group considers Iran an ideological foe.
POTH: Yemen, the next Afg?
Reply #7 on:
July 11, 2010, 08:03:08 AM »
Just before dawn on Dec. 24, an American cruise missile soared high over the
southern coast of the Arabian peninsula, arced down toward the dark
mountains above the Rafadh Valley in Yemen's Shabwa province and found its
mark, crashing into a small stone house on a hillside where five young men
were sleeping. Half a mile away, a 27-year-old Yemeni tribesman named Ali
Muhammad Ahmed was awakened by the sound. Stumbling out of bed, he quickly
dressed, slung his AK-47 over his shoulder and climbed down a footpath to
the valley that shelters his village, two hours from the nearest paved road.
He already sensed what had happened. A week earlier, an American airstrike
killed dozens of people in a neighboring province as part of an expanded
campaign against Al Qaeda militants. (Although the U.S. military has
acknowledged playing a role in the airstrikes, it has never publicly
confirmed that it fired the missiles.)
Ahmed soon came upon the shattered house. Mangled bodies were strewn among
the stones; he recognized a fellow tribesman. Scattered near the wreckage
were bits of yellow debris with the words "US Navy" and long serial numbers
written on them. A group of six or seven young men were standing in the dawn
half-light, looking dazed. All were members of Al Qaeda. Among them was Fahd
al-Quso, a longtime militant who is wanted by the F.B.I. for his suspected
role in the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in 2000. The missile had struck in
one of the most remote and inaccessible valleys on earth, in a place where
Al Qaeda has been trying to establish a foothold. Quso was the local cell
leader and had been recruiting young men for years. Ahmed knew him well.
I met Ahmed several weeks later in Sana, the Yemeni capital, where he works
part time as a bodyguard. By that time, Al Qaeda's Yemeni branch had claimed
credit for a failed effort to detonate a bomb in a Detroit-bound jetliner on
Christmas Day, igniting a global debate about whether Yemen was the next
front in the war on terror. Yemen's once-obscure vital statistics were
flashing across TV screens everywhere: it is the Arab world's poorest
country, with a fast-growing and deeply conservative Muslim population of 23
million. It is running out of oil and may soon be the first country in the
world to run out of water. The central government is weak and corrupt,
hemmed in by rebellions and powerful tribes. Many fear that Al Qaeda is
gaining a sanctuary in the remote provinces east of Sana, similar to the one
it already has in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
On the day I met him, Ahmed - a small, rail-thin man with a bony face -
seemed still awed and a bit frightened by what happened in his valley. He
was dressed in a tattered blazer and a futa, the patterned cloth skirt
Yemeni men often wear. He sat on a sofa leaning forward with his hands on
his thighs, glancing occasionally at me. We were in a small, sparely
furnished office belonging to Ahmed's employer and friend Abdulaziz
al-Jifri, who had given him permission to speak. It was evening, and in the
room next door men could be heard laughing and chatting as they drank tea
and chewed khat, the narcotic leaf Yemenis use to relax.
"We took the bodies under the trees," Ahmed continued in a quiet voice. "One
was from my tribe. He had just joined Al Qaeda, and that was his first night
sleeping with them." He paused, and I caught a hint of defensiveness,
perhaps also of anger, in his eyes. He seemed reluctant to stray from his
narrative, but it was clear that he felt the bombing was an injustice. "We
knew they were Qaeda, but they were young, and they hadn't done anything,
and they were locals," he said. "They came and went at checkpoints, and the
government didn't seem to care. So we dealt with them normally.. . .
"Later I took the bodies to the graveyard," he went on to say. "Then I
talked with Fahd's cousin about what we should do about him."
Within an hour, Ahmed said, the discussions expanded, and Ali al-Asowad, the
aging sheik of the Abdullah tribe, was summoned from his house. The sun was
rising over the arid brown hills around Rafadh and soon almost 100 people
were sitting under the spreading boughs of an acacia tree for an emergency
(Page 2 of 10)
Dozens of people spoke. Some were angry. Most people in the valley were
related to the dead men or knew them. The victims had scarcely stood out in
Rafadh, where everyone carried weapons and hatred of the Yemeni government
was nothing unusual. What did it matter that they hated America and called
themselves Qaeda? Some of the tribesmen also spoke in defense of Fahd
al-Quso, who moved to the area in 2007. His grandfather had a house there,
so he had a right to the tribe's protection. But others stood up and shouted
angrily that Quso had put the whole tribe in needless danger by basing
himself in their village; more American bombs might be coming soon.
The people of Rafadh had decisions to make, ones that might soon ramify
across all of Yemen's remote mountains and deserts and even half a world
away in the Pentagon. What did Al Qaeda mean to them? Was it worth
protecting? A bargaining chip to be used against a neglectful government? Or
just an invitation to needless violence?
SANA RESEMBLES A FORTRESS, not just in its architecture but in its
geography. It is set on a high plateau, surrounded by arid, craggy
mountains. At its heart is the Old City, a thicket of unearthly medieval
towers and banded spires that stands out sharply in the dry desert air. This
was the entire city until a few decades ago, its high walls locked every
evening at dusk. Today Sana is a far more sprawling place, with Internet
cafes and swarms of beat-up taxis and a sprinkling of adventure tourists.
The Old City gates are mostly gone now, and although men still carry the
traditional daggers known as jambiyas in their belts, they also wear
blazers, often with cheap designer logos on their sleeves. Like other Arab
capitals, it is full of policemen, and there are occasional checkpoints
manned by bored-looking soldiers in camouflage uniforms.
But Yemen is different. Beneath the familiar Arab iconography, like pictures
of the president that hang in every shop, there is a wildness about the
place, a feeling that things might come apart at any moment. A narcotic haze
descends on Yemen every afternoon, as men stuff their mouths with glossy
khat leaves until their cheeks bulge and their eyes glaze over. Police
officers sit down and ignore their posts, a green dribble running down their
chins. Taxi drivers get lost and drive in circles, babbling into their
cellphones. But if not for the opiate of khat, some say, all of Yemen - not
just those areas of the south and north already smoldering with discontent -
would explode into rebellion.
One morning in Sana, I discovered a crowd of people protesting in the stone
courtyard outside the cabinet building. Many had shackle scars on their
wrists and ankles. They came from an area called Jaashin, about 100 miles
south of the capital. But some of them, I found, did not even know that
Jaashin was in the Republic of Yemen. Their only real ruler was the local
sheik, Muhammad Ahmed Mansour, who is, it turns out, a kind of latter-day
Marquis de Sade. Mansour is also a poet, who earns extra license for his
cruelties by writing florid odes to Yemen's president. Some pilgrims from
Jaashin said they were imprisoned, shackled and beaten by the sheik - who
maintains his own army and several prisons - after refusing to relinquish
their property to him. I asked Ahmed Abdu Abdullah al-Haithami, a bent old
farmer in a tattered green jacket, what country he was living in. He looked
up at me with imploring eyes. "All I know is that God rules above, and the
sheik rules here below," he said. All of this, I later learned, was
documented by Yemeni lawyers, who have been working on behalf of the people
of Jaashin for years to little effect. As one lawyer, Khaled al-Alansi, put
it to me, "If you can't fight sheik Mansour, how can you possibly fight Al
Two thousand years ago, the area east of Sana held one of the earth's most
prosperous kingdoms, a lush agricultural region of spices and fruits, fed by
irrigation canals from a vast man-made dam. The Romans called Yemen "Arabia
Felix," or Happy Arabia. Today, the eastern region is an arid wasteland.
Most people scrape by on less than $2 a day, even though they live atop
Yemen's oil and gas fields. There are few ways to make a living other than
smuggling, goat-herding and kidnapping. The region is also, chronically, a
war zone. Tribal feuds have always been part of life here, but in recent
years they have grown so common and so deadly that as much as a quarter of
the population cannot go to school or work for fear of being killed. The
feuds often devolve into battles with bands of raiders mowing down their
rivals with machine-gun fire or launching mortars into a neighboring
village. No one knows how many people die in these wars, but Khaled Fattah,
a sociologist who has studied Yemen's tribes for years, told me that
hundreds of victims a year is a conservative estimate.
Page 3 of 10)
Every time I drive out of Sana I get an ominous sense of going backward in
time to a more lawless era. As the city's towers fade in the distance, the
houses drop away into level desert and occasional piles of construction
rubble. The traffic thins out and consists mostly of pickup trucks carrying
tribesmen with patterned cloth kaffiyehs tied around their heads. You pass
the first of several checkpoints, where skinny soldiers in ill-fitting
uniforms warily circle the car, looking for weapons or kidnapping victims.
You pass towering, desolate mountains of black and brown igneous rock. Once
you're out of Sana province, there are virtually no signs of the Yemeni
state. Every able-bodied man seems to carry an AK-47 rifle over his
shoulder; it's not uncommon to see rocket-propelled-grenade launchers. Only
the oil and gas fields, hidden behind wire fences and vigilantly watched
over by the Yemeni military, seem to merit the government's attention.
Last year I expected to see at least a few government soldiers when I
visited the ancient city of Shibam in Hadramawt, the vast eastern province
where Osama bin Laden's father was born. A few months earlier, four South
Korean tourists were blown up by a suicide bomber as they admired the view
of Shibam from across the valley. I was a little nervous. "Don't worry," my
guide said, patting my shoulder as we walked up to the ridge where the
Koreans died. "Ever since the bombing they have put this place on high
security." But when we got to the top of the ridge there was not a single
soldier or policeman to be seen. We gazed out over the valley in silence. A
sign stood nearby, showing a pair of binoculars and the words in English
"Discover Islam." As we began to leave, my guide smiled broadly and gestured
at the sign. "The Koreans - they discovered Islam," he said, giggling at his
Even in the capital, law and order often mean less than they do in other
Arab countries. One afternoon I was having tea with Abdulaziz al-Jifri when
a shot rang out nearby. I thought nothing of it; it might have been a
firecracker or someone testing a gun. We were in the safest area of the
city, a neighborhood called Hadda, where rich Yemenis and foreign diplomats
have built an enclave in recent decades. But Jifri got up from the cushion
where he was sitting to go see what happened. He came back 15 minutes later
with a look of surprise on his face. A friend of the family, a wealthy
tribal figure, had been shot dead a block away. The victim, Jifri explained,
was walking up to the gate of his home when someone apparently shot him once
in the head. There were no witnesses and no one even bothered to call the
police, who are so corrupt and incompetent that most people view them as
"There is no law in Yemen," Jifri said, shaking his head. We went on
drinking tea and talking politics.
By then, I had spent at least a dozen afternoons at Jifri's house. He was a
unique figure: educated in Britain and Saudi Arabia, he was designated by
his father - a wealthy businessman with political connections - as a liaison
to the tribes in Shabwa and Marib, two of the main areas where Al Qaeda is
said to find sanctuary. He is tall and handsome, with large, mischievous
brown eyes and a knack for setting a room on fire with laughter. His family
are sayyids, or descendants of the prophet Muhammad, and that gave them a
special status in the caste like social hierarchy that prevailed until
Yemen's republican revolution in 1962. Even now, the Jifris are trusted and
respected like few other clans in rural Yemen.
Jifri became my link to rural Yemen. There was no way for me to travel to
Shabwa or Marib undetected, I was told. So day after day I would sit on a
cushion beside him in the family's rectangular living room as various sheiks
and relatives from those provinces arrived to sip tea, chew khat and talk
until dark about what was happening among the tribes. It was there that I
met Ali Muhammad Ahmed, along with others from the area around Rafadh, in
Shabwa province, the valley where the cruise missile struck on Dec. 24. The
Jifris themselves have a house in the Rafadh Valley.
Yemen, next Afg? -2
Reply #8 on:
July 11, 2010, 08:04:32 AM »
Page 4 of 10)
Rafadh, several hundred miles southeast of the capital, is in some ways
typical of the areas where Al Qaeda found refuge in Yemen. It is set among
dry mountains populated by baboons, there are no paved roads and cars must
travel laboriously along dirt tracks that wind among the hills. There is no
public water supply or electricity and no functioning school. The valley was
largely peaceful during the 1970s and '80s, when the socialist government
that ruled South Yemen - a separate country until it united with the north
in 1990 - tried to eradicate tribalism. But since then Yemen's president,
Ali Abdullah Saleh, has encouraged tribal practices, and the feuds have
returned. Rafadh itself has been devastated by a tribal conflict that has
raged for years, killing at least a dozen people and wounding many more in
an area with only a few hundred inhabitants.
Ahmed played a central role in the feud. In 2006, Ahmed's father and older
brother were gunned down by men posing as customers at the father's market
stall. Afterward, he told me, he drove the bullet-riddled bodies to the
nearest police station to ask for justice. The police captain in charge
waved him off dismissively, he said, telling him, "You tribes are always
causing trouble - deal with it yourself."
He did. Ahmed gathered five cousins and together they hunted down and shot
two men they believe were among the killers and three other men who were
sheltering them. The feud briefly threatened to escalate into a broader war.
The government promised to mediate but failed to do so, and the feud grew
with further kidnappings and clumsy army suppression. Many local people felt
the government was largely to blame.
It was then that Fahd al-Quso, the Al Qaeda figure, arrived in the valley.
He had roots in the area but, perhaps more important, he was an outlaw to
the Yemeni authorities, and that alone earned him a welcome in Rafadh. The
United States wanted him in connection with the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole,
which killed 17 American sailors. The Yemeni police arrested his younger
brother, a tactic aimed at pressuring Quso to turn himself in.
"Fahd was a victim in the eyes of the tribes," Ahmed told me. "They accepted
what he said. People distrust the government here, so those who have
problems with it will get sympathy."
Last summer, as Al Qaeda's Arabian branch began setting off alarms in
Washington, Quso became more active, Ahmed told me. "We saw lots of Al Qaeda
guys coming and going from his house," Ahmed said. They tended to keep to
themselves, refusing to give rides to others from the village.
But the tribesmen of Rafadh continued to shelter Quso and his men and not
just because of their shared hatred of the government. Quso had offered to
supply teachers for the village school. Local families knew he was with Al
Qaeda but welcomed the news for a simple reason: there were no teachers in
the school at all. "The people were saying, 'We would rather have our kids
get an Al Qaeda education than be illiterate,' " Jifri told me. After
hearing about Quso's offer, Jifri went to officials in Sana and delivered a
blunt message: "Right now you have one Al Qaeda guy in Rafadh, tomorrow you
will have 700."
Initially, Jifri said, the government refused to provide teachers, saying
any town that was willing to accept help from Al Qaeda was beneath contempt.
Finally, they relented.
"The government agreed to send 6 teachers," Jifri told me. "Fahd brought
WHEN PEOPLE TALK about the government in Yemen, they really mean one man:
Ali Abdullah Saleh. Despite the country's many political parties - Islamist,
Socialist, Arab nationalist - the country is run almost entirely by Saleh,
and he runs it exactly like a sheik: using his own tribe as a power base and
constantly making deals to head off his rivals. Saleh came to power in 1978;
pictures of him at the time show a skinny young man in a military cap that
looks too big for him, his eyes covered by aviator sunglasses.
At the time, most of Yemen was still just emerging from isolation. In 1962 a
group of military officers, inspired and aided by Gamal Abdel Nasser in
Egypt, overthrew the xenophobic religious dynasty that, from its northern
base, ruled much of Yemen for centuries. Some of the young officers hoped to
modernize Yemen and make it more like other Arab countries. In the mid-1970s
one Yemeni president, Ibrahim al-Hamdi, tried to tame the powerful tribal
sheiks, extend the state's power throughout the country and unify with South
Yemen, which emerged from British occupation in 1967. Yemeni intellectuals
still talk about Hamdi with nostalgia. But the sheiks and their Saudi
backers were not pleased. In October 1977, Hamdi was found riddled with
bullets in his Sana home. The killers had thrown the bodies of murdered
French prostitutes beside him to blacken his legacy.
Page 5 of 10)
Saleh was not a man to make such mistakes. He fought in a tribal army as a
teenager and then made his way up through the ranks of the military,
impressing superiors with his ruthlessness and charm. He became a tank
commander - a crucial skill at a time when tanks were a new and essential
weapon. When Hamdi's successor, Ahmad al-Ghashmi, was blown up by a bomb
hidden in a briefcase, Saleh was a compromise replacement. No one expected
him to last long.
Three decades later, Saleh retains a stiff, military bearing, with a strong
jaw and glinting eyes. In person he conveys an impression of fierce pride
and gruffness and the natural defensiveness of a man from a small tribe who
fought his way up with no more than an elementary-school education. When I
interviewed him in 2008, he seemed impatient and almost angry. His eyes
darted around the room as he fired off commands to his aides in a guttural
voice. He bridled at questions about the American role in Yemen. "Arrogant,"
he said, staring at me, then adding disdainfully in English, "Cowboys."
SOME SAY SALEH has lasted so long because, unlike his predecessors, he knew
not to take on the tribes directly. "Saleh survived by mastering the tribal
game as no one else had," Khaled Fattah, the tribal expert, said. He did so
in two ways. First, he coddled the big tribal sheiks, bringing them into the
capital and building them large homes. He created a patronage network that
grew substantially after Yemen began pumping oil in the 1980s, paying large
sums to sheiks, military leaders, political figures and anyone who might
pose a threat to his power. Much of Yemen's budget now goes into corruption
and kickbacks - worth billions of dollars - that fuel this network,
according to diplomats, analysts and oil-industry figures in Sana.
Second, Saleh adopted what some Yemenis call "the policy of management
through conflicts." If a tribe was causing trouble, he would begin building
up its rivals as a counterweight. If a political party became threatening,
he would do the same thing, sometimes even creating a cloned version of the
same party with people on the government payroll. "The government plays
divide and rule with us," Arfaj bin Hadban, a tribal sheik from Jawf
province, north of Sana, said. "If one tribe will not do what he wants, he
gets the neighbors to pressure it. Sometimes it's money, sometimes it's
weapons, sometimes it's employment for the tribesmen."
But in a sense, the key to Saleh's long rule - and to much of Yemen's modern
history - lies just to the north in Saudi Arabia. The kingdom squats atop
Yemen on the map like a domineering older brother with a rebellious sibling.
Starting in 1962, the Saudi royal family viewed Yemenis' democratic
aspirations with alarm and began paying hefty stipends to tribal sheiks
throughout the country to reinforce its influence. Later, the Saudis began
spreading their hard-line strand of Islam throughout the country, with help
from some like-minded Yemenis. Hundreds of religious schools sprang up
teaching Salafism, the puritanical sect that denounces all other sects as
heresy. (The Saudi variant is usually called Wahhabism.) This was bound to
be divisive in Yemen, where a third or more of the population were Zaydis,
an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
As the influence of the Salafists grew, Saleh formed close ties to jihadists
and radical clerics like Abdul Majid al-Zindani, who is listed by the U.S.
Treasury Department as a "specially designated global terrorist." Saleh had
a political motive: Salafists are mostly quiescent and preach obedience to
the ruler (even if they call for violent jihad in other lands). That was an
appealing trait in Yemen's complex social mosaic, where rivalries based on
class, region, religious sect and lineage are endemic. But Saleh also knew
that he needed the Saudis, who are widely believed to have arranged his
accession in the first place.
When I met him, Saleh seemed enraged that anyone should dare to criticize
his methods. "We have unified the country and brought stability," he told
me. That is true. Saleh orchestrated the unification of north and south
Yemen in 1990, and he has remained in power for 32 years. But even as he
spoke, in June 2008, those achievements seemed to be unraveling. Zaydi
rebels from the north - angered by Saleh's support for the Salafists - were
gaining ground. In the south, a groundswell of economic discontent was
rising and later became an open secessionist movement. The fact that Saleh
is now trying to arrange for his son Ahmed Saleh to succeed him as president
has alienated many tribal leaders and other allies, narrowing Saleh's power
base. In the past year, as Al Qaeda began to mount more frequent attacks, he
turned to some old friends for help, only to see them abandon him.
Page 6 of 10)
One night in January 2009, Tareq al-Fadhli, a 42-year-old aristocrat from
south Yemen, received a phone call from Saleh. Fadhli wasn't surprised: the
Yemeni president is famously impulsive and has a habit of calling people
late at night with urgent ideas or demands that are sometimes forgotten by
daylight. But this one was unusual. Saleh wanted to convene all the old
jihadis who fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan, Fadhli told me.
"He wanted us to make a dialogue with the new generation of Al Qaeda,"
Fadhli said. "He said he wanted to arrange to send them abroad to Saudi
Arabia and Somalia, and in return he would release the ones who were in
prison." The released prisoners would stay in Yemen.
It was a bold idea, to put it mildly. Saudi Arabia is Yemen's most important
ally and had waged bloody battles to rid itself of homegrown jihadi
fighters. But Al Qaeda, once a manageable problem, seemed to be running out
of control in Yemen, and America was putting on the pressure. Saleh was
desperate to find a way to rid himself of the militants, preferably without
calling in American airstrikes or doing anything else that would alienate
the radical clerics on whose political support he counted.
Fadhli, who has mournful eyes and a distinguished face, was a natural
intermediary and an old ally. As a young man, he fought for three years in
Afghanistan, leaving only after he was wounded at Jalalabad. He had formed a
close friendship with Osama bin Laden, whom he still remembers fondly.
Later, when the socialists of southern Yemen rebelled in 1994, Fadhli formed
a brigade of jihadists at the central government's request and helped put
down the rebels. His friend bin Laden helped out, providing millions of
dollars' worth of arms and hundreds of fighters who were hungry for another
chance to kill godless socialists.
After that, the former jihadis split. Fadhli, like many others, went back to
civilian life, becoming a landowner in the south and an adviser to Saleh. He
said goodbye to bin Laden in Sudan in 1994 and has not seen him since. But
some veterans continued to preach jihad and to train in Afghanistan with Al
Qaeda, which began to call for the overthrow of secular Arab regimes.
