A big question at London conference: What to do about Yemen?
How to battle Al Qaeda-affiliated extremists in Yemen has been added to a London conference on Afghanistan. The Fort Hood shooting and Christmas Day airline bombing attempt have made Yemen's extremists a more urgent problem for the US and its antiterror allies.
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One "similarity" that even critics acknowledge is that Afghanistan and Yemen are both governed by corrupt regimes that have alienated many of their own people. By propping up these regimes, they warn, Western countries are only abetting the instability that Al Qaeda thrives on.Skip to next paragraph
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"The idea that these places are at the center of the global struggle against extremist Islam, or that our survival depends on making another huge international commitment to one more failing place, is ludicrous," says Patrick Lang, a retired senior military officer who served two years as the US defense attaché in Sanaa, Yemen's capital. "For us to get more deeply involved on the side of the government is not going to make our situation any better."
Al Qaeda 'chortling'?
A big international commitment to Yemen may be what Al Qaeda is hoping for, some analysts suggest, in that it would open one more front in a diffused Western antiterrorism effort.
"Al Qaeda must be chortling at the great bargain they just got," says Mr. White, now an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute here. "For the price of an airline ticket and a pair of underpants they've managed to spread out the global counterterrorist effort that much more thinly."
The US and its partners should "consider that what we've done hasn't worked out well anywhere," he says.
RAND's Mr. Dobbins disagrees. America's low-profile, small-scale effort to help the Philippines government fight Islamist rebels is the kind of approach that could work in Yemen, he says.
"I do think there's a general consensus after the experiences in Afghanistan and ... Iraq that we should avoid large-scale military interventions," says Dobbins.
Some urge limited counterterrorist military action
Some security analysts conclude that the answer is limited counterterrorist military activity coupled with a focus on security for population centers (what some call the Biden approach, after the vice president's proposal for an Afghanistan strategy).
"Biden was a lot closer to what is needed," says Mr. Lang. "Jihadists in these places are the guys we should be focusing our efforts on, not on remodeling the whole Islamic world."
Others warn that the US and its partners cannot ignore failed or failing states – and that a limited response now of blasting Al Qaeda operatives using Predator drones may only result in the need for heavier military intervention later.
"We're hoping we can [succeed] by whacking these guys," says Frederick Kagan, an expert in military history at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. "But Yemen is a state that is rapidly heading toward … collapse, so either we face the difficulties now or [confront] a much more difficult situation down the road."
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