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Jan 9th, 2010

Yemen Fights Internal Wars as well as al-Qaida

Violent conflicts in north and south strain fragile government

Mideast Yemen Al-Qaida
Soldiers from the anti-terrorism force of the Yemeni Defense Ministry take part in a training exercise in a camp at the Sarif district, north of the capital San’a, on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2010. (Photo credit: Nasser Nasser / AP)

January 9, 2010

SAN’A, Yemen — While ramping up the fight against al-Qaida with U.S. help, the Yemeni government has also escalated its own internal conflicts in the north and south that threaten to throw the fractured country into greater chaos and even nourish the terror group’s growth.

Yemeni troops backed with tanks and artillery launched new assaults against Shiite rebels, the military said Saturday, the latest offensive in an increasingly bloody war that has been raging for years on the capital’s northern doorstep.

Also, lethal clashes erupted this week between protesters and security forces struggling to put an end to a secessionist movement in the once-independent south, where bitterness toward San’a is swelling.

Observers question if the impoverished nation’s military can wage a determined campaign against al-Qaida under the strain of the multiple conflicts, and there are fears the terror group is seeking to link up with insurgents for new recruits, particularly in the south.

The United States, which is funneling millions of dollars to Yemen’s government to fight al-Qaida, is pressing San’a to resolve its internal turmoil and focus on the terror group. Washington warns that the al-Qaida offshoot here has become a global threat after it allegedly plotted a failed attempt to bomb a U.S. passenger jet on Christmas. …

Unless the conflicts are resolved, al-Qaida may find allies, particularly among the southerners, Mohammed Abdel-Malik al-Mutawakkil, a political scientist at San’a University, told The Associated Press. …

The head of al-Qaida’s offshoot in Yemen, Naser Abdel-Karim al-Wahishi, appealed to southerners in May, expressing support for their cause and urging them to continue their fight against San’a’s “suppression and tyranny.” The south was the site of al-Qaida’s 2000 attack on the USS Cole, off the port of Aden.

The provinces of the south were an independent nation for decades, ruled by a socialist regime, until it unified with the north in 1990. Four years later, San’a put down a new independence bid in a three-month civil war.

In the north, Shiite rebels known as Hawthis rose up against the government in 2004. Since August, the conflict escalated into full-fledged warfare, centered in the mountainous corner of Yemen between San’a and the Saudi border. Saudi forces joined in late, battling Yemen’s Shiite rebels along the frontier. …

Ali Mohammed Omar, a Salafist who runs an anti-secessionist movement in Aden, warns the regime cannot fight al-Qaida and the other two fronts at once.

“If the government opens a war on al-Qaida, that’s three (fronts), and the Yemeni army might collapse,” he told AP.

1/26/2010 Update

U.S. Redefines Antiterrorism Strategy for Yemen

January 26, 2010

WASHINGTON — The terrorism incubator in Yemen, birthplace of the Christmas Day airliner attack, is forcing the United States and allies to pour millions of dollars into a shaky government that officials suspect won’t spend the money wisely and isn’t fully committed to the battle against al-Qaida.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other world leaders meet in London on Wednesday to hash out a plan. Efforts to stabilize the impoverished nation, where the government is battling al-Qaida strongholds with American help, are suddenly urgent after years of faltering.

“Clearly December 25th had an electrifying impact,” said Daniel Benjamin, State Department coordinator for counterterrorism. …

U.S. officials are uneasy, however, about Yemen’s government. President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s army has only sporadically pursued the growing al-Qaida threat in Yemen’s vast tribal territory. The United States wants its aid to be closely monitored, and tied to economic and political reforms.

American worries about Yemen’s commitment heightened last year after several Yemeni detainees who had been released from Guantanamo Bay prison resurfaced as leaders of the country’s growing al-Qaida faction.

At the same time, the Yemeni government can be undermined by appearing too close to the Americans. The Yemeni people are virulently anti-Israel, and by extension anti-American. Sensitive to that concern, U.S. officials have played down the Pentagon’s efforts to provide intelligence and other assistance to the Yemeni military. …

Deepening involvement

U.S. officials say they want to combine a deeper involvement with the Yemenis on the counterterrorism front with programs designed to alleviate poverty, illiteracy and rapid population growth.

A key U.S. complaint is that Yemen’s pursuit of al-Qaida insurgents inside the country has been fitful at best. The low point was the deadly October 2000 al-Qaida attack on the Navy destroyer USS Cole in Yeman’s Aden harbor that killed 17 American sailors.

The Yemeni government largely defeated al-Qaida forces in 2003, but the terror group was able to rebound more as the government turned its focus to flare-ups by other insurgents. Then, early last year, al-Qaida groups in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, Yemen’s northern neighbor, merged, and turned their efforts toward Islamic jihad beyond those countries’ borders. …

P. Santilli / AP
Chart shows U.S. aid to Yemen

Clinton praised Yemen’s recent military actions against the al-Qaida faction there but insisted that extremism could not be rooted out without a focus on economic development, something Saleh has yet to push to U.S. satisfaction. …

The Yemeni foreign minister praised the American effort, saying that “with the new administration, we have seen a greater understanding to the challenges faced by Yemen and the willingness to help Yemen.” …

“Yemen is often overlooked by U.S. policy makers,” said Jeremy Sharp, author of a Congressional Research Service report on the country. He described the U.S.-Yemeni relationship as “tepid” with a lack of strong military-to-military ties, commerce and cross-cultural exchanges. …

Complicating matters is the fact that Yemeni officials have historically been adverse to any visible U.S. involvement there, as that could likely trigger greater anti-American sentiment among the religiously conservative population.

Some argue that the administration’s approach should center on Yemen’s Arab neighbors, notably Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have the cash and the proximity to help.

“An effective U.S. role would be a quiet one that helps stoke Arab leadership on this issue, frames problems and responses, and monitors compliance,” Jon Alterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said.

“The United States needs to play a role directing Yemen’s unfolding drama,” he said, “not starring in it.”


Related reports on this site

Yemeni Clerics Threaten Jihad (Jan. 14, 2010)

Yemen-Somalia Terror Nexus (Jan. 12, 2010)

Underwear Bomb: No Smoking Gun (Jan. 3, 2010)

Battle Lines Are Drawn in Yemen (Jan. 2, 2010)

Obama Opens Third War Front (Dec. 28, 2009)

Yemen Link in Airline Terror Plot (Dec. 26, 2009)

Christmas Terrorism Alert (Dec. 25, 2009)

Obama Fires Missiles into Yemen (Dec. 19, 2009)

Where is Osama Bin Laden? (Dec. 10, 2009)

Iraq: Terrorist Training Ground (Sept. 18, 2008)


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — January 9, 2009

Demonstrators burn an Israeli flag during a protest against Israel’s attack on Gaza, in Falluja, 32 miles west of Baghdad, Jan. 9, 2009. (Photo credit: Reuters / Mohanned Faisal)

Muqtada al-Sadr Urges ‘Revenge Operations’

One-year retrospective: One year ago today, I reported that anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr had called on the Iraqi resistance to stage “revenge operations” against American forces to protest Israel’s Gaza offensive.

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