The first real sign that the jihadis were a source of trouble at home came
in 2000 with the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in the Yemeni port town of Aden
on the southern coast. Seventeen American sailors were killed. A year later,
after the Sept. 11 attacks, Saleh recognized that a major shift had taken
place. Fearing that the United States might invade Yemen, he flew to
Washington and pledged his support. At home, his security forces rounded up
hundreds of former jihadists and jailed them en masse without charge. In
November 2002, the C.I.A. used a Predator drone to kill Abu Ali al-Harithi,
then the leader of Al Qaeda in Yemen, as he was driving in the desert east
Saleh knew his collaboration with the United States could make the jihadis
turn on him. He was furious after American officials leaked word of their
role in the Harithi assassination. Later, Saleh repeatedly denied the
Americans permission to kill Al Qaeda leaders during Yemen's 2006
presidential election because he feared the strikes might harm his electoral
prospects, according to one high-ranking Yemeni official. Saleh had
struggled for years to find a compromise between the radicals and the
Americans. He created an Islamic "dialogue" program to bring jihadists under
the umbrella of the state, then abandoned it after several of its graduates
returned to terrorism. Popular sympathy for the jihadist cause was still
high, and in February 2006 Saleh suffered a deep embarrassment when 23
prisoners, many of them in Al Qaeda, escaped from a maximum-security prison
in Sana. The authorities offered a preposterous explanation: the men
tunneled out of their cell with spoons and table legs and emerged in the
bathroom of a neighboring mosque. The truth, the high-ranking official told
me, was that officers in the Political Security Organization arranged the
escape. "You have to remember, these officers used to escort people from
Sana to Pakistan during the Afghan jihad," he said. "People made
relationships, and that doesn't change so easily."
Yemen, next Afg?-3
Reply #9 on:
July 11, 2010, 08:06:37 AM »
Page 7 of 10)
By 2007, it was clear that a new and more dangerous generation of Al Qaeda
militants was emerging. Unlike their predecessors, these men aimed openly to
overthrow the Yemeni state and refused all dialogue with it. Many later
claimed that they suffered torture in Yemeni prisons during long terms -
usually without formal charges. Some of them had gone to Iraq and returned
with valuable battlefield skills. The attacks grew bloodier and more
frequent: a suicide bombing in July 2007 killed eight Spanish tourists;
there were attacks on oil pipelines. In September 2008, suicide bombers in
two cars struck the U.S. Embassy in Sana in a meticulously planned operation
that left 10 Yemenis and all 6 attackers dead.
Saleh tried to win the militants over through intermediaries. Nasser
al-Bahri, a 35-year-old former driver for bin Laden, told me that he tried
reaching out to the new militants. They refused, and he soon discovered he
was on a "death list" of accused traitors. Several other former jihadists
told me the same thing. "I try to talk to these people," said Ali Muhammad
al-Kurdi, another militant Islamist who fought in Afghanistan. "They tell
me, 'You are an agent.' " Some of the older jihadists advised Saleh to
immunize the state from attacks by Islamizing it. He briefly deployed a
morality-police brigade, modeled on the notorious cane-wielding mutawa in
Saudi Arabia. The attacks continued.
Finally, in January of last year, Tareq al-Fadhli received his late-night
phone call from the president. Saleh said he would release 130 Al Qaeda
sympathizers right away as a good-will gesture and asked Fadhli to arrange
Fadhli told me that he formed a committee of former jihadis and began
traveling through the areas where Al Qaeda has found sanctuary - Marib,
Shabwa, Jawf and Abyan provinces. "The tribal sheiks cooperated with us
everywhere," Fadhli told me. "Whenever we found Qaeda members, we told them:
'The government wants you to turn yourself in, but it's O.K. We will
guarantee your safety.' "
In the end, 20 people on the government's 60-most-wanted list agreed to stop
fighting, Fadhli said. But the mediators never made any progress with Nasser
al-Wuhayshi, the leader of Al Qaeda's Yemen-based branch, or his top
A few months after the failed negotiation, in April 2009, Fadhli defected
from the government, joining the southern secessionist movement. He told me
that he was tired of hearing Saleh offer tempting deals to Al Qaeda while
refusing to even talk to the leaders in the south, whose movement - rooted
in claims of economic discrimination - is populist, secular and nonviolent.
Meanwhile, the United States grew increasingly concerned about Al Qaeda's
growth in Yemen and about Saleh's tendency to see it as a family problem,
solvable through dialogue. Veteran jihadists were said to be coming to Yemen
from Afghanistan and Somalia. Last summer, Gen. David H. Petraeus, then the
overall commander of American military forces in the Middle East, visited
Sana, and the number of American military trainers working with Yemen's
counterterrorism forces quietly grew. In the fall, a select group of
American officials met with Saleh and showed him irrefutable evidence that
Al Qaeda was aiming at him and his relatives, who dominate Yemen's military
and intelligence services. That seems to have abruptly changed Saleh's
attitude, American diplomats told me. The Yemenis began to mount more
aggressive ground raids on Al Qaeda targets, in coordination with the
airstrikes that began in December.
But the strikes and raids were a short-term tactic. The real problem was
that Yemen, with its mind-boggling corruption, its multiple insurgencies,
its disappearing oil and water and its deepening poverty, is sure to descend
further into chaos if something does not change. Everyone has acknowledged
this, including President Obama and a growing chorus of terrorism analysts.
So far, the calls for action have yielded nothing. I spoke to a number of
American officials in Washington and to a variety of diplomats at the
embassy in Sana. They all told me the same thing: no one has a real strategy
for Yemen, in part because there are so few people who have any real
expertise about the country. No American diplomats travel to the provinces
where Al Qaeda has found sanctuary. Even the Yemeni government has great
difficulty reaching these places; often they have no idea whether airstrikes
or bombing runs have hit their targets, because they dare not show up to
check until days afterward.
Officially, American policy in Yemen is twofold: using airstrikes and raids
to help the Yemeni military knock out Al Qaeda cells, while increasing
development and humanitarian aid to address the root causes of radicalism.
In late June, the White House announced it was more than tripling its
humanitarian assistance, to $42.5 million. But the numbers are still small
given Yemen's need. And diplomats concede that they have not figured out how
to address the central issues of poor governance, corruption and the
economy. "There is a huge amount of diplomacy that needs to be done and is
not being done," Edmund J. Hull, the U.S. ambassador to Yemen from 2001 to
2004, said when I met him in Washington. "It makes me uneasy to hear that
we're not getting out to those remote areas. One way or another, we have
ceded the initiative to Al Qaeda, and Al Qaeda is calling the shots."
Page 8 of 10)
AL QAEDA HAS a clear Yemen strategy. On Jan. 23, 2009, the group released a
high-quality video clip on the Internet showing four men sitting on a floor,
with a clean white curtain and a flag behind them. One of them was Nasser
al-Wuhayshi, the group's leader, wearing a white turban, and one was Qassim
al-Raymi, its military commander, clad in fatigues and a red-and-white
kaffiyeh. Sitting alongside them were two new Qaeda commanders, both former
detainees from the American prison camp at Guantánamo Bay.
The video was a setback for President Obama, who had been inaugurated days
earlier and had made a high-profile pledge to close Guantánamo - where
nearly half the remaining inmates were Yemenis - within a year. But the real
news was Al Qaeda's announcement that same month that it was merging its
Saudi and Yemeni branches into a single unit: Al Qaeda in the Arabian
Peninsula. The new group incorporated a number of fighters from Saudi
Arabia, where the government had cracked down fiercely on terrorist
networks. It proclaimed a broad ambition: to serve as a base for attacks
throughout the region and to replace the infidel governments of Yemen and
Saudi Arabia with a single theocratic state.
At the heart of this new effort was an unlikely leader. Wuhayshi is a tiny
man, less than five feet tall. In videotapes he sits motionless, his pinched
face blank, his small eyes expressionless. Raymi, the group's burly military
commander, speaks passionately, his hands knifing through the air, his eyes
full of righteous anger. By contrast, Wuhayshi seems almost catatonic.
Yet Al Qaeda men treat him with deep veneration. "When they see him, they
kiss him on the forehead, like a great sheik," said Abdulelah Hider Shaea, a
Yemeni journalist who interviewed Wuhayshi and other Al Qaeda leaders before
the video's release. "They all love and respect him." Shaea, who was
blindfolded and driven out to a remote area for his interview, said Wuhayshi
was laconic but quick-witted, with flashes of sarcastic humor and a
remarkable ability to adduce Koranic verses to back up anything he said.
Wuhayshi's authority seems to derive mostly from his long proximity to bin
Laden, whom he served for six years as a private secretary in Afghanistan.
"During bombing raids, everyone else would scatter, but he would stay by bin
Laden's side," Shaea said, echoing a story other Al Qaeda members told him
about their leader. The founders seem to have been impressed: bin Laden's
deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, issued a statement in November 2008 formally
recognizing Wuhayshi as the emir, or prince, of Al Qaeda in the region.
Shaea and others who have studied him say Wuhayshi appears to be modeling
himself on bin Laden, who has always been more cerebral guide than
day-to-day commander. Wuhayshi left Afghanistan in late 2001 and was
arrested by Iranian authorities; they handed him over two years later to
Yemen, which jailed him without charge. Little is known about his early life
in Abyan province in southern Yemen. Personality aside, he seems to have
much in common with Raymi, his fiery military commander. Both men come from
ordinary families, studied at religious schools and fought in Afghanistan,
according to Shaea and other Yemeni journalists. Both served time afterward
in Yemeni prisons. And both were among the 23 militants who escaped from the
central Sana prison in February 2006.
The two men have also followed bin Laden's example in building an
ever-more-sophisticated propaganda arm for Al Qaeda in the Arabian
Peninsula, including frequent video and audio tapes and an Internet
magazine, Sada al-Malahim (The Echo of Battles), that appears every two
months or so. The magazine makes for bizarre reading, by turns chilling and
poignant. The first page of one recent issue showed a colorful 1950s-style
stock image of a hand that was mixing fluid in a chemical beaker, alongside
a hand grenade and the headline "Year of the Assassination." The authors are
clearly familiar with the style of Western magazine journalism, and many
articles are framed as regular features like View From the Inside and The
Leader's Editorial. There are didactic items, with headlines like "Shariah
Is the Solution" and "Practical Steps Toward the Liberation of Palestine."
But some of the articles are almost whimsical ("A Mujahid's Thoughts"), and
there are sharp satires ("The Saudi Media on Mars"). Much of the content has
an earnest, proselytizing tone, a bit like the ads that Western corporations
publish to trumpet their civic responsibility. One recent article, for
example, was titled "Inside View: Why We're Fighting in the Arabian
Page 9 of 10)
Since it first appeared in early 2008, the magazine has grown steadily more
polished, and the quality of its Koranic scholarship has improved, said
Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen expert at Princeton University who has spent years
tracking Al Qaeda in the region. Its content has mirrored the influx of
Saudi militants into the group, including Said Ali al-Shihri, a former
Guantánamo detainee who is now the deputy emir of Al Qaeda in the Arabian
Peninsula. Perhaps the magazine's most frequent target for abuse is Prince
Muhammad bin Nayef, who directs Saudi Arabia's counterterrorism efforts and
has become heavily involved with Yemen's struggle with Al Qaeda. In August,
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula came close to assassinating bin Nayef when
a Saudi suicide bomber posing as a repentant member of the group was allowed
into the prince's Jedda home and detonated a bomb. Bin Nayef was only
lightly injured. Afterward, Sada al-Malahim published a lengthy defense of
the tactic under the headline "War Is Deception," citing Koranic verses that
approve of deceit as a tool in times of war.
The target audience for all this rhetoric is a bit of a mystery: Internet
access is rare in Yemen, especially in the areas where Al Qaeda operates.
There is evidence that the group may be aiming to win over members of the
military or even the political elite (not an implausible goal, given the
depth of sympathy for jihadism in Yemen). As for the broader public, one
hint came in a video the group released last summer. The 18-minute video,
"The Battle of Marib," about a successful battle with the Yemeni military,
pointedly emphasized the accuracy of Al Qaeda's casualty count. The
narrator, Qassim al-Raymi, mocks the government for failing to acknowledge
that seven soldiers were captured. The video then cuts to a government press
conference, in which a spokesman stumbles badly in response to questions
from journalists and refuses - just as Raymi said- to acknowledge the
soldiers' capture. The video then returns to Raymi, who, facing the camera
almost gloatingly, delivers his message: "I call upon all Muslims to take
their information from clear and correct sources, like the jihadi Web sites
on the Internet."
It is far from clear how Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, based in remote
and desperately underdeveloped areas, turns out such a slick product.
Shaea, the Yemeni journalist who interviewed Al Qaeda's top leaders, told me
he also met four members of the group's media arm in a room that was set up
like a studio, with computers and other equipment. "You could tell they were
rich and well educated," he said. "Some did not look like Arabs. They did
not speak, so I wondered if they even spoke Arabic."
If Wuhayshi and Raymi want to recreate the original Al Qaeda in Yemen, they
also seem to have learned from its mistakes. Starting in 2009, the group
used its Internet magazine and intermittent videos to make increasingly
passionate appeals to the people of Yemen - and especially to its tribes.
The magazine echoed populist discontent about government corruption,
unemployment and unfair distribution of revenue from Yemen's oil, much of
which comes from the very areas where Al Qaeda is active. The articles often
show a deep understanding of local concerns; one issue in 2008 included an
anguished complaint about the government's mishandled response to a flood in
the eastern province of Hadramawt.
Al Qaeda's Afghanistan-based leadership reinforced the tribal message in
early 2009, when Zawahiri issued an audiotape addressed to "the noble and
defiant tribes of Yemen," urging them to rise up against Saleh's government.
"Don't be less than your brothers in the defiant Pashtun and Baluch tribes,"
he said. "Don't be helpers of Ali Abdullah Saleh. . . . Support your
brothers the mujahedeen." At the same time, the group strove to marry
members to tribal women and mediate tribal disputes.
The reason for all this was simple: a global reaction was developing against
militants acting in the name of Al Qaeda, largely because of their extreme
and often indiscriminate violence. In Iraq, the local Al Qaeda branch
alienated tribes that provided crucial support for them in Anbar province,
paving the way for the American-backed "awakening movement" that threw them
out. Wuhayshi and his men clearly wanted to prevent that from happening in
Yemen, next Afg?-4
Reply #10 on:
July 11, 2010, 08:07:28 AM »
Page 10 of 10)
So far the most masterful piece of propaganda by Al Qaeda in the Arabian
Peninsula is still the "Battle of Marib" video. In it, Raymi tells the story
of the Yemeni military's effort to destroy an Al Qaeda cell and capture Aidh
al-Shabwani, a young militant with a lame leg whom one government official
described to me as "a sort of local Robin Hood figure." The raid was a
humiliating failure. The army lost several tanks and armored vehicles to the
guerrillas, who knew the local orange groves and deserts well. The Al Qaeda
men took possession of a weapons convoy and captured seven soldiers, who
were later released.
The video's most striking feature is its anxious plea to tribesmen to resist
payments and pressure from the Yemeni government and its Saudi and American
backers. It starts off with an acknowledgment that the raid took place
because of a "betrayal" by local tribal leaders. Then Raymi intones: "How
shameful it is that some sheiks allow themselves to become soldiers and
slaves of Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is himself but a slave to Saudi riyals and
American dollars. I say to these sheiks: be careful that you don't become a
piece of chewing gum that a person enjoys for a short time and then throws
away." After Raymi and another narrator describe the Al Qaeda victory, the
second narrator offers a more refined formulation, noting that the seven
soldiers' lives were spared: "If you don't support the mujahedeen, then at
least don't stand against them." Since then, the group has released a stream
of statements and videos outlining its basic objectives: to recruit more
followers, overthrow Saleh and use Yemen as a base to attack the Saudi
monarchy and build an Islamic caliphate.
AFTER THE DAWN cruise-missile strike on Rafadh, the open-air tribal meeting
reached a conclusion. The elders decided that Quso and his Al Qaeda gang had
become a threat to the tribes. Two deadly missiles had struck in less than a
week; more might be coming. Tribal hospitality was one thing, and it was a
shame that the five young men were killed. But the presence of Quso and his
recruits was endangering everyone. They had to go. The elders deputized
Ahmed and a fellow tribesman to evict them.
Ahmed told me he sat in his pickup truck with Quso and spoke to him firmly:
"Are you satisfied? All of the people here have been living in the
mountains, in the trees, for a week. Now we want you out, and don't come
back unless you're alone." The Al Qaeda man said nothing. He seemed subdued
and appeared to understand that he could not challenge the tribe's decision.
Ahmed drove Quso out of the valley on a bumpy dirt track. As they drove,
Quso contacted other Al Qaeda members in the area, and they picked them up
one by one. Before long there were 11 men piled into the truck. Ahmed said
he left them on the nearest main road and returned to his valley. A few days
later, Quso came back. This time he was alone. As of mid-February, he still
was living alone in his grandfather's house, according to Jifri, who visited
Not everyone has reacted to the airstrikes this way. In the neighboring
province of Abyan, an airstrike killed dozens of people, most of them women
and children, according to local witnesses. The civilian death toll created
a groundswell of anger at the Yemeni government and the United States that
was a boon to Al Qaeda recruiters, several local people told me. Ali
al-Shal, an opposition member of the Yemeni Parliament who is from a village
close to where the Abyan airstrikes took place, told me it was too dangerous
for him to visit afterward. Ultimately he was able to visit, but only once
and only by drawing on his family connections with local tribal figures.
"There was not much sympathy for Al Qaeda before, but the strike has created
a lot of sympathy," he said.
IN RECENT WEEKS, Al Qaeda has sounded more confident than ever, issuing
threats and calls to arms, along with publishing its Internet magazine and
introducing an English-language online magazine called Inspire. In May, a
botched air raid led to the death of a tribal leader in Marib who was
negotiating on the government's behalf with a local Al Qaeda leader,
infuriating the local tribes and further eroding President Saleh's
credibility. On June 19, four heavily armed men stormed the fortified
headquarters of the Political Security Organization in the southern port
city of Aden, freeing prisoners suspected of being Al Qaeda members and
Before leaving Yemen, I traveled to Aden. Near the dilapidated oil refinery
built by the British, I found the Quso family home, in a row of simple stone
and concrete bungalows. Fahd's father, Muhammad al-Quso, was just walking up
to the door as I arrived. He was an old man with a deeply lined face,
dressed in a red-and-white futa and headdress. He walked with a cane. Inside
the house he sat down heavily in an armchair and told the story of his son's
life. It was a biography that matched many others in Yemen.
Fahd was born in 1975, his father said, and grew up alongside four brothers
and six sisters. He was a happy child and a good student at the local
elementary school, called al-Saafir. But his parents wanted him to have some
religion, so when he was 14 they sent him - along with some of his friends
from the neighborhood - to a school up north called Dar al-Hadith. The
school is famous as one of the first Wahhabi institutions in Yemen; John
Walker Lindh was reportedly among the future jihadists who studied there.
After he came home, he studied welding at the local technical school. But he
decided not to work at the refinery, as his father had. When I asked about
the accusations that his son took part in the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in
2000, he winced and said he didn't believe it. He complained that the
authorities had jailed him, and then later, after freeing him, jailed his
brother-in-law for no reason. Finally, I asked Muhammad whether his son was
a member of Al Qaeda, as the authorities claimed.
"No," he said, "I don't believe this." He was silent for a long time,
staring at the closed door of the house, which was illuminated at its edges
by a bright rectangle of afternoon sunlight. Then he spoke again.
"He is a mujahid," he said, or holy warrior. "He is fighting those who
occupy Arab lands. He is fighting unbelievers."
Reply #11 on:
March 18, 2011, 12:44:39 PM »
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Yemeni National Defense Council declared a state of emergency March 18 following a violent crackdown on protesters in Sanaa that has reportedly left some 50 people dead and more than 200 wounded. Protests outside the University of Sanaa entrance swelled after Friday prayers, numbering in the tens of thousands. Protests also followed Friday prayers in other parts of the country, including Taiz, Ibb, Hodeidah, Aden and Amran.
Though Yemen’s opposition is a fractured amalgam of students, unemployed youth, Islamists, socialists, Salafists, tribesmen with political ambitions and regular laborers, the movement has coalesced around a call for Saleh and his most politically and militarily empowered relatives to step down. Prior to March 18, roughly 40 protesters were reportedly killed in sporadic crackdowns throughout the country. That death toll has now doubled as the regime has resorted to more forceful tactics in trying to intimidate protesters.
The state of emergency will be used by the regime to impose curfews and restrict media access, but the regime’s attempts to clear the streets of protesters in the capital will be a struggle. Yemen’s opposition is refusing dialogue with the regime, intransigent in its demand for Saleh’s ouster. At the same time, Saleh’s position is deeply entrenched within the regime. By design, the security apparatus and the political and business elite are all dominated by members of his family or Sanhan tribe, making any potential dismantling of the regime an extremely complicated process.
So far, Saleh has retained a significant level of tribal support (even as politically ambitious tribesmen such as Hamid al-Ahmar of the powerful Hashid sheikhdom have called on their allies to withdraw support for Saleh). Saleh’s family and tribal connections that pervade the armed forces have also prevented a major break with the army. Though the crisis in Yemen is escalating, and ongoing discussions on the timing of Saleh’s political departure are intensifying among the regime’s elite, the dismantling of his regime does not appear imminent. Yemen will remain in a protracted political crisis as the timing and mechanics of Saleh’s political exit are sorted out.
Read more: State of Emergency Declared in Yemen | STRATFOR
Stratfor: Special Report on Yemen
Reply #12 on:
March 21, 2011, 12:18:55 PM »
A crisis in Yemen is rapidly escalating. A standoff centered on the presidential palace is taking place between security forces in the capital city of Sanaa while embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh continues to resist stepping down, claiming that the “majority of Yemeni people” support him. While a Western-led military intervention in Libya is dominating the headlines, the crisis in Yemen and its implications for Persian Gulf stability is of greater strategic consequence. Saudi Arabia is already facing the threat of an Iranian destabilization campaign in eastern Arabia and has deployed forces to Bahrain in an effort to prevent Shiite unrest from spreading. With a second front now threatening the Saudi underbelly, the situation in Yemen is becoming one that the Saudis can no longer leave on the backburner.
