Q&A: Is Yemen the next Afghanistan?
The Nigerian who allegedly tried to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner reportedly trained in Yemen with Al Qaeda, but the regional offshoot of Al Qaeda appears to have no ties with rebels and secessionists challenging Yemen’s central government.
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Another former prisoner at Guantánamo, Mohammed Atiq al-Harbi (also known as Muhammed al-Awfi) appeared in the same video. Reuters reports that 1 in 5 detainees released from Guantánamo has joined a militant group, according to a classified Pentagon report.Skip to next paragraph
How effective has the Yemeni government been at combating militants?
The Yemeni government’s record on fighting Al Qaeda elements in the country is mixed. AQAP’s leader, Mr. Wahishi, was one of 23 suspected Al Qaeda members who managed to escape from a high-security prison. Also among the escapees was Jamal al-Badawi, convicted of helping to plan the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in the Port of Aden. President Saleh’s government has often pursued a policy of appeasement, providing Islamic militants with amnesties, though crackdowns have often followed.
The Yemeni government has a history of making use of Islamic militants. For example, in the 1994 civil war with South Yemen, the Saleh government used “Afghan Arabs” – men who fought with the mujahideen against the Soviets in Afghanistan – against southern secessionists.
What is the likely outcome of increased US military aid in Yemen?
Yemen’s domestic situation complicates any US efforts to defeat AQAP in Yemen. Among the most serious challenges are government corruption and increasing antigovernment sentiment among large swaths of the Yemeni population. In 2009, Transparency International ranked Yemen 154th out of 180 countries for government corruption.
Pat Lang, former head of the Middle East desk at the Defense Intelligence Agency, who also served as defense attaché in Sanaa in the early 1980s, says that limited US military involvement is useful in keeping the Al Qaeda problem there tamped down.
“We ought to provide them with enough materiel and money to keep them active in the field, and keep our special ops people chasing around people we don’t like,” he says.
But he adds that a major escalation would be a mistake. “The only thing you’d do by introducing conventional forces there is uniting more people against us and in anger at the central government.” Yemen’s other challenges include water scarcity and an ailing economy. “The country’s deteriorating security is a result of problems unrelated to security,” Carnegie’s Boucek wrote, arguing that an integrated package of development aid “can better address the interconnected challenges facing Yemen than can military and security aid.”
Yemen differs in a number of important ways. While Yemenis are largely conservative Muslims, support for militant Islam isn’t as widespread as in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In many parts of Yemen, tribal allegiances often take precedence over religious affiliations. Though Yemen is an impoverished country with limited infrastructure and a corrupt government, it is not as lawless as Afghanistan.