Military reflex alone can’t quell Yemen militants

Al-Qaeda militants in the mountains of Yemen posting bombs to America? Order more drone strikes or send in the Marines. If only it were that simple.

The United States has no easy options in tackling the threat posed by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a Yemen-based outfit whose growing expertise may one day match its declared ambitions to harm the West and the Saudi monarchy next door.

AQAP thrives in a poverty-stricken Muslim country with a weak, corrupt and unpopular government facing separatist violence in the south and a sporadic northern revolt that has displaced about 350 000 people.

Last week’s parcel bomb plot only deepened Western security fears focused on Yemen after AQAP claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that Saudi Arabia’s security chief narrowly survived in August 2009 and an unsuccessful Christmas Day attack on a US-bound airliner.

“Unfortunately, nearly a year on from the Christmas Day attack, US policy towards Yemen is still lost in the desert,” said Greg Johnsen, a Yemen scholar at Princeton University.

US President Barack Obama has increased funding for Yemen this year, providing $150-million in military assistance alone.

Unmanned American drone aircraft gather information about militants and have occasionally fired missiles at them, although neither Washington nor Sanaa is keen to admit this.

Joint US-Yemeni security operations in the past year have failed to kill or capture AQAP’s top leadership.

The muscular approach risks provoking a fierce backlash among Yemenis already deeply hostile to the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and to Washington’s support for Israel.

Surgical approach
“The United States is an incredibly difficult position in Yemen,” Johnsen said.

“Obama realises the catastrophic consequences of an invasion, while at the same time the surgical approach supposed to target only AQAP figures has backfired in the past, leading to more recruits for the terrorist organisation.”

Johnsen cited a December strike that killed several women and children and a mistaken raid in May that killed five people, including a deputy provincial governor who had been mediating between the Yemeni government and militants.

Western powers aghast at Yemen’s drift towards state failure and its potential to destabilise the oil-rich Gulf region have recognised that the country needs more than military aid.

Yemen’s population of 23-million is multiplying fast, even as its oil revenue dwindles and its water runs out.

“Western governments are formally committed to a comprehensive approach, supporting political and economic reform to address Yemen’s underlying problems,” said Ginny Hill, of London’s Chatham House think tank, noting that donors had contributed to a new IMF programme for Sanaa this year.

“However, there is a tendency for counterterrorism objectives to dominate, particularly after high-profile security scares,” she added.

Western and Gulf Arab foreign ministers promised support for economic reforms and development in Yemen at a London conference called in January after the December 25 “underwear bomber” attack.

There is a limit to what outside help can achieve. Security threats in Yemen are complicating life for foreign diplomats and aid workers. Poor governance means Sanaa has spent only a fraction of the $4,7-billion pledged by donors in 2006.

Fertile ground
“Some military response might be necessary, but it is not a long-term strategy,” said Pauline Baker, president of the Fund for Peace, a conflict-prevention group based in Washington.

“Al-Qaeda and other extremists find fertile ground in states that can’t provide security and social services to their people.

“There needs to be better governance, more social justice and stronger state institutions, showing there is an alternative to extremism,” Baker said, arguing that Yemen could otherwise become totally dysfunctional and “end up being another Somalia”.

Nearly a third of Yemen’s workforce is unemployed and more than 40% of its people subsist on less than $2 a day.

Yet, even if Yemen could meet more of its citizens’ needs, that would not necessarily eradicate AQAP’s global reach.

“Radicalisation is spreading among individuals [in the West] who have never visited Sanaa but are nevertheless affected by English-language material uploaded by figures based in Yemen, like Anwar al-Awlaki,” Hill said, referring to an American-born cleric who has urged Muslims in the West to carry out attacks.

“Western counterterrorism policies cannot plausibly succeed through containment strategies confined to Yemen.”

The United States and its allies by default must deal with President Ali Abdullah Saleh as they struggle to counter AQAP, whatever reservations they may have about a Yemeni leader who is primarily focused on the survival of his 32-year-old rule.

“The United States is paying the price for years of neglect and short-term policies towards Yemen,” Johnsen said.

“There are no good answers at the moment, because it hasn’t put in the time and effort to develop any.” – Reuters


Hlophe complaint is an eerie echo

But the new complaint against the Western Cape judge president is also unprecedented

Mabuza contract grows by R10m

Eskom’s negotiators in a R100-million maintenance contract came back with a proposal to push up the costs

‘There were no marks on his neck’, Neil Aggett inquest...

The trade unionist’s partner at the time he was detained at John Vorster Square says she now believes his death was not a suicide

Press Releases

Boosting safety for cargo and drivers

The use of a telematics system for fleet vehicles has proved to be an important tool in helping to drive down costs and improve efficiency, says MiX Telematics Africa.

Silencing the guns and firearms amnesty

Silencing the guns and firearms amnesty

Gender-based violence is an affront to our humanity

Gender-based violence is an affront to our humanity

UK-Africa investment summit 2020: Think Africa Invest SA

UK-Africa investment summit 2020: Think Africa Invest SA

MTN unveils TikTok bundles

Customised MTN TikTok data bundles are available to all prepaid customers on *136*2#.

Marketers need to reinvent themselves

Marketing is an exciting discipline, offering the perfect fit for individuals who are equally interested in business, human dynamics and strategic thinking. But the...

Upskill yourself to land your dream job in 2020

If you received admission to an IIE Higher Certificate qualification, once you have graduated, you can articulate to an IIE Diploma and then IIE Bachelor's degree at IIE Rosebank College.

South Africans unsure of what to expect in 2020

Almost half (49%) of South Africans, 15 years and older, agree or strongly agree that they view 2020 with optimism.