The turning point in Yemen occurred March 18 after Friday prayers, when tens of thousands of protestors in the streets calling for Saleh’s ouster came under a heavy crackdown that reportedly left some 46 people dead and hundreds wounded. It is unclear whether the shootings were ordered by Saleh himself, orchestrated by a member of the Yemeni defense establishment to facilitate Saleh’s political exit or simply provoked by tensions in the streets, but it does not really matter. Scores of defections from the ruling party, the prominent Hashid tribe in the north and military old guard followed the March 18 events, both putting Saleh at risk of being removed in a coup and putting the already deeply fractious country at risk of a civil war.
The Army Splits
But the situation in Yemen is also not a replica of the crisis in Egypt, which was not so much a revolution as it was a very carefully managed succession by the country’s armed forces. In Egypt, the armed forces maintained their independence from the unpopular Mubarak regime, thereby providing the armed forces with the unity in command and effort in using the street demonstrations to quietly oust Mubarak. In Yemen, a tribal society at its core, Saleh insured himself by stacking the security apparatus with members of his family and Sanhan tribal village. For example:
Gen. Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president’s son, is the commander of the Republican Guard and Yemeni special operations forces. The president originally had planned to have his son succeed him.
Gen. Yahya Mohamed Abdullah Saleh, commander of the Central Security Forces and Counterterrorism Unit, is Saleh’s nephew.
Col. Tareq Mohammed Abdullah Saleh, commander of the Presidential Guard, is Saleh’s nephew.
Col. Ammar Mohammed Abdullah Saleh, commander of the National Security Bureau, is Saleh’s nephew.
Brig. Gen. Mohamed Saleh al-Ahmar, commander of the air force, is Saleh’s half-brother.
Brig. Gen. Ali Saleh al-Ahmar, chief of staff of the general command, is Saleh’s half-brother.
Brig. Gen. Mehdi Makwala, commander of the southern military zone in Aden, is a Hashid tribesman from Saleh’s village, Sanhan.
Brig. Gen. Mohammed Ali Mohsen, commander of the Eastern Military Zone in Hadramawt, is a Hashid tribesman from Sanhan.
However, Saleh cannot rely on the support of all of his relatives. The biggest threat to Saleh within the military apparatus comes from Brig. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, Saleh’s half brother, commander of the first armored brigade and commander of the northwestern military zone. Mohsen is an influential member of Yemen’s old guard and initiated a fresh wave of defections when he announced March 21 that he is joining the people’s revolution and deployed an armored formation to protect the protestors. Armored vehicles under Mohsen’s command are now reportedly surrounding the presidential palace, where Republican Guard units under the command of Saleh’s son, Ahmed, have already taken up defensive positions. The potential for clashes between pro and now anti-Saleh security forces is escalating.
Ali Mohsen may be positioning himself for Saleh’s political exit, but he is unlikely to be a welcome replacement from the U.S. point of view. Ali Mohsen is considered a veteran of the Islamist old guard, who earned its claim to fame during the 1994 civil war, when Saleh relied on Islamists to defeat the more secular and formerly Marxist south. The infusion of jihadists and jihadist sympathizers throughout the Yemeni security apparatus — a critical factor that has compounded counterterrorism efforts in the country — is a product of the Ali Mohsen legacy.
Following Mohsen’s defection and a crisis meeting among senior Yemen defense officials March 21, Yemeni Defense Minister Maj. Gen. Mohammad Nasser Ali asserted that the army would continue to stand behind Saleh and thwart any attempted coups threatening Saleh’s legitimacy. The Yemeni defense minister does not speak for the entire army, however, particularly those forces under the command of Mohsen deploying in the capital city.
If the army is the first pillar underpinning Saleh’s regime, the second pillar is the tribe. Yemen, much like Libya, is divided among tribal lines, particularly in the north of the country. Though Saleh understands the power of the tribe and has made a concerted effort to maintain his tribal alliances, his biggest threat within Yemen’s tribal landscape comes from Sheikh Hamid al-Ahmar, one of the sons to the late Abdullah bin Hussein al-Ahmar, who ruled the Hashid confederation as the most powerful tribal chieftain in the country. Hamid is a wealthy businessman and a leader of the conservative Islah party that leads the Joint Meetings Party (JMP) opposition coalition. He has obvious political aspirations to become the next leader of Yemen and sees the current uprising as his chance to bring Saleh down. In fact, the first wave of resignations from within the ruling General People’s Congress (GPC) party could be traced back to the al-Ahmar family tree, as relatives and allies were called on to raise the pressure against Saleh.
Still, there are significant arrestors to Hamid’s political rise. The al-Ahmars, while powerful and wealthy, do not speak for the entire Hashid confederation. Many members of both the Hashid and Bakil tribes have said as much publicly. Tribal sheikhs within the Bakil are especially wary of seeing an archrival Hashid leader assume control of Sanaa. In short, Saleh and his remaining loyalists still have some room to maneuver in playing tribal loyalties off each other to preserve his regime, but that room is narrowing.
The Saudi Vote
Yemeni Foreign Minister Dr. Abu-Bakr al-Qirbi is reportedly en route to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to deliver a “Presidential Letter” to the Saudi Monarch. In this letter, Saleh is likely asking for Saudi support for his regime, making the case that his downfall will lead to a fracturing of the country and greater instability for the Arabian Peninsula overall. Saudi support for Saleh is nowhere near assured, however.
Yemen has long had to contend with the fact that Saudi Arabia has the money, influence and tribal links to directly shape Yemeni politics according to its interests. The Saudis view Yemen as a subordinate power on the heel of the Arabian Peninsula, one that (if partitioned in a civil war) could potentially provide Riyadh with direct access to the Arabian Sea, but that if left to fragment, could also spread instability into the Saudi kingdom. The Saudis have thus relied primarily on their tribal links in the country to maintain influence and keep a lid on unrest, thereby keeping the central government in Sanaa weak and dependent on Riyadh for most of its policies.
Given Saudi Arabia’s heavy influence in Yemen, the Saudi view on the situation in Yemen serves as a vital indicator of Saleh’s staying power. More specifically, defections or pledges of support by Yemeni tribal leaders on the Saudi payroll can provide clues on the current Saudi mood toward Yemen. The al-Ahmar family, for example, has extremely close ties to the Saudi royals, and Hamid al-Ahmar has made a point in his recent interviews to praise the Saudis and highlight that he has been traveling between Saudi Arabia and Yemen in recent weeks. At the same time, a number of other prominent tribes close to the Saudis continue to stand by Saleh. Throughout much of Yemen’s crisis, the Saudis did not show signs of abandoning Saleh, but they were not fully backing him, either.
This is likely a reflection of internal Saudi differences as well as limited Saudi resources to deal effectively with Yemen at this point in time. The three Saudi royals who deal most closely with Yemen affairs are King Abdullah, Crown Prince Sultan and Interior Minister and second deputy prime minister Prince Naif. Prince Naif and Crown Prince Sultan have had a very rocky relationship with Saleh and would most likely be amenable to his ouster, while King Abdullah (whose clan rivals the Sudeiri clan, to which Crown Prince Sultan and Prince Naif both belong) has maintained a closer relationship with the Yemeni president. The three often disagree on various facets of Saudi Arabia’s policy toward Yemen. At the same time, the Saudi government has its hands full in dealing with Iran, preventing it from devoting considerable attention to Yemen’s political crisis. Using Bahrain as a flashpoint for sectarian unrest, Iran has been fueling a destabilization campaign throughout eastern Arabia designed to undermine its U.S.-allied Sunni Arab rivals.
Yemen, while ranking much lower on a strategic level than Bahrain, Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, also is not immune to Iran’s agenda. In the northern Yemeni province of Saada, the Yemeni state has struggled to suppress a rebellion by al-Houthis of the Zaydi sect, considered an offshoot of Shiite Islam and heretical by Wahhabi standards. Riyadh fears al-Houthi unrest in Yemen’s north will stir unrest in Saudi Arabia’s southern provinces of Najran and Jizan, which are home to the Ismailis (also an offshoot of Shiite Islam). Ismaili unrest in the south could then embolden Shia in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province, who have already been carrying out demonstrations against the Saudi monarchy with Iranian backing.
(click image to enlarge)
When Saudi Arabia deployed troops in the al-Houthi-Ismaili borderland between Yemen and Saudi Arabia in late 2009, STRATFOR picked up indications that the al-Houthis were receiving some support from Iran, albeit nothing that was considered a game-changer in the rebellion. With unrest spreading throughout eastern Arabia and the Yemeni state falling into a deepening political crisis, the Saudis now have to worry about Iran exploiting a second front through Yemen to threaten the Saudi underbelly. This is in addition to all the other “usual” security issues afflicting Yemen, most notably the threat posed by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which uses Yemen as a staging ground for attempts at more strategic attacks in the Saudi kingdom.
With distractions mounting in the region and Saleh still counting on a large network of familial and tribal ties to hold on to power, Saudi Arabia does not appear to have formed a coherent policy on its southern neighbor. This likely explains quiet complaints by Yemeni officials that they have been getting mixed signals from the Saudi kingdom in dealing with the current crisis. Now that the situation in Yemen has reached a tipping point, the Saudis will have to make a call on Yemen. Both Mohsen and the Al Ahmar family have a close relationship with the Saudis. The Saudi plan for Yemen is still likely being worked out, but any contingency involving a prominent political space for an Islamist like Mohsen is cause for concern for countries like the United States. Though speculation has arisen over a possible Saudi military intervention in Yemen, the likelihood of such a scenario is low. The Saudi royals are unlikely to fend for Saleh at this stage, and even if they did, they would face enormous difficulty in maintaining lines of supply to its southern neighbor to quell swelling unrest in the country when the army and tribal landscape are already split.
Yemen may border Saudi Arabia, but the geography of this part of the Arabian Peninsula poses logistical challenges far greater than what exists between eastern Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Even if Riyadh decided it wanted to deploy its armed forces to protect Saleh, it would not be as simple as sending troops across a causeway into Sanaa.
Saleh in a Regional Context
Saleh is no doubt a political victim of the current wave of Middle East unrest and faces tougher days ahead in trying to maintain control. But he also finds himself in a very different situation from than Mubarak’s Egypt or Ben Ali’s Tunisia. Both Egypt and Tunisia had institutions, most critically the armed forces, able to stand apart from their unpopular leaders and sacrifice them at the appropriate time. Though Mubarak and Ben Ali had built patronage networks throughout the countries’ ruling parties and business sectors, their family names were not entrenched in the security apparatus, as is Saleh’s.
In some ways, Saleh’s case is more akin to that of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who presides over a tribal society split along an east-west axis like Yemen’s north-south axis. Though Yemen is more advanced politically and institutionally than Libya, both Gadhafi and Saleh have insulated their regimes by deliberately preventing the development of alternative bases of power, relying mostly on complex tribal alliances and militaries commanded by nepotism to rule. Such regimes take decades to build and an iron fist to maintain, making the removal of a single leader typically more trouble than it is worth. Though the system has worked for more than three decades for Saleh, the president’s carefully managed support network is now rapidly eroding. Saudi Arabia is now being force to make a tough call on the future of Yemen at a time when Riyadh cannot afford another crisis in the Persian Gulf region.
Reply #13 on:
March 21, 2011, 12:31:38 PM »
With all the global crises going on, it's nice to know we have Joe Biden's foreign policy gravitas helping steer the ship of state.
Our president obviously feeling the weight of the 3rd. war under his watch.
WSJ: Tipping point in Yemen?
Reply #14 on:
March 22, 2011, 08:08:50 AM »
SAN'A—Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh is trying to salvage his 32-year rule by negotiating an exit with the towering array of opponents including key military commanders and tribal leaders demanding that he immediately step down.
Back-channel negotiations between the controversial U.S. ally and Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar—a top commander who withdrew his loyalty from the president on Monday—haven't yet yielded a clear transition of power, but the political process so far has succeeded in keeping the power struggle from devolving into military conflict or civil war.
Tanks commanded by Mr. Saleh's son are deployed around the presidential palace in the capital, while tanks manned by forces loyal to Gen. Ahmar have set up nearby, as well near several sensitive government buildings, like the Central Bank, according to residents.
The prognosis of the talks remain unclear, and the threat of military conflict remains a possibility, according to officials in San'a. Saudi Arabia and Yemeni tribal leaders are involved in the negotiations, according to people familiar with the situation, but President Saleh appears to be staking out untenable terms.
His spokesman announced early Tuesday that the leader would agree to step down by the end of the year in favor of a military council taking over. An umbrella group of opposition political parties rejected a similar proposal when the president offered it last month in what appeared to be a bid to end the unceasing street protests against his continued rule.
Now, with the opposition in a stronger bartering position in the wake of the defections of key military leaders, religious figures and tribal elders, opposition leaders say they will accept nothing besides President Saleh's immediate resignation so that the country can start building a new, democratic future.
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.For the U.S., the prospect of an emerging civil war in Yemen and the possibility of losing a controversial but key ally in the war on terror has emerged as a significant national-security concern. Yemen's al Qaeda affiliate has used bases in tribal areas outside of Mr. Saleh's control to launch failed bombing attempts on U.S.-bound planes.
Muhammed Muheisen/Associated Press
A protester being carried by other demonstrators flashed the victory sign.
.Washington has encouraged Mr. Saleh to loosen the reins and adopt democratic reforms, while spending tens of millions of dollars to train his forces to aid in counterterrorism operations.
The standoff between Mr. Saleh and his opponents has opened the unsavory possibility that U.S.-trained forces could be unleashed to defend the embattled leader. The White House issued a statement saying violence in Yemen would be "unacceptable."
The Yemeni president dispatched his foreign minister to neighboring Saudi Arabia Monday to discuss the situation with the Saudi king, considered Mr. Saleh's strongest foreign benefactor. Mr. Saleh said "the majority" of the country backed him, the state news agency reported.
Mr. Saleh and Gen. Ahmar, the rebel general, exchanged messages through a mediator in efforts to broker an end to the tension, according to a Yemeni official. The official also confirmed that Saudi Arabia was involved in brokering a peaceful transition of power.
Saudi Arabia has helped prop up President Saleh for much of his three decades in power, primarily as a bulwark against extremist threats aimed at the Saudi royal family.
View Full Image
A Yemeni army officer joined protesters demanding the resignation of Yemeni president Saleh on Monday.
.The Saudis also have been financial patrons for many Yemeni tribal figures, giving them leverage to influence how the situation plays out in San'a, according to people familiar with the situation.
The big U.S. concern about the possible ouster of Mr. Saleh is the disposition of the leader who succeeds him; such concerns have been cited by U.S. and Arab officials in explaining their support for the Yemeni president in recent years.
One scenario, if Mr. Saleh were to be removed from power, is a broken state in which terrorism flourishes; another, a tribal-based government unfriendly to the U.S.
A third outcome would be a military-backed leadership that is friendly to the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. Yemeni opposition activists said they were wary of a wide-ranging Saudi role in Yemen, given the conservative kingdom's own reticence to enact political reform.
Saudi Arabia also stepped in recently, against U.S. wishes, to help the Sunni royal family in Bahrain, sending troops to support the monarchy against majority Shiite protesters. That deployment was followed by an intensified Bahraini crackdown on opposition activists.
Some members of the military in Yemen throw in their support for anti-government protesters dealing a blow to President Saleh as he clings to power. Video and image courtesy of Reuters.
.In Yemen, forces aligned against President Saleh coalesced rapidly over the past weekend in the wake of a bloody crackdown against demonstrators who had been camped out in San'a for weeks demanding political overhauls and the resignation of the leader.
Plainclothes gunmen set up on rooftops overlooking the plaza filled with protesters shot and killed more than 50 people and wounded dozens more, according to doctors and witnesses.
The attack catalyzed an anemic protest movement led by opposition parties with unproven grass-roots support and youth activists whose reach didn't venture far from the capital.
By the weekend, leaders of the nation's largest tribes, including Mr. Saleh's own, came out against the president.
On Sunday, Mr. Saleh sacked his government in a bid to assuage criticism of his rule, and state television announced that an investigation into Friday's shooting. The government said it had arrested 16 suspected gunmen.
On Monday, many of the country's elite who hadn't yet taken sides in the dispute declared their loyalties in favor of the protest movement.
Gen. Ahmar, the rebel military commander, served with President Saleh for more than 30 years and was considered one of his closest confidantes.
He was joined by at least four other generals, while local media reported the defections of at least one dozen other officers from the standing army as well as at least one governor and one mayor.
"The crisis is getting more complicated and it's pushing the country toward violence and civil war," Gen. Ahmar—who commands an armored infantry division—said in a statement broadcast by al-Jazeera.
Yemen's defense minister, Nasser Ahmed, spoke on state television Monday evening saying the army still supported the president and would defend him against any "coup against democracy."
It is unclear if Gen. Ahmar's military division has received any U.S. military assistance; much of U.S. aid has been channeled to units under the command of Mr. Saleh's son and nephews.
Mr. Saleh, 66 years old, has been an on-and-off ally of the U.S. in the campaign against al Qaeda. U.S. officials have said the political upheaval has made it difficult for the U.S. to resume airstrikes in Yemen, which were halted in May. Pentagon officials said they were closely following events, which U.S. officials described as "fluid."
"No one in their right mind would predict what might happen in a place like Yemen, but it's true that Saleh's political support has eroded in recent weeks, including inside the Yemeni government," a U.S. official said.
A senior U.S. military official said the chance of Mr. Saleh surviving was less than 50%.
Reply #15 on:
March 31, 2011, 08:00:39 AM »
By Scott Stewart
While the world’s attention is focused on the combat transpiring in Libya and the events in Egypt and Bahrain, Yemen has also descended into crisis. The country is deeply split over its support for Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and this profound divide has also extended to the most powerful institutions in the country — the military and the tribes — with some factions calling for Saleh to relinquish power and others supporting him. The tense standoff in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa has served to divert attention (and security forces) from other parts of the country.
On March 28, an explosion at a munitions factory in southern Yemen killed at least 110 people. The factory, which reportedly produced AK rifles and ammunition, was located in the town of Jaar in Abyan province. Armed militants looted the factory March 27, and the explosion reportedly occurred the next day as local townspeople were rummaging through the factory. It is not known what sparked the explosion, but it is suspected to have been an accident, perhaps caused by careless smoking.
The government has reported that the jihadist group Aden-Abyan Islamic Army worked with militant separatists from the south to conduct the raid on the factory. Other sources have indicated to STRATFOR that they believe the raid was conducted by tribesman from Loder. Given the history of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) activity in the Loder area, if the tribesmen were indeed from Loder, it is highly likely they were at least sympathetic to AQAP if not affiliated with the group.
While it is in Saleh’s interest to play up the separatist and jihadist threats as a way of showing international and internal parties how important he is and why he should remain in power, these threats are indeed legitimate. Even in the best of times, there are large portions of Yemen that are under tenuous government control, and the current crisis has enlarged this power vacuum. Because of this lack of government focus and the opportunity to gather weapons in places like Jaar, militant groups such as AQAP, the strongest of al Qaeda’s regional franchise groups, have been provided with a golden opportunity. The question is: Will they be capable of fully exploiting it?
The Situation in Yemen
The raid on the arms factory in Jaar was facilitated by the fact that government security forces had been forced to focus elsewhere. Reports indicate that there was only a company of Yemeni troops in Jaar to guard the factory and that they were quickly overwhelmed by the militants. While the government moved a battalion into Jaar to restore order, those troops had to be taken from elsewhere. This confrontation between troops loyal to Saleh and those led by Brig. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar in the capital city has also caused security forces from both sides to be drawn back to Sanaa in anticipation of a clash. It has also resulted in a vacuum of power in many parts of the country. Currently, government control over large parts of the country varies from town to town, especially in provinces such as Saada, al-Jouf, Shabwa and Abyan, which have long histories of separatist activity.
It is important to understand that Yemen was not a very cohesive entity going into this current crisis, and the writ of the central government has been continually challenged since the country’s founding. Until 1990, Yemen was split into two countries, the conservative, Saudi-influenced Yemen Arab Republic in the north and the Marxist, secular People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen in the south. In 1994, following a peaceful unification in 1990, a bloody civil war was fought between the north and the south. While the north won the war, tensions have remained high between the two sides, and there has long been a simmering anti-government sentiment in the south. This sentiment has periodically manifested itself in outbreaks of armed hostilities between the armed southern separatist movement and government forces.
In Yemen’s northwest, the al-Houthi rebels also have been waging a war of secession against the central government in Sanaa. In the last round of open hostilities, which ended in January 2010, the Yemeni government was unable to quell the uprising, and Saudi Arabia had to commit military forces to help force the al-Houthi rebels to capitulate.
Yemen’s tribes present another challenge to the central government. President Saleh had been able to use a system of patronage and payoffs to help secure the support of the country’s powerful tribes, but this recently has become more difficult with Saudi influence with the tribes eclipsing that of Saleh. In recent weeks, many prominent tribal leaders such as the al-Ahmars have decided to join the opposition and denounce Saleh. The tribes have always been largely independent and have controlled large sections of the country with very little government interference. Government influence there is even less now.
Saleh has also used the conservative tribes and jihadists to help him in his battles against secessionists in both the north and the south. They proved eager to fight the secular Marxists in the south and the Zaydi Shiite al-Houthi in the north. The practice of relying on the conservative tribes and jihadists has also blown back on the Yemeni regime and, as in Pakistan, there are jihadist sympathizers within the Yemeni security apparatus. Because of this dynamic, efforts to locate and root out AQAP elements have been very complicated and limited.
The Yemeni tribes practice a very conservative form of Islam, and their tribal traditions are in many ways similar to the Pashtunwali code in Pakistan. According to this tradition, any guest of the tribe — such as an al Qaeda militant — is vigorously protected once welcomed. They will also protect “sons of the tribe,” such as American-born Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, a member of the powerful Awlak tribe (the Yemeni prime minister is the uncle of al-Awlaki’s father). The AQAP leadership has further exploited this tribal tradition by shrewdly marrying into many of the powerful tribes in order to solidify the mantle of protection they provide.
In late 2009, in the wake of the Christmas Day plot to destroy Northwest Airlines Flight 253, the Fort Hood shootings and the attempted assassination of the Saudi deputy interior minister, STRATFOR believed that 2010 was going to see a concerted effort by the Yemenis to destroy the AQAP organization. As 2010 passed, it became clear that, despite the urging and assistance of their U.S. and Saudi allies, the Yemenis had been unable to cause much damage to AQAP as an organization, and as evidenced by the Oct. 29, 2010, cargo-bomb attempt, AQAP finished 2010 stronger than we had anticipated.
