Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Our Yemeni Enemy

Although Yemen has been on the United States terrorism watch list for years, it is only since the Christmas Day underwear bomber that the fiefdom on the Arabian Peninsula became a household word to Americans, courtesy of our media's flavor of the month and gotcha journalism.

In examining the stronghold al-Qaeda has grasped in Yemen, it makes the threat of that terrorist group seem meek in Afghanistan by comparison. It makes you wonder why the Obama administration"s strategy mission in the Afghan provinces makes any sense. Yemen has the same set of problems. Only worse.

President Obama will ask Congress for $150 million in appropriations for Yemen in 2010 for security and counter-terrorism. Earlier, the Pentagon requested $60 million which in itself was a 50% increase over 2009. That pales to Yemen's neighbor Saudi Arabia which is spending $2 billion, mostly in Yemen's northern provinces where it is trying to replace Shiite rule with Sunnis.

The fragile and corrupt government, fearing a backlash from tribal leaders and insurrectionists in the south, loudly downplays U.S. involvement but quietly seeks economic aid to rebuild its nation. Compounding the problem is the Yemini oil reserves and major source of income will be depleted by 2017.

For 31 years, Yemen has been ruled by President Ali Abdullah Saleh, now 67. His family and tribal leaders have ruled with nepotism and corruption, milked the oil fields dry and left a population with 45% unemployment and greater illiteracy. His military and opposition factions in Parliament are against Saleh naming one of his sons his successor.

The Washington Post:

Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi warned that the United States "should learn from its experiences in Pakistan and Afghanistan and not repeat the mistakes in Yemen, both in dealing with the government of Yemen and confronting al-Qaeda." The United States and other Western powers, he said, need to provide long-term economic development to reduce poverty and raise educational standards, which he said can help combat terrorism "in a more effective fashion than just using military force."

The New York Times:

In important provinces where key oil resources are and where al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is strong, government troops and the police largely remain in their barracks or in the central cities. Order outside the cities is kept by tribal chiefs, with their own complicated loyalties.

“You can’t see anyone in a government uniform in Abyan,” said Murad Zafir, a Yemeni political analyst, referring to a southern province. “There are large areas of the country where there is no electricity, no running water and no central authority.”

It is in these pockets of decentralized government, chaos and poverty that aids al-Qaeda.

"The government has to care for its own survival, and its survival depends on powerful tribal and social groups," said Abdullah al-Faqih, a political science professor at Sanaa University. "And some of these groups have strong connections to al-Qaeda." 

In parliament, opposition politicians are warning that many Yemenis will support al-Qaeda if the conflict escalates.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian Islamist who attempted to detonate a bomb on a Christmas Day flight to Detroit, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, is thought to have trained with Yemen's Al Qaeda affiliate, and the group has claimed credit for the failed attack.

As a result, the U.S. Transportation Agency imposed stricter regulations, requiring passengers from Yemen and 13 other mostly Muslim countries to be subject to full-body pat downs at airports destined for the U.S.

The mandate has drawn criticism from the countries even though the TSA denies it is racial or ethnic profiling. The countries include Afghanistan, Algeria, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Yemen, Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria.

“It is unfair to discriminate against over 150 million people because of the behavior of one person,” Dora Akunyili, Nigeria’s information minister, said Monday.

“First look at behavior, not at faith or skin color,” said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Call if profiling or whatever, I think our government finally has addressed the airport security problem squarely.

Facing al-Quada in Yemen is equally touchy but far more important than offending the innocent to catch the bombers.

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