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To rein in Al Qaeda in Yemen, Britain taps its colonial past

Analysts in the UK says Britain's colonial history in Yemen may give it useful insights and expertise in dealing with the presence of Al Qaeda supporters there.

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The Sunday Telegraph reported that the deployment was motivated by concerns over British-based jihadists traveling to Yemen for terrorist training. The newspaper said that up to 20 British nationals traveled to the country last year to be trained, according to British government sources.

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Other experts on Yemen point out that Britain had also taken a lead on development aid in advance of the current focus on terrorism from within Yemen’s borders.
While last year’s US Agency for International Development (USAID) provision for Yemen was $34 million, the funding provided by Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID) was $40 million (£25 million), a figure that is expected to rise to $60 million (£37 million) this year.

 “The British took the lead from 2006 in encouraging Yemen’s neighbors to provide greater development assistance,” says Ginny Hill, director of the Yemen Forum at London’s Chatham House think tank.

She points out that the Bush administration's Millennium Challenge program in Yemen was suspended in 2007 after it emerged that a man accused of organizing the bombing of the USS Cole had escaped custody and was negotiating for his freedom through tribal intermediaries.

According to Clive Jones, a Leeds University expert in the history of Yemen, providing money to tribal areas in Yemen is the best way to “wean” tribes away from Al Qaeda.

The past masters of this tactic just happen to be the British. Britain lost control of the Colony of Aden, centered around the country's main port in the south, in 1963. But between 1960 and 1967, when then-South Yemen gained its independence, the UK used financial incentives to lure Yemeni tribal leaders away from the orbit of Gamal Abdul Nasser's Egypt, whose Arab socialist government was viewed as a threat to Western interests. Later, Mr. Jones says, the largely Shiite royalist forces in Yemen’s civil war were covertly backed by the British in their conflict with the largely Sunni republican forces.

Jones compares the approach to the United States' generally successful practice of buying off tribes in Iraq’s Anbar Province to turn them into allies in the fight against local Al Qaeda supporters. “To put it bluntly, this is a process of bribery,” he says.

“The idea of passing on government money to tribal leaders, for ostensibly developmental purposes, is part and parcel of the British lineage in Yemen,'' Jones says. "It has to be recognized that the government in Sanaa has existed not as a means of controlling the tribes, but of arbitrating between them. That arbitration role seems to have broken down.”

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