In fact, as we entered 2011, AQAP had moved to the forefront of the international jihadist movement on the physical battlefield and had also begun to take a leading role in the ideological realm due to a number of factors, including the group’s popular Arabic-language online magazine Sada al-Malahim, the emergence of AQAP’s English-language Inspire magazine and the increased profile and popularity of al-Awlaki.
As we noted last month regarding Libya, jihadists have long thrived in chaotic environments such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia. Indeed, this is exactly why the leadership of AQAP left Saudi Arabia and relocated to the more permissive environment of Yemen. Unlike the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, AQAP is active, has attempted to conduct a number of transnational attacks, and has sought to encourage grassroots jihadists across the globe to think globally and attack locally. With the government of Yemen unable to prosecute a successful campaign against AQAP in 2010, the chance of them making much progress against the group in 2011 amid the current crisis is even more remote.
The United States has spent the past several years training up a “new guard” within the Yemeni security apparatus — mainly the Counter Terrorism Unit, National Security Bureau, Special Forces and Central Security Forces, which are all led by Saleh’s relatives — in an effort to counterbalance the influence of the Islamist old guard in the military (led by Saleh’s big competitor right now, Ali Mohsin). These select forces are now being tasked with protecting the Saleh regime against dissident units of the Yemeni military, which means there is no one left on the Yemeni side to focus on AQAP. This situation is likely to persist for some time as the standoff progresses and even after the installation of a new government, which will have to sort things out and deal with the separatist issues in the north and south. Indeed, these issues are seen as more pressing threats to the regime than AQAP and the jihadists.
If there is a transition of power in Yemen, and Mohsin and his faction come to power, there is likely to be a purge of these new guard forces and their leadership, which is loyal to Saleh. The result will be a removal of the new guard and an increase in the influence of the Islamists and jihadist sympathizers in the Yemeni security and intelligence apparatus. This could have a significant impact on U.S. counterterrorism efforts in Yemen, and provide a significant opportunity for AQAP.
The violence and civil unrest wracking Yemen has almost certainly curtailed the ability of American intelligence officers to travel, meet with people and collect much information pertaining to AQAP, especially in places that have fallen under militant control. Additionally, the attention of U.S. intelligence agencies has in all likelihood been diverted to the task of trying to gather intelligence pertaining to what is happening with Saleh and the opposition rather than what is happening with AQAP. This will likely provide AQAP with some breathing room.
The United States has been quietly active in Yemen, albeit in a limited way, under the auspices of the Yemeni government. If the Islamist old guard in the military assumes power, it is quite likely that this operational arrangement will not continue — at least not initially. Because of this, should the United States believe that the Saleh regime is about to fall, it may no longer be concerned about alienating the tribes that have supported Saleh, and if it has somehow obtained good intelligence regarding the location of various high-value AQAP targets, it may feel compelled to take unilateral action to attack those targets. Such an operational window will likely be limited, however, and once Saleh leaves, such opportunities will likely be lost.
If the United States is not able to take such unilateral action, AQAP will have an excellent opportunity to grow and flourish due to the preoccupation of Yemeni security forces with other things, and the possibility of having even more sympathizers in the government. Not only will this likely result in fewer offensive operations against AQAP in the tribal areas, but the group will also likely be able to acquire additional resources and weapons.
In the past, the leadership of AQAP has shown itself to be shrewd and adaptable, although the group has not displayed a high degree of tactical competence in past attacks against hard targets such as the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa and the British ambassador. Still, AQAP has come very close to succeeding in a number of failed yet innovative attacks outside of Yemen, including the assassination attempt against Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the Christmas Day 2009 underwear-bomb plot and the UPS printer-bomb plot in October 2009, and the window of opportunity that is opening for the group is sure to cause a great deal of angst in Washington, Riyadh and a number of European capitals. It remains to be seen if AQAP can take advantage of the situation in Yemen to conduct a successful attack outside of the country (or a hard target within the country) and finally make it into the terrorist big leagues.
Read more: AQAP and the Vacuum of Authority in Yemen | STRATFOR
Reply #16 on:
April 03, 2011, 09:55:50 PM »
Breaking News Alert
The New York Times
Sun, April 03, 2011 -- 8:18 PM ET
U.S. Shifts to Seek Removal of Yemen's Leader, an Ally
The United States, which long supported Yemen's president,
even in the face of recent widespread protests, has now
quietly shifted positions and has concluded that he is
unlikely to bring about the required reforms and must be
eased out of office, according to American and Yemeni
The American position began to shift in the past week,
administration officials said. While American officials have
not publicly pressed President Ali Abdullah Saleh to go, they
have told allies and some reporters that they now view his
hold on office as untenable, and they believe he should
Reply #17 on:
April 03, 2011, 10:36:24 PM »
I'm sure this will work out well.
Reply #18 on:
April 04, 2011, 12:04:09 AM »
I saw some report on Fox the other day that AQ has set up an emirate in southern Yemen but have not seen any confirmation elsewhere.
BTW, GM, what would you suggest here?
Reply #19 on:
April 04, 2011, 06:24:47 AM »
I think we should continue the long democratic tradition of abandoning our allies to horrible deaths. Ask the S. Vietnamese how fighting along side us paid off.
No power vacuum ever goes unfilled
Reply #20 on:
April 05, 2011, 03:52:50 PM »
Al-Qaeda Quickly Fills Void as Obama Administration Pushes Yemeni President From Power
Posted by Jim Hoft on Tuesday, April 5, 2011, 5:24 AM
As Yemeni President and American ally Ali Abdullah Saleh fights for his political life, Al Qaeda operatives are taking advantage of the void and have already stepped in to fill the power vacuum.
Al Qaeda leaders like top propagandist and spiritual leader Anwar Al-Awlaki are ecstatic about the recent developments in Yemen and across the Middle East.
The New York Times reported:
Counterterrorism operations in Yemen have ground to a halt, allowing Al Qaeda’s deadliest branch outside of Pakistan to operate more freely inside the country and to increase plotting for possible attacks against Europe and the United States, American diplomats, intelligence analysts and counterterrorism officials say.
In the political tumult surrounding Yemen’s embattled president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, many Yemeni troops have abandoned their posts or have been summoned to the capital, Sana, to help support the tottering government, the officials said. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group’s affiliate, has stepped in to fill this power vacuum, and Yemeni security forces have come under increased attacks in recent weeks.
A small but steadily growing stream of Qaeda fighters and lower-level commanders from other parts of the world, including Pakistan, are making their way to Yemen to join the fight there, although American intelligence officials are divided on whether the political crisis in Yemen is drawing more insurgents than would be traveling there under normal conditions.
Obama Administration officials are doing their best to ensure Al-Qaeda’s success.
The Obama administration is helping to grease the skids for the impending departure of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
While he remains a strong U.S. ally in the war against al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists, Saleh has worn out his welcome with his own people and the State Department can’t afford to prop up a leader opposed to democratic reform.
Yemeni officials say the U.S. is attempting to mediate a smooth exit for Saleh so as not to further destabilize the country, which is in danger of falling into the hands of those supporting al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the anti-American organization that’s headquartered in Yemen.
Al Qaeda already declared South Yemen as an Islamic emirate last week.
Stratfor: Islamist Militancy in a Pre- and Post-Saleh Yemen
Reply #21 on:
April 21, 2011, 10:29:50 AM »
Islamist Militancy in a Pre- and Post-Saleh Yemen
April 21, 2011
By Reva Bhalla
Nearly three months have passed since the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, first saw mass demonstrations against Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, but an exit from the current stalemate is still nowhere in sight. Saleh retains enough support to continue dictating the terms of his eventual political departure to an emboldened yet frustrated opposition. At the same time, the writ of his authority beyond the capital is dwindling, which is increasing the level of chaos and allowing various rebel groups to collect arms, recruit fighters and operate under dangerously few constraints.
The prospect of Saleh’s political struggle providing a boon to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is understandably producing anxiety in Washington, where U.S. officials have spent the past few months trying to envision what a post-Saleh Yemen would mean for U.S. counterterrorism efforts in the Arabian Peninsula.
While fending off opponents at home, Saleh and his followers have been relying on the “me or chaos” tactic abroad to hang onto power. Loyalists argue that the dismantling of the Saleh regime would fundamentally derail years of U.S. investment designed to elicit meaningful Yemeni cooperation against AQAP or, worse, result in a civil war that will provide AQAP with freedom to hone its skills. Emboldened by the recent unrest, a jihadist group called the Abyan-Aden Islamic Army launched a major raid on a weapons depot in Ja’ar in late March, leading a number of media outlets to speculate that the toppling of the Saleh regime would play directly into the hands of Yemen’s jihadists.
Meanwhile, the opposition has countered that the Yemeni jihadist threat is a perception engineered by Saleh to convince the West of the dangers of abandoning support for his regime. Opposition figures argue that Saleh’s policies are what led to the rise of AQAP in the first place and that the fall of his regime would provide the United States with a clean slate to address its counterterrorism concerns with new, non-Saleh-affiliated political allies. The reality is likely somewhere in between.
The Birth of Yemen’s Modern Jihadist Movement
The pervasiveness of radical Islamists in Yemen’s military and security apparatus is no secret, and it contributes to the staying power of al Qaeda and its offspring in the Arabian Peninsula. The root of the issue dates back to the Soviet-Afghan war, when Osama bin Laden, whose family hails from the Hadramout region of the eastern Yemeni hinterland, commanded a small group of Arab volunteers under the leadership of Abdullah Azzam in the Islamist insurgency against the Soviets through the 1980s. Yemenis formed one of the largest contingents within bin Laden’s Arab volunteer force in Afghanistan, which meant that by 1989, a sizable number of battle-hardened Yemenis returned home looking for a new purpose.
They did not have to wait long. Leading the jihadist pack returning from Afghanistan was Tariq al Fadhli of the once-powerful al Fadhli tribe based in the southern Yemeni province of Abyan. Joining al Fadhli was Sheikh Abdul Majid al Zindani, the spiritual father of Yemen’s Salafi movement and one of the leaders of the conservative Islah party (now leading the political opposition against Saleh). The al Fadhli tribe had lost its lands to the Marxists of the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP), which had ruled South Yemen with Soviet backing throughout the 1980s while North Yemen was ruled with Saudi backing. Al Fadhli, an opportunist who tends to downplay his previous interactions with bin Laden, returned to his homeland in 1989 (supposedly with funding from bin Laden) with a mission backed by North Yemen and Saudi Arabia to rid the south of Marxists. He and his group set up camp in the mountains of Saada province on the Saudi border and also established a training facility in Abyan province in South Yemen. Joining al Fadhli’s group were a few thousand Arabs from Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan who had fought in Afghanistan and faced arrest or worse if they tried to return home.
When North and South Yemen unified in 1990 following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Yemen’s tribal Salafists, still trying to find their footing, were largely pushed aside as the southern Marxists became part of the new Republic of Yemen, albeit as subjugated partners to the north. Many within the Islamist militant movement shifted their focus to foreign targets — with an eye on the United States — and rapidly made their mark in December 1992, when two hotels were bombed in the southern city of Aden, where U.S. soldiers taking part in Operation Restore Hope in Somalia were lodged (though no Americans were killed in the attack). A rocket attack against the U.S. Embassy in January 1993 was also attempted and failed. Though he denied involvement in the hotel attacks, al Fadhli and many of his jihadist compatriots were thrown in jail on charges of orchestrating the hotel bombings as well as the assassination of one of the YSP’s political leaders.
But as tensions intensified between the north and the south in the early 1990s, so did the utility of Yemen’s Islamist militants. Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh brokered a deal in 1993 with al Fadhli in which the militant leader was released from jail and freed of all charges in exchange for his assistance in defeating the southern socialists, who were now waging a civil war against the north. Saleh’s plan worked. The southern socialists were defeated and stripped of much of their land and fortunes, while the jihadists who made Saleh’s victory possible enjoyed the spoils of war. Al Fadhli, in particular, ended up becoming a member of Saleh’s political inner circle. In tribal custom, he also had his sister marry Brig. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, a member of the president’s Sanhan tribe in the influential Hashid confederation and now commander of Yemen’s northwestern military division and 1st Armored Brigade. (Mohsen, known for his heavily Islamist leanings, has been leading the political standoff against Saleh ever since his high-profile defection from the regime March 24.)
The Old Guard Rises and Falls
Saleh’s co-opting of Yemen’s Islamist militants had profound implications for the country’s terrorism profile. Islamists of varying ideological intensities were rewarded with positions throughout the Yemeni security and intelligence apparatus, with a heavy concentration in the Political Security Organization (PSO), a roughly 150,000-strong state security and intelligence agency. The PSO exists separately from the Ministry of Interior and is supposed to answer directly to the president, but it has long operated autonomously and is believed to have been behind a number of large-scale jailbreaks, political assassinations and militant operations in the country. While the leadership of the PSO under Ghaleb al Ghamesh have maintained their loyalty to Saleh, the loyalty of the organization as a whole to the president is highly questionable.
Many within the military-intelligence-security apparatus who fought in the 1994 civil war to defeat South Yemen and formed a base of support around Saleh’s presidency made up what is now considered the “old guard” in Yemen. Interspersed within the old guard were the mujahideen fighters returning from Afghanistan. Leading the old guard within the military has been none other than Mohsen, who, after years of standing by Saleh’s side, has emerged in the past month as the president’s most formidable challenger. Mohsen, whose uncle was married to Saleh’s mother in her second marriage, was a stalwart ally of Saleh’s throughout the 1990s. He played an instrumental role in protecting Saleh from coup attempts early on in his political reign and led the North Yemen army to victory against the south in the 1994 civil war. Mohsen was duly rewarded with ample military funding and control over Saada, Hudeidah, Hajja, Amran and Mahwit, surpassing the influence of the governors in these provinces.
While the 1990s were the golden years for Mohsen, the 21st century brought with it an array of challenges for the Islamist sympathizers in the old guard. Following the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, Saleh came under enormous pressure from the United States to crack down on al Qaeda operatives and their protectors in Yemen, both within and beyond the bounds of the state. Fearful of the political backlash that would result from U.S. unilateral military action in Yemen and tempted by large amounts of counterterrorism aid being channeled from Washington, Saleh began devising a strategy to gradually marginalize the increasingly problematic old guard.
These were not the only factors driving Saleh’s decision, however. Saleh knew he had to prepare a succession plan, and he preferred to see the next generation of Saleh men at the helm. Anticipating the challenge he would face from powerful figures like Mohsen and his allies, Saleh shrewdly created new and distinct security agencies for selected family members to run under the tutelage of the United States with the those agencies run by formidable members of the old guard. Thus the “new guard” was born.
The Rise of Saleh’s Second-Generation New Guard
Over the course of the past decade, Saleh has made a series of appointments to mark the ascendancy of the new guard. Most important, his son and preferred successor, Ahmed Ali Saleh, became head of the elite Republican Guard (roughly 30,000-plus men) and Special Operations Forces. Ahmad replaced Saleh’s half-brother, Mohammed Saleh al Ahmar, as chief of the Republican Guard, but Saleh made sure to appease Mohammed by making him Yemen’s defense attache in Washington, followed by appointing him to the highly influential post of chief of staff of the supreme commander of the Armed Forces and supervisor to the Republican Guard.
The president also appointed his nephews — the sons of his brother Muhammad Abdullah Saleh (now deceased) — to key positions. Yahya became chief of staff of the Central Security Forces and Counter-Terrorism Unit (roughly 50,000 plus); Tariq was made commander of the Special Guard (which effectively falls under the authority of Ahmed’s Republican Guard); and Ammar became principal duty director of the National Security Bureau (NSB). Moreover, nearly all of Saleh’s sons, cousins and nephews are evenly distributed throughout the Republican Guard.
Each of these agencies received a substantial amount of money as U.S. financial aid to Yemen increased from $5 million in 2006 to $155 million in 2010. This was expected to rise to $1 billion or more over the next several years, but Washington froze the first installment in February when the protests broke out. Ahmed’s Republican Guard and Special Operations Forces worked closely with U.S. military trainers in trying to develop an elite fighting force along the lines of Jordan’s U.S.-trained Fursan al Haq (Knights of Justice). The creation of the mostly U.S.-financed NSB in 2002 to collect domestic intelligence was also part of a broader attempt by Saleh to reform all security agencies to counter the heavy jihadist penetration of the PSO.
Meanwhile, Mohsen watched nervously as his power base flattened under the weight of the second-generation Saleh men. One by one, Mohsen’s close old-guard allies were replaced: In 2007, Saleh sacked Gen. Al Thaneen, commander of the Republican Guard in Taiz. In 2008, Brig. Gen. Mujahid Gushaim replaced Ali Sayani, the head of military intelligence (Ali Sayani’s brother, Abdulmalik, Yemen’s former defense minister, was one of the first generals to declare support for the revolt against Saleh); The same year, Gen. Al Thahiri al Shadadi was replaced by Brig Gen. Mohammed al Magdashi as Commander of the Central Division; Saleh then appointed his personal bodyguard Brig. Gen. Aziz Mulfi as Chief of Staff of the 27th mechanized brigade in Hadramout. Finally, in early 2011, Saleh sacked Brig. Gen. Abdullah Al Gadhi, commander of Al Anad Base that lies on the axis of Aden in the south and commander of the 201st mechanized brigade. As commander of the northwestern division, Mohsen had been kept busy by an al Houthi rebellion that ignited in 2004, and he became a convenient scapegoat for Saleh when the al Houthis rose up again in 2009 and began seizing territory, leading to a rare Saudi military intervention in Yemen’s northern Saada province.
Using the distraction and intensity of the Houthi rebellion to weaken Mohsen and his forces, Saleh attempted to move the headquarters of Mohsen’s First Armored Brigade from Sanaa to Amran just north of the capital and ordered the transfer of heavy equipment from Mohsen’s forces to the Republican Guard. While Saleh’s son and nephews were on the receiving end of millions of dollars of U.S. financial aid to fight AQAP, Mohsen and his allies were left on the sidelines as the old-guard institutions were branded as untrustworthy and thus unworthy of U.S. financing. Mohsin also claims Saleh tried to have him killed at least six times. One such episode, revealed in a Wikileaks cable dated February 2010, describes how the Saleh government allegedly provided Saudi military commanders with the coordinates of Mohsen’s headquarters when Saudi forces were launching air strikes on the Houthis. The Saudis aborted the strike when they sensed something was wrong with the information they were receiving from the Yemeni government.
Toward the end of 2010, with the old guard sufficiently weakened, Saleh was feeling relatively confident that he would be able to see through his plans to abolish presidential term limits and pave the way for his son to take power. What Saleh didn’t anticipate was the viral effect of the North African uprisings and the opportunity they would present to Mohsen and his allies to take revenge and, more important, make a comeback.
(click here to enlarge image)
An Old Guard Revival?
Mohsen, 66, is a patient and calculating man. When thousands of Yemenis took to the streets of Sanaa in late March to protest against the regime, his 1st Armored Brigade, based just a short distance from the University of Sanaa entrance where the protesters were concentrated, deliberately stood back while the CSF and Republican Guard took the heat for increasingly violent crackdowns. In many ways, Mohsen attempted to emulate Egyptian Field Marshal Mohammed Tantawi in having his forces stand between the CSF and the protesters, acting as a protector of the pro-democracy demonstrators in hopes of making his way to the presidential palace with the people’s backing. Mohsen continues to carry a high level of respect among the Islamist-leaning old guard and, just as critically, maintains a strong relationship with the Saudi royals.
Following his March 24 defection, a number of high-profile military, political and tribal defections followed. Standing in league with Mohsen is the politically ambitious Sheikh Hamid al-Ahmar, one of the 10 sons of the late Abdullah bin Hussein al-Ahmar, who ruled the Hashid confederation as the most powerful tribal chieftain in the country and was also a prominent leader of the Islah political party. (Saleh’s Sanhaan tribe is part of the Hashid confederation as well.) Hamid is a wealthy businessman and vocal leader of the Islah party, which dominates the Joint Meetings Party (JMP), an opposition coalition. The sheikh who, like Mohsen, has a close relationship with the Saudi royals, has ambitions to replace Saleh and has been responsible for a wave of defections from within the ruling General People’s Congress, nearly all of which can be traced back to his family tree. In an illustration of Hamid’s strategic alliance with Mohsen, Hamid holds the position of lieutenant colonel in the 1st Armored Brigade. This is a purely honorary position but provides Hamid with a military permit to expand his contingent of body guards, the numbers of which of recently swelled to at least 100.
Together, Mohsen and Sheikh Hamid have a great deal of influence in Yemen to challenge Saleh, but still not enough to drive him out of office by force. Mohsen’s forces have been gradually trying to encroach on Sanaa from their base in the northern outskirts of the capital, but forces loyal to Saleh in Sanaa continue to outman and outgun the rebel forces.
Hence the current stalemate. Yemen does not have the luxury of a clean, geographic split between pro-regime and anti-regime forces, as is the case in Libya. In its infinite complexity, the country is divided along tribal, family, military and business lines, so its political future is difficult to chart. A single family, army unit, village or tribe will have members pledging loyalty to either Saleh or the revolution, providing the president with just enough staying power to deflect opposition demands and drag out the political crisis.
Washington’s Yemen Problem
The question of whether Saleh stays or goes is not the main topic of current debate. Nearly every party to the conflict, including the various opposition groups, Saudi Arabia, the United States and even Saleh himself, understand that the Yemeni president’s 33-year political reign will end soon. The real sticking point has to do with those family members surrounding Saleh and whether they, too, will be brought down with the president in a true regime change.
This is where the United States finds itself in a particularly uncomfortable spot. Yemen’s opposition, a hodgepodge movement including everything from northern Islamists to southern socialists, are mostly only united by a collective aim to dismantle the Saleh regime, including the second-generation Saleh new guard that has come to dominate the country’s security-military-intelligence apparatus with heavy U.S.-backing.
