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Terrorism & Security

Who will lead Yemen now?

With President Saleh in Saudi Arabia for medical treatment, Yemen's various opposition groups may have achieved their aim of ousting him, but they have divergent post-Saleh goals.

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… A strong secessionist movement exists in the south of the country. In the north, Houthi tribesmen have long clashed with government forces. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula also seems to be taking advantage of the turmoil to gain a foothold in the city of Zanzibar.

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Meanwhile, the youth of Yemen who worked hardest for Saleh’s ouster will also find themselves colliding with mostly conservative tribesmen. All of these agendas will compete, of course, in the region’s poorest country and one of the world’s most heavily armed.

The Hashid tribal confederation, which led the tribal fighting against Saleh's forces, could be a deciding factor in who comes next and how well he can rule. The tribe is unlikely to seek a "direct political role" in a future government, but its endorsement of the next leader could be critical, and it has the ability to help bring stability to the country, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Even if the disparate opposition elements manage to pull together, the country is still confronted with significant economic and social hardships and the threat of Islamist militants. It is the base for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and an estimated 300 AQAP members are hiding out in the mountains of southern Yemen, the Associated Press reports.

AQAP remains the chief concern of the US as it watches Yemen's government unravel. Under Saleh's rule, Yemen had an alliance with the US based on a joint effort to combat terrorism in the country. At this point, it's unclear whether Saleh's successor would share the same concerns, and in the meantime, the power vacuum could leave an opening for AQAP to expand its reach and carry out attacks, the Washington Post reports.

The Pentagon and the CIA, which have steadily deployed more men and equipment to Yemen, including armed drones, will have to forge fresh relationships with whatever new leadership emerges in Yemen. And some in the opposition to Saleh have expressed skepticism about even the existence of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), describing the terrorist group that has come to preoccupy Washington in recent years as a myth. …

In recent weeks, US officials said, Yemen’s counterterrorism forces, including special forces units that the US has helped fund and train, have been sent back to their barracks or diverted from the pursuit of AQAP militants.

If the unrest continues, the US may consider acting more unilaterally in Yemen, increasing its use of armed drones against militant strongholds.

But another opening remains for the US: helping a new government avert a looming economic collapse, according to Christopher Boucek, an analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “My guess is that there is no money left in the bank, that the economic collapse is even worse than we think. The US can help with economic development, resource depletion, all the things that cause instability. And it can say you also need to help us do something about AQAP," the Post quoted him as saying.


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