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Why Yemen's US-aided fight against Al Qaeda could backfire

Experts caution that unless Yemen diversifies its approach – which led to success in neighboring Saudi Arabia – increased military action and overt cooperation with the US, which has dramatically increased funding, may ultimately backfire.

By Sarah A. TopolCorrespondent / April 30, 2010



Sanaa, Yemen

The attempted assassination of the British ambassador to Yemen this week, together with a purported video of the Christmas Day bomber training with Al Qaeda’s branch here, has drawn fresh attention to the need for a strong counterterrorism strategy in Yemen.

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The United States sharply increased military assistance to Yemen after AQAP claimed responsibility for the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a Detroit-bound flight. In recent months, the Yemeni government has targeted dozens of suspected AQAP [Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula] operatives – often quietly working in tandem with the US.

But experts caution that unless Yemen diversifies its approach – which led to success in neighboring Saudi Arabia – increased military action as well as overt cooperation with America may ultimately backfire.

“Up until Christmas Day 2009, AQAP ... was stronger in Yemen than it had ever been before. Over the last few months, they’ve taken a series of hits … but none of these have been sort of the debilitating blow that’s going to knock the organization off its tracks for any sustained period of time,” says Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen expert at Princeton University in New Jersey.

A day in the life of Yemen's counterterrorism unit

The main crux of Yemen’s counterterrorism offensive is targeted military action by the Yemeni Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU), with the aid of American and British funding, trainers, and intelligence. In February, Defense Secretary Robert Gates authorized $150 million in security assistance for Yemen for fiscal year 2010, up from $67 million last year. According to officials interviewed by Reuters, $38 million of the funding is earmarked for a military transport aircraft, while $34 million will go to "tactical assistance" of Yemen's special operations forces.

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