The system is far from perfect, and counterterrorism efforts in Yemen continue to frustrate U.S. authorities. However, Saleh’s security reforms over the past several years and the tutelage the U.S. military has been able to provide to these select agencies have been viewed as a significant sign of progress by the United States, and that progress could now be coming under threat.
Mohsen and his allies are looking to reclaim their lost influence and absorb the new-guard entities in an entirely new security set-up. For example, the opposition is demanding that the Republican Guard and Special Forces be absorbed into the army, which would operate under a general loyal to Mohsen (Mohsen himself claims he would step down as part of a deal in which Saleh also resigns, but he would be expected to assume a kingmaker status), that the CSF and CTU paramilitary agencies be stripped of their autonomy and operationally come under the Ministry of Interior and that the newly created NSB come under the PSO. Such changes would be tantamount to unraveling the past decade of U.S. counterterrorism investment in Yemen that was designed explicitly to raise a new generation of security officials who could hold their own against the Islamist-leaning old guard. This is not to say that Mohsen and his allies would completely obstruct U.S. counterterrorism efforts. Many within the old guard, eager for U.S. financial aid and opposed to U.S. unilateral military action in Yemen, are likely to veer toward pragmatism in dealing with Washington. That said, Mohsen’s reputation for protecting jihadists operating in Yemen and his poor standing with Washington would add much distrust to an already complicated U.S.-Yemeni relationship.
Given its counterterrorism concerns and the large amount of U.S. financial aid flowing into Yemen in recent years, Washington undoubtedly has a stake in Yemen’s political transition, but it is unclear how much influence it will be able to exert in trying to shape a post-Saleh government. The United States lacks the tribal relationships, historical presence and trust to deal effectively with a resurgent old guard seeking vengeance amid growing chaos.
The real heavyweight in Yemen is Saudi Arabia. The Saudi royals have long viewed their southern neighbor as a constant source of instability in the kingdom. Whether the threat to the monarchy emanating from Yemen drew its roots from Nasserism, Marxism or radical Islamism, Riyadh deliberated worked to keep the Yemeni state weak while buying loyalties across the Yemeni tribal landscape. Saudi Arabia shares the U.S. concern over Yemeni instability providing a boon to AQAP. The Saudi royals, which are reviled by a large segment of Saudi-born jihadists in AQAP operating from Yemen, is a logical target for AQAP attacks that carry sufficient strategic weight to shake the oil markets and the royal regime, especially given the current climate of unrest in the region. Moreover, Saudi Arabia does not want to deal with a dramatic increase in the already regular spillover of refugees, smugglers and illegal workers from Yemen should civil war ensue.
At the same time, Saudi Arabia and the United States may not entirely see eye to eye in how to manage the jihadist threat in Yemen. The Saudis have maintained close linkages with a number of influential Islamist members within the old guard, including Mohsen and jihadists like al Fadhli, who broke off his alliance with Saleh in 2009 to lead the Southern Movement against the regime. The Saudis are also more prone to rely on their jihadist allies from time to time in trying to snuff out more immediate threats to Saudi interests.
For example, Saudi Arabia’s current concern regarding Yemen centers not on the future of Yemen’s counterterrorism capabilities but on the al Houthi rebels in the north, who have wasted little time in exploiting Sanaa’s distractions to expand their territorial claims in Saada province. The Houthis belong to the Zaydi sect, considered an offshoot of Shiite Islam and heretical by Wahhabi standards. Riyadh fears Houthi unrest in Yemen’s north could stir unrest in Saudi Arabia’s southern provinces of Najran and Jizan, which are home to the Ismailis, also an offshoot of Shiite Islam. Ismaili unrest in the south could then embolden Shia in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province, who have already been engaged in demonstrations, albeit small ones, against the Saudi monarchy with heavy Iranian encouragement. Deputy AQAP leader Saad Ali al Shihri’s declaration of war against the al Houthi rebels on Jan. 28 may have surprised many, but it also seemed to play to the Saudi agenda in channeling jihadist efforts toward the al Houthi threat.
The United States has a Yemen problem that it cannot avoid, but it also has very few tools with which to manage or solve it. For now, the stalemate provides Washington with the time to sort out alternatives to the second-generation Saleh relatives, but that time also comes at a cost. The longer this political crisis drags on, the more Saleh will narrow his focus to holding onto Sanaa, while leaving the rest of the country for the Houthis, the southern socialists and the jihadists to fight over. The United States can take some comfort in the fact that AQAP’s poor track record of innovative yet failed attacks has kept the group in the terrorist minor leagues. With enough time, resources and sympathizers in the government and security apparatus, however, AQAP could find itself in a more comfortable spot in a post-Saleh scenario, likely to the detriment of U.S. counterterrorism efforts in the Arabian Peninsula.
Reply #22 on:
April 21, 2011, 12:30:13 PM »
Thanks to Strat - and Crafty - for keeping watch on the turmoil in Yemen, a key location for al Qaida on the Arabian Peninsula. See if this map comes through, but Yemen shares a 'sea border' with Somalia / the horn of Africa, a home al Qaida, Blackhawk down, and base for the ruthless pirate sea war operation that is stealing, killing and taking over anything everything up to the size of oil tankers that tries to pass through.
Reply #23 on:
April 21, 2011, 12:36:55 PM »
Somebody call NATO!
Reply #24 on:
April 21, 2011, 01:12:46 PM »
In a rather terrifying way, that was rather funny GM.
Worth noting here IMHO is that the rationale for our efforts in Afpakia of preventing the return of AQ training bases for attacks upon the American homeland, is in tatters. AQ now establishes training bases in Yemen, the Horn of Africa, (and with the help of President Baraq in Libya too?-- though this remains to be seen). If we are not going to go in and stop them all (and I suspect no one here is calling for boots on the ground in Yemen!) then what is the point of going into just one (Afpakia)?
Our strategy is utterly incoherent.
Those who wish to comment on this point should please do so either on the US Foreign Policy thread or the Middle East/SNAFU thread.
Stratfor: AQAP, missile strike
Reply #25 on:
May 12, 2011, 07:52:51 AM »
By Scott Stewart
On May 5, a Hellfire missile fired from a U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) struck a vehicle in the town of Nissab in Yemen’s restive Shabwa province. The airstrike reportedly resulted in the deaths of two Yemeni members of the Yemen-based al Qaeda franchise group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and injured a third AQAP militant. Subsequent media reports indicated that the strike had targeted Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born member of AQAP, but had failed to kill him.
The May 5 strike was not the first time al-Awlaki had been targeted and missed. On Dec. 24, 2009 (a day before the failed AQAP Christmas Day bombing attempt against Northwest Airlines Flight 253), an airstrike and ground assault was launched against a compound in the al-Said district of Shawba province that intelligence said was the site of a major meeting of AQAP members. The Yemeni government initially indicated that the attack had killed al-Awlaki along with several senior AQAP members, but those reports proved incorrect.
In 2009 and 2010, the United States conducted other strikes against AQAP in Yemen, though most of those strikes reportedly involved Tomahawk cruise missiles and carrier-based fixed-wing aircraft. Still, the United States has reportedly used UAVs to attack targets in Yemen on a number of occasions. In November 2002, the CIA launched a UAV strike against Abu Ali al-Harithi and five confederates in Marib. That strike essentially decapitated the al Qaeda node in Yemen and greatly reduced its operational effectiveness for several years. There are also reports that a May 24, 2010, strike may have been conducted by a UAV. However, that strike mistakenly killed the wrong target, which generated a great deal of anger among Yemen’s tribes, who then conducted armed attacks against pipelines and military bases. The use of airstrikes against AQAP was heavily curtailed after that attack.
All this is to say that a UAV strike in Yemen is not particularly surprising — nor is a strike targeting AQAP or al-Awlaki. Indeed, we noted in January our belief that AQAP had eclipsed the al Qaeda core on the physical battlefield due to the efforts of its tactical commanders and on the ideological battlefield due to the efforts of its propaganda wing, Al-Malahem Media.
One thing that has struck us as odd about the May 5 airstrike, however, is the way al-Awlaki has been characterized in the press. Several media outlets have referred to him as the leader of AQAP, which he clearly is not (he is not even the group’s primary religious leader). Other reports have even speculated that al-Awlaki could be in line to become the global leader of the jihadist movement following the death of Osama bin Laden. In light of such statements, it seems a fitting time to discuss once again the leadership of AQAP and to examine al-Awlaki’s role within the organization.
Stepping Into the Void
Yemen became a focus of U.S. counterterrorism efforts following the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen; the 9/11 attacks; and the October 2002 bombing attack against the oil tanker Limburg off the Yemeni coast. As noted above, following the November 2002 UAV strike that killed Abu Ali al-Harithi, the jihadists in Yemen entered a period of disorganization and operational dormancy. This period was also marked by the arrests and imprisonment of several important Yemeni jihadists. There remained many jihadists in Yemen, and many more sympathizers, but the movement in Yemen lacked effective leadership and direction.
This leadership void was filled by a man named Nasir al-Wahayshi, who is also known by the honorific name, or kunya, Abu Basir. Al-Wahayshi is an ethnic Yemeni who spent time in Afghanistan while allegedly working closely with Osama bin Laden. Some reports even indicate al-Wahayshi was bin Laden’s personal secretary. Al-Wahayshi fled Afghanistan following the battle at Tora Bora and went to Iran, where he was arrested by the government of Iran in late 2001 or early 2002. Al-Wahayshi was repatriated to Yemen in 2003 through an extradition deal with the Iranian government and subsequently escaped from a high-security prison outside Sanaa in February 2006, along with 22 other jihadists. Other escapees in the group included Jamal al-Badawi, who is wanted by U.S. officials for his alleged role as the leader of the cell that carried out the suicide bombing of the USS Cole, and Qasim al-Raymi, who became AQAP’s military leader. Al-Raymi is said to be an aggressive, ruthless and fierce fighter (some have likened him to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi). Al-Raymi has also been unsuccessfully targeted by an airstrike.
Following the 2006 prison break, there was a notable change in jihadist activity in Yemen. In September 2006 there was an attack involving dual vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) against oil facilities. This was the first use of VBIEDs on land in Yemen (large IEDs in boats had been used in the USS Cole and Limburg attacks).
Al-Wahayshi was able to establish control of Yemen’s ramshackle network of jihadists by mid 2007, bringing a resurgence to jihadist operations in Yemen. By January 2009, the remnants of the Saudi al Qaeda franchise had fled Saudi Arabia for Yemen and declared their loyalty to al-Wahayshi. It is notable that the Saudi contingent swore allegiance to al-Wahayshi because it indicated that the merger of the Saudi and Yemeni jihadist entities was not a merger of equals. A hierarchy had been established for AQAP with al-Wahayshi at the top, a testament to his leadership.
At the time of the merger, Saudi national (and former Guantanamo detainee) Said Ali al-Shihri was named as al-Wahayshi’s deputy. Another notable Saudi who joined the group during the union was Ibrahim Hassan Tali al-Asiri, who has become AQAP’s chief bombmaker and the mastermind behind the innovative IEDs used in AQAP’s attacks. Also joining AQAP at this time was a Saudi cleric named Ibrahim Suleiman al-Rubaish, who reportedly earned a degree in Islamic law from Muhammad Ibn-Saud University and would become the group’s mufti, or religious leader. Al-Rubaish fought with bin Laden and al-Wahayshi at Tora Bora, and shortly after the battle he was arrested and detained at Guantanamo Bay until 2006, when he was returned to Saudi Arabia. After completing the Saudi rehabilitation program, al-Rubaish fled to Yemen, where he joined AQAP. The relationship between AQAP figures such as al-Wahayshi and al-Rubaish and bin Laden helps explain why AQAP has been the franchise jihadist group that is the closest ideologically to the al Qaeda core.
Al-Awlaki’s Path to AQAP
This review of AQAP’s formation demonstrates that Nasir al-Wahayshi is clearly the leader of AQAP. However, that does not mean that al-Awlaki plays an insignificant role in the group. He has come to be an important ideologue and spokesman — especially to English-speaking Muslims. Even in the years before he was well-known, al-Awlaki was long suspected of being an al Qaeda supporter. The 9/11 Commission Report even noted that he had had close contact with 9/11 hijackers Nawaf al-Hamzi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, who attended his mosque in San Diego. After al-Awlaki moved to a mosque in northern Virginia, Alhamzi reportedly visited him with another 9/11 hijacker, Hani Hanjour.
In 2002, under increasing law enforcement scrutiny during the 9/11 investigation, al-Awlaki left the United States. After living and preaching for just over a year in London, he returned to Yemen in early 2004. It is important to remember that in early 2004, the jihadists in Yemen were off balance and directionless. While al-Awlaki was able to establish himself as a leading online English-language jihadist preacher, he was always somewhat circumspect in his choice of language in public and did not directly espouse attacks against the United States and the West, probably because he was undergoing a slow transformation from being an American Salafi to becoming a transnational jihadist, and it takes time for ideas to crystallize. Although al-Awlaki’s prominence as an English-language preacher increased dramatically during this time, it is noteworthy that al-Awlaki was not able to provide the leadership required to organize the jihadist movement in Yemen, which would continue to struggle until al-Wahayshi escaped from prison and assumed control. Al-Awlaki is an ideologue, not an organizer.
Al-Awlaki was arrested by Yemeni authorities in August 2006 and held in custody until December 2007. Between the time of his arrest and the time of his release, there had been a tectonic shift in the Yemeni jihadist landscape under the leadership of al-Wahayshi, which had once again become active and deadly, as evidenced by the July 2010 suicide attack that killed eight Spanish tourists and their two Yemeni guides. Following his release from prison, al-Awlaki’s public rhetoric indicated an increased degree of radicalism. However, despite the increasing radicalism in his sermons and statements, al-Awlaki remained somewhat ambivalent regarding his association with AQAP. Even following the above-mentioned Dec. 24, 2009, airstrike in which he was supposedly targeted, he denied being associated with AQAP in an interview with a Yemeni reporter. This position was becoming increasingly untenable as reports of his links to Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan and Christmas Day bombing-attempt suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab were revealed.
By early 2010, al-Awlaki finally began to publicly acknowledge his affiliation with AQAP, a relationship that he openly admitted in the first edition of AQAP’s English-language Inspire magazine. Al-Awlaki has been a regular contributor to Inspire, and a review of his contributions clearly displays his role in the organization as a religious leader and propagandist. In the first edition of Inspire, al-Awlaki wrote the theme article for the edition, “May Our Souls Be Sacrificed for You,” which provided a religious justification for attacks against the individuals involved in the Mohammed cartoon controversy. A list of individuals to be targeted was also included.
The second edition of Inspire contained a lengthy article by al-Awlaki that was intended to refute a declaration made by a group of mainstream Islamic scholars called the New Mardin Declaration, which undercut several key tenets of jihadism such as the practice of takfir, or declaring another Muslim to be an unbeliever. The scholars also condemned the practice of terrorism and attacks directed against Muslim rulers. The fourth edition of Inspire contained a fatwa by al-Awlaki entitled “The Ruling on Disposing the Unbelievers Wealth in Dar el Harb,” which provides religious justification for stealing from unbelievers in the West. Then in the fifth edition of Inspire, al-Awlaki wrote an article titled “The Tsunami of Change,” which was intended to refute claims that the ideology of jihadism had become irrelevant in the wake of the uprisings occurring across the Arab world over the previous few months.
Al-Awlaki’s in-depth refutation of the New Mardin Declaration clearly displayed how seriously jihadists take any attack against their ideology, a trend we have noted in the past by discussing the efforts of core al Qaeda ideological figures like Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abu Yahya al-Libi to vigorously defend the key doctrines of jihadism against assault from mainstream Islamic scholars. In the words of al-Libi, the jihadist battle “is not waged solely at the military and economic level, but is waged first and foremost at the level of doctrine.”
To a movement that is based upon ideology, especially an ideology that embraces “martyrdom,” the largest threat is not physical force — which can kill individuals — but rather ideological attacks like the New Mardin Declaration that can tear down the ideological base the movement is founded upon. This is something jihadists fear more than death.
Therefore it is important for the movement to have ideological leaders who not only expound and propagate the ideology, using it to recruit new members, but can also act as ideological watchdogs or apologists to defend the theology from ideological attack. This is one of the roles that al-Awlaki is currently playing for AQAP, that of an ideological guardian. He preaches the doctrine of jihadism in an effort to attract new recruits, provides religious rulings as to whether it is religiously permissible to attack particular targets and conduct specific types of operations and vigorously defends the doctrine of jihadism from attack.
However, it is important to understand that al-Awlaki is an ideological leader in AQAP and not the ideological leader of the organization. As noted above, the actual ideological leader (mufti) of AQAP is a Saudi named Ibrahim Suleiman al-Rubaish, who, unlike al-Awlaki, fought with bin Laden at Tora Bora, was captured and is a former Guantanamo Bay detainee. In addition to this cachet of having fought side by side with bin Laden and maintained his faith through Guantanamo, al-Rubaish has also been formally educated in Shariah (al-Awlaki has degrees in civil engineering and education and worked toward a degree in human resources development, but he has no formal theological training). Al-Awlaki and al-Rubaish are also joined by another AQAP ideological leader, Adel bin Abdullah al-Abab, a Yemeni imam who, according to some reports, chairs AQAP’s Shariah Council.
So, while Al-Awlaki is an American citizen, speaks native English and is an accomplished communicator (especially in appealing to English-speaking Muslims), he is not the emir of AQAP or even its primary religious authority. Therefore it is unthinkable that he could possibly replace Osama bin Laden as the leader of the worldwide jihadist movement instead of a far more significant jihadist figure such as Ayman al-Zawahiri.
The second and clearly most significant role that al-Awlaki plays for AQAP is that of the group’s foremost preacher to English-speaking Muslims. Starting in 2008, al-Wahayshi and the AQAP leadership made a strategic decision to encourage radicalized Muslims living in the West to adopt a leaderless-resistance form of jihadist militancy. This operational model meant instructing radicalized Muslims to conduct simple attacks using readily available means where they live, instead of traveling to places like Yemen or Pakistan to obtain training. This appeal was evidenced not only in the group’s online Arabic-language magazine Sada al-Malahem but also in the founding of the group’s English-language online magazine Inspire.
Because of counterterrorism measures undertaken in the West, it has become more difficult for terrorist operatives from the al Qaeda core and franchise groups like AQAP to travel to the United States or Europe to conduct terrorist attacks. This is the reason that AQAP (and later the al Qaeda core) chose to focus on recruiting and equipping grassroots operatives. These efforts have paid dividends in attacks like the Fort Hood shooting, which killed more Americans than any attack conducted by the AQAP itself. So, while al-Awlaki’s role in reaching out to the English-speaking Muslim world may not seem all that significant as far as AQAP’s internal operations are concerned, it allows the group to project power into the heart of the West, and it is a critical component of the group’s effort to take the fight to their enemy’s homeland. Al-Awlaki is important, just not in the way many in the press are portraying him to be.
Reply #26 on:
May 30, 2011, 01:06:33 PM »
I gather that a city has fallen to Islamist forces , , ,
Does the WSJ really make any sense here?
Reply #27 on:
May 30, 2011, 06:39:27 PM »
Even Left Coasters are beginning to grumble about the Obama Administration's ideological imperative for high-speed rail that defies all common sense.
A couple of weeks ago California's Legislative Analyst's Office issued a withering report calling the state's 500-mile high-speed rail project between Anaheim and San Francisco a fiscal crackup ready to happen. (See "California's Next Train Wreck," May 18.)
The federal Department of Transportation has offered $3 billion of stimulus funds with the catch that the state has to begin construction by 2012 and build the first segment in the Central Valley. A stand-alone segment running through a sparsely populated area couldn't operate without a huge taxpayer subsidy, but a voter-approved ballot measure explicitly prohibits any such subsidies.
At the urging of the state watchdog, the rail authority asked the feds for more flexibility about where and when to start building. Last week the Department of Transportation told them to dream on. In a letter responding to the request for more flexibility, Under Secretary for Policy Roy Kienitz ordered the authority to charge full speed ahead since "once major construction is underway and approvals to complete other sections of the line have been obtained, the private sector will have compelling reasons to invest in further construction." Private sector seems to be the Obama Administration's code for government.
Even some of the state's Democrats are protesting the Administration's mulishness. Democratic state senator Alan Lowenthal told the Los Angeles Times that "there is nothing in the letter saying the federal government would commit $17 billion to $19 billion for the project . . . If it had, we would build the Central Valley segment right now. But the state needs to be financially and fiscally responsible."
Which is why the legislature needs to kill the train now. Once this boondoggle gets out of the station, the state will be writing checks for decades.
Reply #28 on:
May 30, 2011, 07:24:59 PM »
Although parts of California are beginning to resemble Yemen, I'm not sure this post belongs here....
Take 2: Is the WSJ making any sense here?
Reply #29 on:
May 30, 2011, 09:19:45 PM »
Lets try that again
Yemen's political crisis is taking a turn toward conflict and perhaps widespread civil war. Armed clashes between supporters of the embattled president and a rival tribal leader have spread across the country after the collapse of an agreement to end the stalemate and hold free elections. And on the weekend military helicopters attacked the southern city of Zinjibar that was seized by Islamists.
The U.S. and neighboring Arabian peninsula states have tried to coax President Ali Abdullah Saleh to resign for several months. The deal negotiated by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was flawed but worth a try. Its demise last week makes it both harder and more urgent to stop Yemen from unraveling.
In power for 32 years, President Saleh has promised several times to step down within a month and turn power over to his vice president, with elections to follow 60 days later. But he backed out of the GCC agreement each time, most dramatically last week when he refused to sign it at a public ceremony. Mr. Saleh may be holding out for a better deal for immunity from prosecution for him and his family, having watched Hosni Mubarak and his sons land in an Egyptian prison.
Yemen is split along tribal and sectarian lines, and some of Mr. Saleh's generals have broken with him after a violent crackdown on protestors on March 15. So has the leader of the Hashid tribe, to which the president belongs. But there is no obvious successor to Mr. Saleh. If he does step aside, a fair bet would be that some combination of the military, student and other opposition leaders and Islamists would take over.
This uncertainty isn't reassuring. The best that the U.S., Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states can probably do is to help resolve the political deadlock and ensure that whatever follows Mr. Saleh doesn't see the country break up and turn into an even bigger terrorist haven. American leverage over Mr. Saleh is limited. Threats to cut $300 million in yearly U.S. aid—a fraction of the $2 billion the country gets from Saudi Arabia—or censure him at the United Nations may limit our influence and hence our ability to shape the outcome.
View Full Image
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh
.The biggest winner in a Yemen civil war would be al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which formed in 2009 from the merger of Yemeni and Saudi branches. Its spiritual leader, the American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, uses the Internet to recruit supporters. The group has tried to attack the U.S. homeland twice since December 2009.
Mr. Saleh has at times worked closely with the U.S., and in 2002 a CIA Hellfire missile strike took out the previous al Qaeda leader in Yemen. But the Saleh government is also an unreliable ally, often cultivating or turning a blind eye to Islamist militancy. After antigovernment demonstrations started in the wake of the Arab Spring, Mr. Saleh redeployed as many as half the elite counterterrorism units to protect the regime.
Places like Yemen, Afghanistan and Somalia were once backwaters for American policy makers, but 9/11 changed that and probably for a long time. We have no choice except to engage closely on security with whoever takes charge in Yemen and help them tackle their al Qaeda problem.
If chaos or the Islamists prevail, the alternative would be to test the wisdom, or more likely the shortcomings, of Vice President Joe Biden's preferred "over the horizon" strategy for dealing with terrorist sanctuaries: Use missiles and special forces deployed into hostile terrain from a distance and based on limited intelligence.
Reply #30 on:
May 30, 2011, 10:04:49 PM »
No one wanted to fund real intelligence, intervene or be the world's policeman, so here we are, watching to see where al Qaida takes hold next. We have long known of the presence and risks in Yemen. Even the so called on the horizon plan requires an American base - on the horizon. It won't be in Mogadishu, in pirate territory or anywhere else on the Horn, so that means on the Arabian Peninsula inciting al Qaida even more. And the thousand year war goes on. We're going to need some bases. We don't even have a base right in Iraq yet. Or an exit plan in Afghan. I'm just glad that Libya was resolved in "days and not weeks".
Crafty, what do you make of it?
Reply #31 on:
May 31, 2011, 04:03:12 PM »
The security situation in Yemen is no doubt deteriorating, but the opposition forces still do not have the strength to dislodge pro-Saleh forces in the capital, and that’s precisely why we’re seeing a political gridlock in Yemen continue. The Saudis are meanwhile trying to prevent civil war in their southern neighbor but because all forces to this conflict are falling back on tribal law to fight their way out of the gridlock, this is a crisis that is bound to intensify in the coming days.
Over the weekend, opposition forces, particularly coming from tribesman loyal to the influential al-Ahmar family made a number of claims to the media that large-scale defections took place within Yemen’s most elite military unit, the Republican Guard. It appears that many of those claims were widely exaggerated and that Saleh still has pretty strong military control in the capital itself.
Next door, Saudi Arabia’s obviously very frustrated with the situation. They are trying to prevent civil war in the country. They’re also largely embarrassed by the failure of the GCC mediation. What’s becoming clear now in this situation is that all sides to the conflict are falling back on “urf,” or tribal code, in trying to fight their way out of the crisis. The problem is that tribal code is not as strong as it used to be for a number of reasons. As a result you have a situation where neither side fully buys into either the political negotiations or the tribal negotiations. So the opposition hasn’t bought into the political mediation led by the GCC and the Saleh family has not bought into guarantees on paper for their immunity when tribal code actually calls for their debts. And this is really the fundamental tension we see between the modern Yemeni state and its tribal tradition, which is in effect prolonging the crisis.
Meanwhile, while the vast majority of Saleh’s forces are focusing their energies on holding down the capital, the writ of the state is rapidly disintegrating in the rest of the country. For example, in the southern coastal city of Zinjibar, we’ve seen Islamist militant activity on the rise in recent days as a hodgepodge of like-minded Islamist militants have come together in trying to overrun checkpoints, attack military targets and essentially try to assert their control over the city itself. The opposition continues to claim that this is all a charade by Saleh, using the al Qaeda card to convince outsiders of the consequences, specifically the counterterrorism consequences, of forcing him out of power.
At this point in the crisis, that argument doesn’t really hold. Most of the casualties are coming from the military and rising Islamist militant activity in the country right now could be used on the other side of the argument to say that the longer Saleh stays, the greater the risk of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula expanding its sphere of influence in the country. The propaganda on all sides of this conflict are cutting into reality, and that reality is that while Saleh is struggling to maintain control of the capital, an array of rebel forces in the rest of the country are facing the opportunity of a lifetime in trying to expand their territorial control ultimately at the expense of the state.
Good things Pres. Bush isn't the one doing this or POTH would be PO'd
Reply #32 on:
June 08, 2011, 08:39:47 PM »
U.S. Is Intensifying a Secret Campaign of Yemen Airstrikes
The Obama administration has intensified the American covert war in Yemen, exploiting a growing power vacuum in the country to strike at militant suspects with armed drones and fighter jets, according to American officials.
The acceleration of the American campaign in recent weeks comes amid a violent conflict in Yemen that has left the government in Sana, a United States ally, struggling to cling to power. Yemeni troops that had been battling militants linked to Al Qaeda in the south have been pulled back to the capital, and American officials see the strikes as one of the few options to keep the militants from consolidating power.
Re: Good things Pres. Bush isn't the one doing this or POTH would be PO'd
Reply #33 on:
June 08, 2011, 08:52:01 PM »
Remember when war was a bad thing? I love how bloodthirsty the left has become!
Stratfor: Saleh holding on
Reply #34 on:
September 16, 2011, 11:54:01 AM »
September 14, 2011 | 1931 GMT
Click on image below to watch video:
Analyst Reva Bhalla discusses the factors that have allowed Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to gradually regain authority in Sanaa and the reasons for the protracted political stalemate in the country.
The Yemeni Political Crisis Stagnates
Protests and clashes between opposition and pro-government forces have continued across Yemen since Monday, when the Yemeni president signed a deal authorizing his vice president to negotiate a power transfer deal with the opposition and organize early elections. The president and his allies may not be able to assert authority over the Yemeni state overall, but his faction is making notable progress in strengthening control over the capital, Sanaa. That means Yemen will remain in protracted political stalemate and below the threshold for civil war for some time to come.
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who remains in Saudi Arabia while his family members and allies continue to run state affairs in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, signed a deal on Monday to authorize his vice president to negotiate a power transfer deal with the opposition and organize early elections in line with the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] initiative. That initiative calls for Saleh to step down with immunity and the organization of early elections within three months of signing the deal. The deal, as expected, was full of caveats. Saleh retains the right to reject the deal in the end, and he refused to give up his post overall. If Saleh is going to leave, and he’s in apparently no rush to do so, he is going to leave on his own terms.
The opposition saw right through the deal and promptly held demonstrations on Tuesday under the slogan “no deal, no maneuvering, the president should leave.” Saleh likely anticipated the opposition’s reaction. This is yet another step along the way that allows Saleh to appear cooperative with the U.S. and other mediators while holding out just enough on opposition demands to make it appear as though the opposition is the one rejecting the deal in the end.
What’s more important to understand, and something we’ve been saying since the beginning of this crisis, is that Saleh and his clan have been maintaining control over the organs of the state that matter, namely the security apparatus. In recent days for example, the Republican Guards, led by Saleh’s son, have been making notable progress in reclaiming opposition territory in and around Sanaa. And the United States, for lack of better options, is okay with that, especially after the United States has made considerable investment in Yemen since 9/11 in an attempt to develop a so-called new guard that would keep at least some distance from the large number of Islamist sympathizers that continue to pervade Yemen’s intelligence and security agencies. The United States is maintaining pressure on Saleh and his allies to work with the opposition, but Washington is just as concerned about creating the conditions for civil war in the country that would play to the hands of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and its jihadist allies that continue operating in the country.
Meanwhile, the main arbiter in this dispute, Saudi Arabia, remains very much divided over how to manage this political crisis. Some Saudi factions have openly backed Saleh and his clan, while others have been backing the tribes and major opposition figures that are against Saleh. Some of this has to do with personal differences between Saudi King Abdullah and Saudi Interior Minister Prince Naif in their personal relationships with Saleh, but it goes to show that even Saudi Arabia has yet to form a coherent policy in managing its southern neighbor. Saudi Arabia generally prefers Yemen to remain weak and thus deeply exposed to Saudi influence. At the same time, Saudi Arabia does not want Yemen to disintegrate to the point that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, whose target set remains strategically lasered in on the Saudi kingdom, has the room to harness its skills and use Yemen as a more secure launchpad for transnational attacks. These mixed signals from Saudi Arabia are prolonging the political crisis in Yemen, but what’s clear is that Saleh and his clan maintain control over Sanaa, the capital, and the opposition does not yet have what it takes to shift that dynamic in any fundamental way.
Click for more videos
POTH: WH discussing legal issues
Reply #35 on:
September 16, 2011, 01:09:11 PM »
Second post of morning:
At White House, Weighing Limits of Terror Fight
By CHARLIE SAVAGE
Published: September 15, 2011
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration’s legal team is split over how much latitude the United States has to kill Islamist militants in Yemen and Somalia, a question that could define the limits of the war against Al Qaeda and its allies, according to administration and Congressional officials.
The debate, according to officials familiar with the deliberations, centers on whether the United States may take aim at only a handful of high-level leaders of militant groups who are personally linked to plots to attack the United States or whether it may also attack the thousands of low-level foot soldiers focused on parochial concerns: controlling the essentially ungoverned lands near the Gulf of Aden, which separates the countries.
The dispute over limits on the use of lethal force in the region — whether from drone strikes, cruise missiles or commando raids — has divided the State Department and the Pentagon for months, although to date it remains a merely theoretical disagreement. Current administration policy is to attack only “high-value individuals” in the region, as it has tried to do about a dozen times.
But the unresolved question is whether the administration can escalate attacks if it wants to against rank-and-file members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, based in Yemen, and the Somalia-based Shabab. The answer could lay the groundwork for a shift in the fight against terrorists as the original Al Qaeda, operating out of Afghanistan and Pakistan, grows weaker. That organization has been crippled by the killing of Osama bin Laden and by a fierce campaign of drone strikes in the tribal regions of Pakistan, where the legal authority to attack militants who are battling United States forces in adjoining Afghanistan is not disputed inside the administration.
One senior official played down the disagreement on Thursday, characterizing it as a difference in policy emphasis, not legal views. Defense Department lawyers are trying to maintain maximum theoretical flexibility, while State Department lawyers are trying to reach out to European allies who think that there is no armed conflict, for legal purposes, outside of Afghanistan, and that the United States has a right to take action elsewhere only in self-defense, the official said.
But other officials insisted that the administration lawyers disagreed on the underlying legal authority of the United States to carry out such strikes.
Robert Chesney, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin who specializes in the laws of war, said the dispute reflected widespread disagreement about how to apply rules written for traditional wars to a conflict against a splintered network of terrorists — and fears that it could lead to an unending and unconstrained “global” war.
“It’s a tangled mess because the law is unsettled,” Professor Chesney said. “Do the rules vary from location to location? Does the armed conflict exist only in the current combat zone, such as Afghanistan, or does it follow wherever participants may go? Who counts as a party to the conflict? There’s a lot at stake in these debates.”
Counterterrorism officials have portrayed Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula — which was responsible for the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner on Dec. 25, 2009 — as an affiliate of Al Qaeda that may be more dangerous now than the remnants of the original group. Such officials have also expressed worry about the Shabab, though that group is generally more focused on local issues and has not been accused of attacking the United States.
In Pakistan, the United States has struck at Al Qaeda in part through “signature” strikes — those that are aimed at killing clusters of people whose identities are not known, but who are deemed likely members of a militant group based on patterns like training in terrorist camps. The dispute over targeting could affect whether that tactic might someday be used in Yemen and Somalia, too.
The Defense Department’s general counsel, Jeh C. Johnson, has argued that the United States could significantly widen its targeting, officials said. His view, they explained, is that if a group has aligned itself with Al Qaeda against Americans, the United States can take aim at any of its combatants, especially in a country that is unable or unwilling to suppress them.
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The State Department’s top lawyer, Harold H. Koh, (MARC: I have commented on him various times) has agreed that the armed conflict with Al Qaeda is not limited to the battlefield theater of Afghanistan and adjoining parts of Pakistan. But, officials say, he has also contended that international law imposes additional constraints on the use of force elsewhere. To kill people elsewhere, he has said, the United States must be able to justify the act as necessary for its self-defense — meaning it should focus only on individuals plotting to attack the United States.
The fate of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, hangs heavily over the targeting debate, officials said. In several habeas corpus lawsuits, judges have approved the detention of Qaeda suspects who were captured far from the Afghan battlefield, as well as detainees who were deemed members of a force that was merely “associated” with Al Qaeda. One part of the dispute is the extent to which rulings about detention are relevant to the targeting law.
Congress, too, may influence the outcome of the debate. It is considering, as part of a pending defense bill, a new authorization to use military force against Al Qaeda and its associates. A version of the provision proposed by the House Armed Forces Committee would establish an expansive standard for the categories of groups that the United States may single out for military action, potentially making it easier for the United States to kill large numbers of low-level militants in places like Somalia.
In an interview, Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said that he supported the House version and that he would go further. He said he would offer an amendment that would explicitly authorize the use of force against a list of specific groups including the Shabab, as well as set up a mechanism to add further groups to the list if they take certain “overt acts.”
“This is a worldwide conflict without borders,” Mr. Graham argued. “Restricting the definition of the battlefield and restricting the definition of the enemy allows the enemy to regenerate and doesn’t deter people who are on the fence.”
Reply #36 on:
September 16, 2011, 01:11:39 PM »
“This is a worldwide conflict without borders,” Mr. Graham argued. “Restricting the definition of the battlefield and restricting the definition of the enemy allows the enemy to regenerate and doesn’t deter people who are on the fence.”
We whack Awlacki!!!
Reply #37 on:
September 30, 2011, 09:14:27 AM »
U.S.-Born al Qaeda Leader Anwar al-Awlaki Is Killed in Yemen
SANA, Yemen — Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born preacher depicted as a leading figure in Al Qaeda’s outpost in Yemen, was killed on Friday morning in the north of the country, according to the Defense Ministry.
Earlier this year, the American military renewed its campaign of airstrikes in Yemen, using drone aircraft and fighter jets to attack Qaeda militants. One of the attacks was aimed at Mr. Awlaki, one of the most prominent members of the Qaeda affiliate group. There was no immediate comment from American officials.
But Mr. Awlaki’s death, if confirmed, seemed likely to be welcomed in the United States, where Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said in July that two of his top goals were to remove Ayman al-Zawahri, Al Qaeda’s new leader after the death of Osama Bin Laden, and Mr. Awlaki.
Re: We whack Awlacki!!!
Reply #38 on:
September 30, 2011, 09:43:10 AM »
They told me that if I voted for McCain, we'd be using Hellfire missiles to kill American citizens without due process. They were right!
Stratfor on Al Alwaki's whacking
Reply #39 on:
September 30, 2011, 11:39:02 AM »
The Yemeni Defense Ministry has announced that U.S.-born Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in an airstrike. If the reports are true, al-Awlaki’s death would be a blow to al Qaeda’s Yemeni franchise, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). But it is important not to overstate the cleric’s death; AQAP’s ideological and physical battle against the West will continue whether he is dead or not.
Al Qaeda’s Leadership in Yemen
The Yemeni Defense Ministry on Sept. 30 announced that an airstrike directed against a motorcade near the town of Khashef in Yemen’s al-Jawf province killed U.S.-born Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. AFP and Al Arabiya have reported that tribal sources in Yemen have confirmed al-Awlaki’s death. U.S. counterterrorism sources have also confirmed the death to STRATFOR.
Al-Awlaki served as an ideologue and spokesman for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al Qaeda’s franchise in Yemen. However, when considering the implications of al-Awlaki’s death, it is important not to overstate his role in AQAP. He was not the group’s leader, as some in the media have claimed, and although he was a member of its Shariah Council, he was not even the group’s primary religious leader. If the reports are true — rumors of his death have surfaced in the past — his death would severely damage the al Qaeda node’s ability to inspire militants in the English-speaking world to action. AQAP’s outreach to those militants will not stop completely, nor will its attempts to attack the West on the physical battlefield.
AQAP leader Nasir al-Wahayshi has placed a great deal of emphasis on strategic communications as a form of jihad, which has been reflected by the amount of resources the group has devoted to its Arabic-language magazine Sada al-Malahim and the English-language Inspire magazine. Al-Wahayshi also has taken the lead in advocating that Muslims embrace a leaderless resistance model for their militant operations. Having been born, raised and educated in the United States, al-Awlaki has served as AQAP’s primary spokesman to Muslims in the English-speaking world, and his efforts have inspired a number of attacks and attempted attacks. Al-Awlaki has been linked to Ft. Hood shooter Nidal Hasan, would-be Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, would-be Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad and two of the 9/11 hijackers. More recently, al-Awlaki and AQAP appear to have inspired U.S. Army Pfc. Naser Jason Abdo, the man arrested July 27 and charged with planning an attack on Ft. Hood.
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When considering these reports of al-Awlaki’s death, it is also important to remember that he has been declared dead before. The first time followed a December 2009 airstrike in Shabwa province, and the second came after a May 5 unmanned aerial vehicle strike in Nissab, Shabwa province. Shabwa is near al-Jawf, where al-Awlaki was reportedly killed. If he is indeed dead, we can anticipate a statement or eulogy from AQAP in the near future.
Al-Awlaki’s death would deprive AQAP of an important asset in the group’s outreach to the English-speaking world and its efforts to inspire grassroots operatives there, which is the primary threat he posed to the United States and the West. It also would impact AQAP operations on the ideological battlefield. The group’s outreach to the English-speaking world will continue through Inspire magazine and its editor, Samir Khan, but Khan simply does not have the prominence of al-Awlaki.
There is already an indication that Khan is operating under some constraint. On Sept. 27, AQAP published the seventh edition of Inspire magazine. That issue, dedicated to the 9/11 attacks, mostly was composed of photos with very little written content. It did not contain the normal “Open Source Jihad” section, which is intended to equip grassroots jihadists to conduct attacks in the West. The fact that the edition was so lacking in written content and that it was published 16 days after the 9/11 anniversary is an indication that Khan may be under some pressure and does not have the same freedom to operate as he has in the past.
But AQAP does not just operate on the ideological battlefield. On the physical battlefield, the increased pace of U.S. airstrikes in Yemen likely will serve to keep AQAP’s leadership focused on survival, and the group’s fighting on the ground in Yemen also will consume most of its physical resources. AQAP fighters are likely too busy to contemplate and launch attacks against the West like the December 2009 underwear bomb or the November 2010 cargo bomb attempt. However, al-Wahayshi, his tactical commanders and AQAP’s innovative bombmaker Hassan Tali al-Asiri would certainly like to target the West, and if given the latitude, they will continue to plot attacks against targets in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and beyond, regardless of whether al-Awlaki is dead or not.
Stratfor: Assessing the Awlaki hit
Reply #40 on:
October 06, 2011, 08:21:36 AM »
By Scott Stewart
U.S.-born Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, an ideologue and spokesman for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al Qaeda’s franchise in Yemen, was killed in a Sept. 30 airstrike directed against a motorcade near the town of Khashef in Yemen’s al-Jawf province. The strike, which occurred at 9:55 a.m. local time, reportedly was conducted by a U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and may have also involved fixed-wing naval aircraft. Three other men were killed in the strike, one of whom was Samir Khan, the creator and editor of AQAP’s English-language magazine Inspire.
Al-Awlaki has been targeted before; in fact, he had been declared dead on at least two occasions. The first time followed a December 2009 airstrike in Shabwa province, and the second followed a May 5 airstrike, also in Shabwa. In light of confirmation from the U.S. and Yemeni governments and from statements made by al-Awlaki’s family members, it appears that he is indeed dead this time. We anticipate that AQAP soon will issue an official statement confirming the deaths of al-Awlaki and Khan.
As STRATFOR noted Sept. 30, the deaths of both al-Awlaki and Khan can be expected to greatly hamper AQAP’s efforts to radicalize and equip English-speaking Muslims. The group may have other native English speakers, but individuals who possess the charisma and background of al-Awlaki or the graphics and editorial skills of Khan are difficult to come by in Yemen. The al Qaeda franchise’s English-language outreach is certain to face a significant setback.
This deaths of al-Awlaki and Khan and the impact their deaths will have on AQAP’s outreach efforts provide an opportunity to consider the importance of individuals — and their personal skill sets — to militant organizations, especially organizations seeking to conduct transnational media and ideological operations.
Bridging the Gap Between Militant Ideology and Operations
When considering militant groups with transnational objectives and reach such as AQAP, we need to recognize that there are several components necessary for such groups to conduct successful operations, including finances, logistics, planning, training and intelligence. But at a higher level, there is also the distinction between those elements of the group that are dedicated to operations on the physical battlefield and those who are focused on operations on the ideological battlefield. While physical operations are important for obvious reasons, the ideological component is also critically important because it allows a group to recruit new members, maintain the ideological commitment of those already in the group and help shape public perception through propaganda. Because of this, the ideological component is especially important for the long-term viability and continuity of a group or movement.
Groups such as the al Qaeda core and AQAP appreciate the importance of the ideological struggle. Published three days before the airstrike against Khan and al-Awlaki, the seventh edition of Inspire contains an article written by Khan titled “The Media Conflict,” wherein he quotes AQAP leader Nasir al-Wahayshi (aka Abu Basir) as stating, “media work is half of the jihad.”
The role of the media in propagating militant ideology has been revolutionized by the Internet, which allows small groups in remote corners of the globe to produce and broadcast material that is almost instantly available to people all around the world. Indeed, jihadists have succeeded in radicalizing and recruiting people from disparate countries. Products such as Inspire or the video and audio recordings of militant leaders such as al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri are a giant leap forward from the way militants communicated 25 years ago, when groups like November 17 would send communiques to the newspapers and Hezbollah would release videos via major television networks of Western hostages they had kidnapped.
Interestingly, militant groups quickly recognized the significance of this media democratization and were early adopters of the Internet. By the mid-1990s, white supremacists in the United States had established Stormfront.com, and in 1996, jihadists inaugurated azzam.com, a professional-looking website that allowed them to provide inspiration, news and instruction to adherents to their ideology and to potential recruits. Azzam.com eventually became an important mechanism through which funds for jihadist groups could be raised and willing volunteers could find ways to link up with jihadist groups in places like Afghanistan, Chechnya and Bosnia.
Thus, the Internet began to serve as a bridge that connected the ideological battlefield with the physical battlefield. When we look back at AQAP’s media activities, we can see that they, too, were intended to bridge this gap. For example, the group’s Arabic language magazine Sada al-Malahim (meaning “Echo of Battle”) regularly contained not only articles intended to propagate and defend the jihadist ideology but also articles designed to give practical and tactical guidance. And when al-Wahayshi in October 2009 began advocating that jihadists in the West practice a leaderless-resistance style of operations rather than traveling to places like Yemen or Pakistan for training, they promoted that tactical shift via Sada al-Malahim.
Khan’s and Al-Awlaki’s Significance for Inspire
In July 2010, AQAP launched the first edition of Inspire magazine. Khan, a longtime publisher of jihadist material, was chosen to spearhead the Inspire project for AQAP. (Khan was born in Saudi Arabia to Pakistani parents but raised in the United States.) Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Khan began to publish an English-language pro-jihadist blog and eventually established jihadist websites and an Internet magazine called Jihad Recollections. It was the artistic similarities between Jihad Recollections and Inspire that helped identify Khan as the editor of Inspire. Khan left his parents’ home in Charlotte, N.C., in 2009 to move to Yemen after he learned the FBI was investigating him for his connections to jihadist groups.
Inspire was established intentionally to help further al-Wahayshi’s vision of jihadists adopting the leaderless resistance model. Its stated purpose was to radicalize and recruit young, English-speaking Muslims and then inspire and equip them to conduct attacks in the West.
Khan was only 16 years old when he began his jihadist propaganda activities in 2002, and he essentially grew up on the ideological battlefield. By the time he immigrated to Yemen in 2009, he was an experienced cyber-jihadist. In addition to his advanced computer security skills, Khan also energized the Inspire magazine project, and his youth, colloquial American English competency, graphic design flair and knowledge of American pop culture gave Inspire magazine an edgy quality that appealed to young, English-speaking Muslims.
Notably, Khan did not produce most of the written content for Inspire. In fact, he relied heavily on the speeches of al Qaeda figures such as al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden, the books of Abu Musab al-Suri and interviews with AQAP figures such as al-Wahayshi and al-Awlaki. However, it was the way in which Khan packaged these materials that made them so appealing. Certainly, there may have been others working with Khan to produce Inspire, and other people undoubtedly can continue to translate portions of al Qaeda speeches or interview AQAP leaders, but Khan was the driving creative force behind the project. His death thus likely will have a substantial impact on the content and feel of Inspire — if the magazine continues at all.
AQAP’s Arabic-language propaganda efforts suffered a blow in December 2010 when Nayf bin Mohammed al-Qahtani, the founder and editor of Sada al-Malahim and the founder of Malahim media, was killed in a battle with Yemeni security forces. Sada al-Malahim had been publishing an edition roughly every two months since its inception in January 2008. However, since the release of its 16th edition in February 2011, possibly an edition al-Qahtani had worked on, the promised 17th edition has yet to be published. It is possible Inspire will meet the same fate.
However, Khan was not the only American-born jihadist living in Yemen who possessed unique talents that were useful to AQAP’s outreach efforts to English-speaking Muslims. Al-Awlaki had been the imam of congregations in Denver, San Diego and Falls Church, Va., but left the United States in 2002 after being investigated for his ties to two of the 9/11 hijackers and links to a number of other jihadist figures and plots. Al-Awlaki initially moved to the United Kingdom, where he continued to preach, but as authorities began to clamp down on radical preachers in what has been termed “Londonistan,” al-Awlaki moved to Yemen, his ancestral homeland, in 2004.
During his years in the United States and the United Kingdom, al-Awlaki had become a high-profile imam known for his intellect, charisma and ability to appeal to young, English-speaking Muslims. His sermons became very popular, and audio recordings of those sermons were widely distributed on the Internet via his personal website as well as several other Islamic websites. (Thousands of these videos have been posted to YouTube and have received tens of thousands of hits.) Despite his being under investigation by the U.S. government, in 2002 al Awlaki was asked to lead a prayer service at the U.S. Capitol and to speak at the Pentagon on the topic of radical Islam. These engagements reflected al-Awlaki’s popularity and added to the mystique that surrounded him. He was seen as a bit of a celebrity in the English-speaking Muslim world, and his presence in Yemen undoubtedly played a big factor in al-Wahayshi’s decision to expand AQAP’s outreach to al-Awlaki’s audience.
Through his work on the ideological battlefield, Al-Awlaki was able to draw men to the physical battlefield. These men could be sent on on suicide missions, such as would-be Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, or encouraged to conduct simple attacks where they live, as in the case of Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan.
It is important to remember that al-Awlaki was not AQAP’s primary theological authority. The group’s mufti, Suleiman al-Rubaish, a Saudi cleric with a degree in Islamic law, fought with al-Wahayshi and bin Laden at Tora Bora in 2001 before being captured and spending five years in captivity at Guantanamo Bay. After being returned to Saudi Arabia in 2006, al-Rubaish completed the Saudi rehabilitation program and then promptly fled the country to Yemen after his release. Moreover, AQAP’s Shariah Council, of which al-Awlaki was a member, is chaired by a Yemeni cleric named Adel bin Abdullah al-Abab.
Al-Rubaish maintains serious credibility among jihadists because of his friendship with bin Laden, his survival at Tora Bora and his time served in Guantanamo, and al-Abab is a respected Yemeni cleric. However, neither of the men possesses the native-English language ability of al-Awlaki. They also lack the ability to culturally relate to and motivate Muslims in the West in the same way that al-Awlaki did — and continues to do, via his messages that live on in cyberspace. Because of this, al-Awlaki will not be easily replaced.
AQAP’s Operational Ability Intact
This brings us to the ideas of leadership and succession in militant groups. Some have argued that arresting or killing key members of militant networks does not impact such groups, but experience seems to indicate that in many cases the removal of key personnel does indeed make a difference, especially in the near term and if pressure is maintained on the organization. This dynamic has been reflected by the ongoing post-9/11 campaign against the al Qaeda core and their inability to conduct their oft threatened, and purportedly more deadly, follow-on attacks to 9/11. It has also been demonstrated by the operations mounted against regional jihadist franchise groups in Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. The removal of key personnel such as Saudi leader Abdel Aziz al-Muqrin and Indonesian jihadists Hambali and Noordin Top have had substantial impacts on those regional franchises.
Of course, while AQAP’s English-speaking outreach will be severely crippled following Khan’s and al-Awlaki’s deaths, the core of its physical battlefield operational leadership remains intact. Al-Wahayshi is a competent and savvy leader. His military commander, Qasim al-Raymi, is an aggressive, ruthless and fierce fighter, and his principal bomb maker, Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri is creative and imaginative in designing his innovative explosive devices. There were rumors circulating that al-Asiri had been killed in the airstrike directed against al-Awlaki, but they proved to be unfounded. If al-Asiri had been killed, the airstrike would have impacted both the ideological and operational abilities of the group.
The recent increase of U.S. airstrikes, including the one that killed al-Awlaki and Khan, will serve to keep AQAP’s leaders focused on survival, as will the conventional warfare in which the group is currently engaging as it fights for control over areas of Yemen. However, the AQAP leadership undoubtedly still desires to attack the United States and the West — perhaps even more so now to avenge their fallen comrades. If they are given the time and space to plot and plan, the AQAP leadership will continue their efforts to attack the United States. They certainly retain the capability to do so, despite the loss of two ideological leaders.
Weird scenes from the gold mine: Syrian Pilots in Yemen
Reply #41 on:
November 02, 2011, 12:23:51 PM »
The An-26 military transport plane that crashed upon landing Oct. 24 in Lahj province, Yemen, killed eight Syrian military personnel and one Yemeni passenger and wounded seven others, including two more Syrians. In the days since the crash, opposition figures have been asking why the regime of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh is commissioning Syrian pilots (assuming that those killed in the crash were indeed pilots) to combat opposition forces. The political pressures facing the Syrian regime, not those facing Yemen’s, may be more to blame.
Questions are still lingering over the mysterious Oct. 24 crash of a military plane in Yemen that reportedly resulted in the deaths of eight Syrian military personnel and one Yemeni passenger. The An-26 transport plane crashed upon landing at the al Anad air force base in Lahj province, southeast of Sanaa. The cause of the crash remains unclear; Yemeni opposition forces claim it was a Yemeni martyrdom operation by the Yemeni pilot to prevent attacks on opposition forces, but a more reasonable explanation, maintained by the military, is that the crash was due to human and mechanical error. Seven people — two Syrians and five Yemenis — reportedly survived the crash.
The obvious question that Yemeni opposition figures have been positing in the days since the crash is why the regime of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh is commissioning Syrian airmen to allegedly combat opposition forces. The answer may have more to do with the political pressures currently being faced by the Syrian regime than with Yemen’s own political crisis.
Since the crash, Yemeni opposition figures belonging to the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) seized the opportunity to criticize the government for allegedly not having enough trained pilots of its own, thereby having to commission Syrian and even Iraqi pilots to conduct attacks on opposition forces. Anonymous military sources in Yemen responded to those allegations in interviews with state-run media in which they claimed that the Syrian airmen had been working as flight trainers at the Faculty of Aviation and Air Defense since August 1999, when a defense cooperation agreement was signed between Syria and Yemen.
It is not surprising to find foreign pilots, particularly Iraqis and Syrians, among Yemen’s air force. Following the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Yemen quietly invited a number of former Iraqi Baathist pilots into its air force to help operate the country’s Soviet-era MiG-29 and Sukhoi jet fighters. Several Iraqi fighter pilots were involved in Yemen’s air offensive on al-Houthi rebel positions in northern Yemen in the fall of 2009.
Syrian pilots have been known to operate in Yemen for some time, but STRATFOR sources have indicated that their presence has expanded recently. It is important to remember that Syria’s air force is dominated by Sunni pilots, though Syrian air force intelligence and command and control systems for the air forces are handled almost exclusively by minority Alawites, who are aligned with the regime. When Syria began experiencing more significant demonstrations in the spring, there were unconfirmed rumors that the regime had grounded part of its air force out of concern that Sunni pilots might defect. A STRATFOR source more recently claimed that as part of Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s strategy to prevent Sunni dissent among air force pilots, Syria struck a deal with Saleh to send more Sunni pilots to assist Yemen’s air force. Al Assad’s calculation may have been that the farther away from Syria these pilots were, the less trouble they could cause at home.
At the same time, Yemen’s air force was in need of extra assistance to target al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) as well as opposition forces. A STRATFOR source claims that about 60 Syrian pilots are in Yemen and are concentrated in southern Abyan province, where AQAP is more active. While trying to shield itself from potential Sunni military defections at home, the Syrian regime also has tried to use its quiet assistance to the Yemeni regime against AQAP as a way to curry favor with the United States. Syria has attempted similar gestures in the past, sporadically offering intelligence cooperation on militant activity in Iraq as a way of seeking relief from Washington when the need arises.
The crash that exposed the Syrian military presence in Yemen to the public thus offers a peek into Syria’s own handling of its domestic political crisis. There are no signs thus far of serious breaks within the Alawite-dominated military ranks in Syria that would indicate a coup or collapse of the regime is imminent, but the al Assad clan has had to keep a close eye on its air force for good reason. The last thing it wants is for Sunni pilots to defect and flee with major military hardware to a country like Turkey, which has been offering a great deal of vocal support to the opposition but has thus far refrained from following through with plans to establish a military buffer zone along the border with Syria.
Hoping to avoid a situation similar to Libya’s, where rebel fighters were able to use the eastern base of Benghazi as a refuge, the Syrian regime is relying on the heavy Alawite presence in the military overall to keep potential Sunni defectors in check. Sending off a few pilots to Yemen could well be part of this protection strategy as the al Assad regime attempts to ward off further dissent.
Read more: Why Syrian Pilots Are Operating in Yemen | STRATFOR
Reply #42 on:
November 17, 2011, 11:35:45 AM »
Within the past two months, Yemen’s Zaidi al-Houthi rebels have expanded their area of control from their traditional stronghold in the northern province of Saada to the neighboring al-Jawf province. More significantly, reports have indicated that the al-Houthis have managed to gain control of several towns and villages in Hajja province, which means they have moved toward the Red Sea. They will face challenges as they expand their territory, but Sanaa’s distractions might allow them to gain access to the coast, which could facilitate better access to foreign weapons suppliers and would push Saudi Arabia to respond.
Yemen’s Zaidi al-Houthi rebels recently have been able to expand their control across Yemen’s northern provinces. This expansion comes as Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s forces are concentrating on stifling anti-regime protesters and battling defected Brig. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar’s forces in Sanaa province and central Yemen — all while dedicating resources to the southern provinces, where battles with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and tribal militias continue.
The next goal for the al-Houthi expansion appears to be Midi, a small town with access to the Red Sea. Midi is strategically valuable for gaining access to arms and resources, as the al-Houthis’ indigenous resources and the general availability of arms in Yemen have been insufficient for the al-Houthis to gain the autonomy they had before Saleh came to power. Midi’s importance was evident in November 2009, when Saudi Arabia’s navy blockaded northern Yemen’s Red Sea coast for fear that the al-Houthis were being supplied through Midi and Salif.
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STRATFOR sources have said that the al-Houthis have gained tactical control of territory in Yemen’s Saada and al-Jawf provinces, both of which border Saudi Arabia. This is an important development because Saudi Arabia could feel forced to respond militarily if the rebels threaten its provinces of Jizan and Najran again. Sources have also said the al-Houthis are moving toward Midi. Reports in The Yemen Observer have cited residents of Hajja province as saying the al-Houthis are seizing towns and villages in the province, including the mountainous Kuhlan al Sharaf district, to secure an open route to the Red Sea port.
Before unrest ensued elsewhere in the country at the beginning of the year, the rebels’ expansion into the northern provinces was much more difficult, as the Yemeni regime was able to maintain pressure on the al-Houthis and provide financing and resources to various tribes and militant groups to keep the al-Houthis in check. For example, in Hajja province, Saleh’s regime supported such tribal groups as the Kushar and Aahim, according to The Yemen Observer. But now that the regime’s focus and resources have shifted to central and southern Yemen, the tribes that once resisted the al-Houthi expansion are much weaker. In al-Jawf province, the Yemeni and Saudi regimes gave various tribal forces resources to attack the al-Houthis. However, it is clear that such efforts have been less effective of late; since the al-Houthis have been able to exploit Sanaa and, given Riyadh’s distractions with unrest at home and elsewhere in Bahrain, expand their area of influence.
The Strategic Significance of Red Sea Ports
The acquisition and control of Midi has been one of the al-Houthis’ main strategic goals. The port does not hold great economic significance for Yemen; it is very small, and it is unclear if it can accommodate large container ships. However, the port has been the rebels’ main access point to small arms, funding and possibly foreign advisers. In 2009, Midi — along with the port in Salif — was thought to facilitate the smuggling of weapons and materials to the rebels. Midi in particular is known as an entry point for illegal immigrants being smuggled into Yemen. In November 2009, Yemeni authorities arrested 30 illegal Somali migrants believed to have been smuggled through the port city; these immigrants allegedly were deployed to take up armed with the al-Houthis. Some could have been on their way elsewhere, as Yemen has served as an intermediary destination for African migrants on their way to jobs in Saudi Arabia.
If the al-Houthis could gain full control of Midi or Salif, it would be easier for them to acquire weapons and resources to secure and defend the provinces where they have established influence. It could also give them control of some amount of trade, which would give them tax revenue to support their attempts at autonomy. But Riyadh fears that any success by the al-Houthis in Yemen would inspire the group’s fellow Zaidis across the border; if the al-Houthis can secure a path to these ports, the Saudis likely would intervene.
In fact, Saudi Arabia intervened on a previous occasion in 2009 during an incident known as the al-Houthi rebellion. The Saudi response, dubbed “Operation Scorched Earth,” began after the al-Houthis gained control of areas Riyadh considered dangerously close to the border with the Saudi provinces of Najran and Jizan. The operation entailed a small naval blockade with an emphasis on aerial bombardments and artillery fire targeting rebel positions to prevent the al-Houthis from gaining access to the Red Sea.
Struggle for Power in the Persian Gulf
The Saudis fear that Iran is supporting the al-Houthis in a proxy battle between the Arab and Persian powers, who are continuing their geopolitical competition over the Middle East. Unconfirmed reports from STRATFOR sources indicate that during the 2009 al-Houthi rebellion, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) trained the al-Houthis in producing improvised explosive devices and even sent supplies along a route via Eritrea’s Assab Harbor. According to the sources, IRGC officers bought and transported weapons in Somalia and Eritrea and shipped them to Yemen’s Salif port, where the supplies then passed through Hajja and Huth in northern Yemen before reaching Saada. The IRGC also reportedly used a more traditional route from Assab Harbor along the heel of the Arabian Peninsula in the Gulf of Aden, then to Shaqra in southern Yemen and on to Marib, then Baraqish and finally to the mountains in Saada.
The al-Houthi expansion is occurring as Saudi Arabia views the United States as struggling to form a coherent containment strategy against Iran, especially as the deadline looms for U.S. forces to withdraw from neighboring Iraq. In addition, Saudi Arabia has been trying to clamp down on Shiite unrest in Bahrain while attempting to keep Iranian clandestine activity on the eastern side of the Arabian Peninsula at bay. Saudi Arabia has a similar interest in keeping potential Iranian influence in Yemen away from the southern Saudi border. Although the Iranians would like to get involved in such conflicts, their involvement with the al-Houthis would be limited, due to sectarian disagreements and the difficulty of accessing al-Houthi territory.
Indeed, the al-Houthis likewise face geographic challenges as they attempt to gain control along the coast. If successful, they would be more vulnerable to conventional fighting — air strikes and artillery — and would not have the advantages of guerrilla tactics that they have in the mountains at present. These challenges will be particularly difficult as the rebels move through Hajja, a majority Sunni Arab province where they likely will face resistance before they can control either port.
Meanwhile, Saleh’s forces will be operating under heavy constraints, as they remain focused on quashing other unrest and fighting AQAP. With Saleh’s regime preoccupied, if the al-Houthis continue expanding to the southwest and securing a path to Midi, it will become increasingly likely that the Saudis will move to crush the possibility of a strengthening al-Houthi force that could threaten Saudi stability.
Yemen' President Transfers Power
Reply #43 on:
December 22, 2011, 04:46:31 PM »
Director of Strategic Intelligence Reva Bhalla examines Yemen’s GCC power transfer deal and how the country’s political crisis will play out in the coming year.
• Yemen’s President Transfers Power
Whereas six months ago Yemen seemed to be facing the threat of civil war, the country is now returning to its usual state of contained chaos with Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s faction ready to reassert its authority after a relatively brief and bloody political struggle.
When Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh traveled to Riyadh to sign a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) deal that would transfer his powers to his vice president and allow for early presidential elections, he did so from a position of strength. Something STRATFOR emphasized throughout Yemen’s political crisis was that even though it looked like the regime was on the ropes, regime collapse was still very unlikely given the fact that Saleh’s family members and allies retained control over the key security, political and economic organs of the state.
Even though Saleh will be formally stepping down as president and elections will likely be held Feb. 21 as planned, the political transition in Yemen in no way constitutes true regime change. Saudi Arabia — which drove the negotiation over the GCC deal and likely lined a lot of pockets with money to make that deal happen — in the end, granted Saleh a dignified exit. But Saleh would not have agreed to the deal without assurances that the regime would largely remain under his family’s control.
And as we expected, Saleh did succeed in coercing the main armed opposition led by First Armored Brigade commander Gen. Ali Mohsen to the negotiating table. Mohsen selected half of the members of a newly formed military council led by the vice president, and on Sunday he formally gave his blessing to the GCC deal. Ali Mohsen will likely be given a senior defense post in the new government and will retain influence among the heavily Islamist-concentrated Old Guard in the Yemeni security and intelligence apparatus. But Saleh’s son, Ahmed Ali Saleh, will remain in control over the armed forces overall.
The political opposition, embodied by the Joint Meeting Parties coalition, has also signed on to the deal and is readying itself to compete in the upcoming election.
The youth opposition were completely sidelined from the GCC deal. They are the ones that are out on the streets protesting out of desperation, but there really isn’t much this faction can do alone to stop it. They’re a minor player and they don’t have much power.
So Yemen has essentially four leaders at the moment: President Saleh, who will remain the president of the ruling General People’s Congress party; Ahmed Ali Saleh, the president’s son and head of the Republican Guard and Special Forces; Vice President Hadi and lastly, Ali Mohsen.
Vice President Hadi is pretty much guaranteed to be elected president in February. This will be important for the maintenance of the peace agreement between Saleh and the political opposition, as all generally regard Hadi as a pretty honest broker and mediator.
All indicators so far point to Yemen’s political crisis settling out in the new year, but Yemen’s internal problems are still far from over. The country is still staggering economically and is extremely dependent on Saudi Arabia for its economic survival. Saudi Arabia has already pledged to finance whatever Yemen needs to hold itself together so as to avoid a bigger crisis on the Arabian Peninsula.
At the same time, a number of militant factions have benefited from Yemen’s political distractions and will continue to challenge Sanaa’s authority. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has been strengthening its foothold in the south and elsewhere, while in the north al-Houthi rebels are being locked in a battle with Salafists in trying to consolidate their recent territorial gains.
Saudi maneuvering and financing through tribes can be seen on multiple sides of these conflicts — creating a complicated situation overall — but the overall aim of Riyadh in the coming year will be to ensure that instability in Yemen doesn’t spill over its borders in the Arabian Peninsula when Saudi Arabia has much bigger issues like Iran to worry about.
Stratfor: Superficial Transistion
Reply #44 on:
February 21, 2012, 10:14:56 AM »
Yemen will hold its presidential election Tuesday, and President Ali Abdullah Saleh will formally give up his presidential title. Saleh will likely be referenced in most media as the fourth Arab leader to be stripped of power by the "Arab Spring," but the reality of this political transition is much more complex.
Yemen is experiencing anything but regime change. Saleh may be sacrificing the presidency for now, but his son and nephews dominate the military and security apparatus and other relatives remain firmly in the country's top political and business posts. Even Saleh himself is not stepping out of the political picture; after the election, he will head the ruling General People's Congress party, which dominates the country's parliament. Whether he will attempt a return to the presidency down the line remains anyone's guess. For now, Saleh's deputy (and the sole contender for the presidency), Vice President Abd Rabboh Mansour Hadi, will take his place. Hadi has been something of a mediator between Saleh and the opposition, but he does not have a political base of his own to resist and overrule either side of the power struggle.
Opponents of Saleh's family are not prepared to resign themselves to the idea of superficial regime change. Leading the charge against Saleh's clan are Brig. Gen. Ali Mohsen, head of the First Armored Division; Hamid al-Ahmar, a leader of the large opposition Islah party and a renowned Yemeni business tycoon and Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar, Hamid's brother and chief of Yemen's largest and Saleh's own Hashid tribal confederation.
Through its combined military, tribal, political and economic power, this opposition alliance has put up a tough resistance against the Saleh faction over the past year. Mohsen and the al-Ahmar brothers brought thousands onto the streets to protest the regime, encouraged a sizable number of Yemeni soldiers to defect and turn on the regime's forces, and are strongly suspected of orchestrating an assassination attempt against Saleh last June. More recently, they helped fuel a mutiny against Saleh's half brother, air force commander Maj. Gen. Mohammed Saleh.
But these efforts have not been enough. Saleh's staying power lies in a fear of the alternative. The United States and Saudi Arabia have a broad, mutual understanding that trying to dismantle the regime would create more problems than it is worth. The United States has been especially unnerved at the thought of Mohsen -- a popular figure among Yemen's Islamist old guard in the military and intelligence establishment -- revising Yemen's counterterrorism cooperation with the United States, thereby potentially unraveling more than a decade's worth of U.S. investment into training a more U.S.-friendly "new guard" led by Saleh's son and nephews. Simply put, neither the United States nor Saudi Arabia wants to trigger the collapse of an economically fragile state that is home to many jihadists and that is separated from the oil-rich Saudi kingdom by only a border.
Therefore, the United States has a need to exaggerate the successes of Yemen's political transition. U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan on Sunday personally delivered a letter on behalf of U.S. President Barack Obama to Hadi that said Yemen was "a model for how a peaceful transition in the Middle East can occur." It is questionable whether the past several months in Yemen can be accurately described as a "peaceful transition." Moreover, the fight between the Saleh clan and its opposition will not be settled through the ballot box and will surely drag on for some time. The opposition will continue to try to oust more of Saleh's family members from the regime, and Saleh's faction will continue to try to entrench itself even more deeply, including through a rumored restructuring of the armed forces.
The fight in Yemen is not over, but the United States has every reason to hope and pretend that it is. At the same time, the United States is following a strategic imperative in trying to prolong a crisis for Syrian President Bashar al Assad as a lever to weaken Iran. And in Egypt, the United States seems to be struggling between the ideological (and public) imperative of encouraging a free and fair democratic transition and its underlying strategic imperative of backing a military regime that will maintain order, limit the political authority of the Islamists and protect Egypt's peace treaty with Israel. The "Arab Spring" narrative has frequently blurred the ideological and strategic objectives of the United States. In the case of Yemen, things are more transparent.
Big AQ Suicide Hit
Reply #45 on:
May 21, 2012, 07:25:56 PM »
Al Qaeda Responds to the Yemeni Offensive
May 21, 2012 | 1531 GMT
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Yemeni soldiers fire at al Qaeda militants in Lawder, Abyan province, April 30
A suicide bomber reportedly detonated a belt of explosives in Sanaa's al-Sabin Square the morning of May 21, killing at least 96 soldiers and wounding 300. The attack came during a rehearsal for a National Unity Day military parade set for May 22, and the explosives were detonated before the Yemeni defense minister and chief of staff were to greet the troops. Whether the bomber was a Yemeni soldier remains unclear. Yemeni officials indicated that the individual was dressed in an army uniform, and it would be difficult for an outsider to enter into a squad or platoon formation.
The high casualty rate of the May 21 attack is more unusual than the tactic it employed. If indeed the suicide bombing killed 96 people, it would be one of the most effective AQAP suicide bombings in Yemen in recent years.
A video from a Yemeni TV station shows roughly 50 to 70 soldiers lying on the ground at the scene of the explosion. How many of those were dead and how many were just wounded could not be determined. The majority of those injured belonged to the Central Security Organization, a paramilitary force commanded by Yahya Saleh, a nephew of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The organization has its own detention facilities and is part of the Yemeni Ministry of Interior. According to BBC Arabic, al Qaeda sent it a statement saying that the attack represented retaliation for crimes by the Central Security Organization.
Suicide bombings are not the main tactic that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the regional al Qaeda franchise, has used in Yemen lately. Instead, it has relied on motorcycle shootings, improvised explosive devices, vehicle borne improvised explosive devices, ambushes with automatic weapons or pursuing a target to their home and then shooting them. The group carried out its last suicide bombing April 6. The suicide bomber's device exploded before he reached his target, believed to be an intelligence office in Mansoura, and killed two people. This attack is also the first pedestrian suicide bombing since the attempted attack on British Ambassador to Yemen Tim Torlot in April 2010.
A belt or vest typically carries around 10 to 25 pounds of explosives. The explosives and the accompanying shrapnel or ball bearings typically kill and maim people going back two to three rows in a heavy crowd. (The soldiers in this attack were tightly packed in parade formation.) The force of the explosion and hence the lethality of the device decrease rapidly as the bodies closest to the bomber absorb the blast and shrapnel. An innovative new device or suicide bombing tactic developed by AQAP or erroneous reporting could explain the unusually high body count.
A retaliation attack like this one is unsurprising given the recent Yemeni-led, U.S.-backed offensive against AQAP in Yemen's southern provinces, which has killed dozens of AQAP militants in the past week. This attack indicates that although the southern offensive is costing AQAP, it still can plan and carry out attacks elsewhere in Yemen, including the capital. Thus, even if AQAP no longer holds and controls significant territory, it likely can continue to mount attacks against the Yemeni security and political apparatus. This attack proves that the battle against AQAP is far from over.
Read more: Al Qaeda Responds to the Yemeni Offensive | Stratfor
US asset killed
Reply #46 on:
October 12, 2012, 10:22:28 AM »
Yemen: Valuable U.S. Asset Killed in Sanaa
October 11, 2012 | 1716 GMT
A Yemeni police car is parked at the scene of the attack on U.S. Embassy security official Qassem Aqlan
Masked gunmen on a motorcycle shot and killed Qassem Aqlan, a foreign security national investigator working for the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen, on Oct. 11. In addition to his other responsibilities, Aqlan was investigating the security breach that occurred during the Sept. 13 protests against the embassy -- a task that made him a high-profile target for Yemeni militants. His death will disrupt the investigation and intimidate other investigators and security personnel at the embassy.
Aqlan was a valuable asset. At U.S. Embassies, Regional Security Officers are in charge of security but are assigned to three-year rotations. An investigator like Aqlan, who had reportedly worked for the embassy for 11 years, likely was much more familiar with the security office than were most Regional Security Officers. Moreover, Aqlan liaised with local security forces; losing Aqlan means losing local contacts and knowledge gained through two decades of experience.
The motivation for killing Aqlan seems clear. As a high-profile Foreign Service National Investigator working for the U.S. Embassy, he was critical to securing the embassy and U.S. diplomats. However, such investigators are local employees, and as such they live among the local population. They are not afforded the same level of protection given to U.S. diplomats. Mobile Training Teams from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security offer training to investigators on topics such as surveillance detection, attack recognition and tactical driving. As a longtime investigator in a post as active as Sanaa, Aqlan likely received this type of training on multiple occasions.
Despite this training, local jihadists have demonstrated that their operatives possess sophisticated surveillance, planning and attack tradecraft. Indeed, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula -- Yemen's most active jihadist group -- frequently attacks what it considers vulnerable U.S. targets in its areas of operation, which includes Sanaa, leading to the assassinations of several Yemeni military and intelligence officers.
Reports that motorcycles were used in the attack reveal an effective aspect in militant tradecraft. Motorcycles are popular vehicles for assassinations because they are light and maneuverable and allow the assailants to get close to the target. They are also effective escape vehicles. Unsurprisingly, al Qaeda affiliates in Yemen have used this tactic numerous times to assassinate Yemeni security and government officials.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula very likely was responsible for Aqlan's death. We anticipate that the jihadist group will continue the trend of attacking U.S. interests that began with the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and that other jihadists in the region will follow suit.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this analysis misstated the number of years Aqlan worked for the U.S. Embassy and the nationality of security and government officials assassinated in Yemen.
Read more: Yemen: Valuable U.S. Asset Killed in Sanaa | Stratfor
WSJ: The other embassy attack
Reply #47 on:
October 27, 2012, 06:48:01 AM »
The Other Embassy Attack
Tehran tries to turn Yemen into another Lebanon..
Government emails from Libya released this week show Foggy Bottom's finest knew within hours that an Islamist terror group was behind the September 11 attacks that killed four Americans. Maybe this truth drip will force President Obama to explain why his Administration so strenuously downplayed a terrorist connection and insisted an anti-Islamic video was to blame. But amid media and Congressional efforts to uncover the truth about Benghazi, it's worth paying attention to another attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission last month.
On September 13, several hundred people, mostly young men, stormed the Embassy in Yemen's capital of Sanaa. The American staff had been evacuated, but the compound was overrun. In the melee four Yemenis died. At the time the event was lumped in with other anti-American protests in Tunisia, Pakistan and Egypt that week.
Yet it has since become clear that the Yemen assault was also well coordinated, likely by one or more militias. More alarming is an Iranian connection that signals that Tehran is expanding its long and quiet war on America to a new front.
The U.S. isn't ruling out the possible complicity of a Yemeni army faction loyal to ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh. He stepped down from power in February as part of a U.S.-backed political transition. Since his departure, the military has been divided amid jockeying for control in this tribal society. The Salehs deny the accusation.
During months of anti-government protests in 2011, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) also gained control of territory in central Yemen. The group has several times tried to strike the U.S. mainland, and it may have been behind the assassination this month of a Yemeni security officer employed at the U.S. Embassy.
However, the leading culprit is a Shiite rebel force backed by Tehran. Taking their name from a deceased commander, the Houthi militia have since the mid-1990s fought against the Sunni-dominated government in Sanaa. According to Western officials in Yemen, Iran has provided assistance for a Houthi resurgence in the past year. Their fighters have gone to Iran and Lebanon for training, and money and arms have flowed from both into Yemen, officials say. The Houthis run a satellite TV channel, al-Maseera, from Beirut.
In July the Yemeni government said it had uncovered an Iranian spy ring in Sanaa. That got the attention of the Saudis, who are anxious about Iranian efforts to stir up their co-religionist Shiites in Bahrain, Yemen and most of all in the Kingdom itself.
Tehran's strategy in Yemen calls to mind Lebanon in the 1980s, when Iran built up Hezbollah into what has become the leading political power in Lebanon. The Iran-backed terrorists burst onto the scene by bombing the U.S. embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut. If the Houthis were in the lead last month, the command and control chain runs straight to Tehran.
The interim Yemeni government is also grappling with a separatist armed uprising in the south. One of the leaders of the fractured rebel force lives in Beirut and has tried to build a pro-Iran movement in the south, according to a Western diplomat in Sanaa.
The Houthis and the southerners are separate groups with somewhat different agendas. But Iran may be facilitating a partnership, as well as reaching out to al Qaeda. They have one goal in common: To bring down the pro-American government in Sanaa. "Despite the fact that they're on opposite ends of the religious spectrum, al Qaeda and Iran will cooperate," a Western diplomat says. "You see indications that Iran is helping al Qaeda by trying to forge relations between AQAP, Houthis and southern rebels."
The U.S. supports a "national dialogue" to stabilize Yemen, while waging a drone campaign against the AQAP. Both are commendable goals. Yet Tehran has emerged as a new threat to Yemen's future and is fighting the U.S. through terror proxies. Congress can seek more clarity about Iran's designs with an inquiry into the Sanaa attacks.
New patterns in hits
Reply #48 on:
October 29, 2012, 07:56:37 AM »
A New Pattern of Assassinations in Yemen
October 25, 2012 | 1033 GMT
A group of Yemeni men survey the scene of security official Qassem Aqlan's Oct. 11 assassination
The tempo of assassinations of military, security and intelligence officers in Sanaa has increased in recent months -- a campaign likely carried out by what appears to be a highly efficient, sophisticated group. Assassinations are common in Yemen, but several unique patterns in the recent killings in Sanaa raise questions about who is responsible. The distinctions highlight challenges that will limit the Yemeni government's ability to deter additional attacks in the near future.
Since the beginning of 2012, roughly 60 officials have been killed throughout Yemen. Nearly all the officials worked in the country's military, security or -- most often -- intelligence sectors. Except for occasional assaults in the capital, most of the assassinations have occurred in the southern port city of Aden or its surrounding provinces. The assassins have used a variety of methods -- primarily suicide attacks, sticky bombings and assaults by gunmen.
VIDEO: Yemen's Military Restructuring and Power Balance (Dispatch)
In contrast, the recent Sanaa assassinations have been nearly identical in style and have primarily targeted officials specifically involved in counterterrorism activities. Since Aug. 30, armed assailants have killed six Yemeni security officials in Sanaa -- a mix of low- to high-ranking officers, including high-value targets such as a foreign security national investigator working for the U.S. Embassy. The most recent killing in the capital occurred early Oct. 16, when an unidentified gunman on a motorcycle reportedly shot Gen. Khaled al-Hashim, an Iraqi who had reportedly been working with the Yemeni government. So far, none of the assailants have been apprehended.
The Sanaa attacks share several unique hallmarks. Most of the assailants attacked on motorcycles, which allow attackers to maneuver effectively when tracking and approaching targets and then to flee quickly. The consistent use of firearms rather than, say, improvised explosive devices, is also notable. This tactic can be highly effective when employed by well-trained individuals and in the close-range scenarios reportedly common among the Sanaa attacks. The consistency of the tactics employed and the similarities among the officials targeted strongly suggest that a coordinated group of militants have carried out the attacks.
The group has also demonstrated an unusual level of tactical efficiency. Each known assassination attempt in Sanaa in the past two months has succeeded (by comparison, the success rate of other recent assassination attempts in Yemen has been much lower). Conducting attacks in Sanaa's heightened security environment requires a high degree of sophistication. Moreover, many of the officials were attacked while traveling either to or from work, indicating that the assailants had a certain degree of operational intelligence. Perhaps most telling, the officials killed were trained intelligence officers who were likely already on alert due to previous assassinations.
Jihadists and Power Struggles
Still, the identity of the attackers remains unclear. Militants associated with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula could be to blame since many of the security and intelligence officers killed had been involved in operations against the group. Moreover, unmanned aerial vehicle strikes targeting the al Qaeda franchise in Yemen have increased significantly -- the 36 airstrikes conducted in 2012 are more than the past four years combined -- making retaliation a plausible motive. Indeed, after the government launched a major offensive against the al Qaeda node in June 2012 and continued to attack al Qaeda cells in the south, the group conducted a series of reprisal assaults, including a suicide attack against a police academy in Sanaa on July 11. Tribal Yemenis with family members who were mistakenly targeted or affected by recent airstrikes would also have motivation to seek vengeance.
However, non-jihadist elements could also be responsible. Yemeni President Abd Rabboh Mansour Hadi has been attempting to restructure the country's armed forces in order to consolidate power and undermine factions loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Pro-Saleh elements angry about the former president's departure or the military restructuring could well be seeking retribution. Saleh loyalists have responded violently to losses of power in the past. For example, an attack in August by the pro-Saleh Republican Guards on the Yemeni Ministry of Defense was reportedly carried out in response to the military reorganization. More recently, the U.S. Embassy investigator assassinated Oct. 11 was purportedly a member of a team working on the restructuring.
Regardless of who is responsible, attacks on security officers in Sanaa will likely continue. Unless Hadi can consolidate power and balance Yemen's various political factions -- he has been attempting to do so unsuccessfully since he unofficially took power in November 2011 -- the internal government and security forces cannot stabilize Sanaa to the degree necessary to secure the city and suppress the militant threat.
Read more: A New Pattern of Assassinations in Yemen | Stratfor
Further destabilization likely
Reply #49 on:
April 11, 2013, 08:22:23 AM »
A serious instance of insubordination among Yemeni Republican Guard soldiers April 7 is only the latest indicator that President Abd Rabboh Mansour Hadi has yet to unify Yemen's armed forces. Hadi's ongoing struggle to consolidate power comes as the central government is simultaneously attempting to manage the threat from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Yemen's increasingly violent southern secessionist movement. Although Sanaa has some ability to mitigate these threats, they will become increasingly difficult to manage without a unified military.
Several soldiers from Yemen's Fourth Brigade of the Republican Guard and the First Brigade of its mountain infantry reportedly closed down shops and blocked roads in defiance of orders in Radaa, al Bayda province, and seized control of checkpoints normally manned by the Central Security Forces on April 7. The uprising began after al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula captured four Republican Guard soldiers, triggering the outburst from their comrades angry over what they consider steps by their commanders to strip them of their rights.
This was not the first time Yemeni soldiers have disobeyed in order to demonstrate discontentment with the military leadership. The last high-profile instance occurred in August 2012 when a unit of the Republican Guard exchanged fire with forces loyal to the government near the Defense Ministry in Sanaa. That incident was a response to Hadi's announcement of a reorganization of the military and resulted in 93 Republican Guard soldiers being sent to prison.
In an effort to prevent dissent among the ranks, especially among forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Hadi reshuffled the military in December 2012. This was a clear attempt by Hadi to consolidate power while weakening both Saleh's faction and the faction of Ali Mohsen, Saleh's rival during the 2011 uprising. As part of the reshuffle, Saleh's son, Ahmed Ali Abdullah, was removed as commander of the Republican Guard and the unit was disbanded and integrated into the general ground forces. Similarly, Mohsen was removed as commander of the First Armored Division and the unit was also ordered to integrate into the general ground forces. In coordination with a presidential decree issued April 10, both were given more political and administrative roles rather than direct command of military units: Mohsen was appointed as military adviser to the commander-in-chief for defense affairs and Ahmed Ali Abdullah was appointed as ambassador to the United Arab Emirates.
Though these are significant steps to unify the military, four months after the declaration Hadi's restructuring has yet to take full effect -- something the latest instance of disobedience reflects.
Southern Threats and Government Responses
Hadi's struggle to unify the armed forces comes as threats to government control in Yemen's southern provinces are on the rise. Elements of southern secessionist movement Hirak have increasingly clashed with Yemeni security forces since they declared an armed struggle against the central government Feb. 24. Hirak is not a monolithic movement. Some more moderate members use peaceful protests to promote a negotiated solution to southern demands, such as calls for equal rights and an end to the economic and political marginalization of the south. More radical members have instead opted to attack security forces and energy and oil infrastructure in pursuit of southern independence.
Yemen's north-south divide has been a source of contention since unification in 1990, erupting into civil war in 1994. Although the north and south officially have been united for more than a decade, the regional chasm remains. Whether or not a Yemeni was born in north or south Yemen can be distinguished based on their surname alone, and many Yemenis have remained fiercely loyal to their hometowns and tribes.
Meanwhile, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula continues to pose an unrelenting threat to the Yemeni state. Although al Qaeda militants no longer administer towns in Abyan province as they did during the nationwide unrest in 2011 and 2012, its attacks against military targets have persisted.
Hadi has various options for countering al Qaeda. Sanaa receives intelligence on the group along with financial and logistical support from Saudi Arabia and direct support from the United States for Yemeni airstrikes and other military campaigns against militants. But airstrikes alone will not eliminate al Qaeda's network in Yemen. Worse, inaccurate strikes that harm Yemeni civilians can radicalize communities against the government.
In addition to airstrikes and military campaigns, the government has sought to prevent al Qaeda from expanding its operations by employing local tribes to fight the militants, a tactic also used during Saleh's regime. How long the government can rely on these tribes to do its bidding remains unclear, however, due to the fluid nature of their loyalties, which are guided by financial incentives from Saudi benefactors or from rival factions within Yemen.
Despite these tactics, al Qaeda has continued to mount attacks against Yemeni security forces. As with the recent mutiny of Republican Guard soldiers in Radaa, this could expose divisions within the armed forces.
To combat Hirak, the government has attempted to engage its peaceful elements in talks via the country's national dialogue. So far, no consensus has been reached. How much trying to marginalize the militants by talking to the moderates will help the government remains unclear. Even if such talks were to succeed, the government would not accept the demands of the more radical elements, such as their calls for two separate states. In addition to talks, the government has increased its security presence in the southern provinces to combat violent elements of Hirak. Thus far, however, more security forces in the south have only created more targets for the militant factions of Hirak. As with al Qaeda, increased clashes between security forces and Hirak could widen rifts within the Yemeni armed forces.
If violent elements of the Hirak movement continue to grow and the military and central government remain disjointed, increased contact between security forces and the southern separatists could cause military units to split along geographic lines. If the soldiers from the south began to side with Hirak against northerners, another civil war could break out. Although this scenario does not appear imminent, since unrest in the south is still manageable, it remains possible -- especially given Yemen's history of north-south conflict under weak central governments.
Although it is unlikely that Yemen will ever fully rid itself of its various militant and separatist threats, a stronger central government with a unified military could balance the groups off each other and confront the groups should they become too strong -- something Saleh managed during most of his three decades in power. But without a united military and a strong government, Sanaa cannot mitigate these threats. Since this situation seems likely to persist in the immediate future, further destabilization in Yemen is likely.
Read more: Yemen Confronts Militants and Separatists | Stratfor
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