Thursday, June 9, 2011

Al Qaeda in Yemen after Saleh

An article posted on Foreign Affairs today made an argument very similar to the one I made on PolicyMic last month about how Saleh's departure, and even the weakening of Yemeni state government, would affect Al Qaeda in Yemen. Of course, the Foreign Affairs article is much more nuanced, brings more information to bear, fleshes out some arguments, and gives a more thorough treatment of the tribes' role in fighting/sheltering Al Qaeda (AQ). All the same, I was excited to see an actual Yemen expert take a stance similar to mine.Link
Basically, I made the point that we should not get nervous about losing Saleh as a counter terrorism (CT) partner. It appears that, by his permission to let the US use missile and drone strikes to target AQ, he was a good partner. He was not.

His commitment to CT was nominal, as much as was necessary to convince us he was worth working with, but not so much as to eradicate the AQ threat that brought with it US military aid.

We turned to missile strikes likely because Saleh didn't put in the on-the-ground the commitment required to root out AQ. Missile strikes are short term solutions. You can kill a leader or two, but he will be replaced. It would take sustained on-the-ground operations to grind down the terror group. We weren't getting that from Saleh, at least not after 2006. Saleh's permission to drop missiles on Yemeni territory should not be seen as a positive sign in the relationship but rather as a symptom of what's wrong with it.

It won't matter that whatever government comes next likely won't give us such aerial latitude because we'd ideally like the Yemeni government to bear more responsibility. Perhaps the next government will actually commit to eradicating AQ, and there will be no need for the US to strike on its own.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Thoughts and Prayers with Those in Yemen

When I visited Beit Baws, the mostly deserted village in the hills surrounding Sana'a, a friend remarked that Beit Baws is notable because all other mountains overlooking Yemen are restricted military zones. The government wanted to own all strategic overlooks of the capital. I thought it strange that a nation would install artillery peering down into its own capital city. I never thought that only four months later those mountaintop batteries would be shelling districts of Sana'a.

Beginning with Ali Abdullah Saleh's third refusal to sign the GCC power transition initiative, the government has bombarded the Sanaani homes of its political rivals. Street battles have erupted, especially in the Hassabah district, a neighborhood in northern Sana'a home to the compound of a leading sheikh and rival of president Saleh.

Saleh has left Yemen for Saudia Arabia, where he received treatment for wounds sustained during an attack on his compound on Friday. Despite his departure and multiple attempts by the Saudis to broker a ceasefire, fighting seems to continue. I have a PolicyMic article coming up which examines the immediate outlook for post-Saleh Yemen and what it means for the peaceful protesters who have maintained their dedication to nonviolence despite the increase in fighting around them.

For the latest on Yemen, I highly recommend following the news dispatches of Iona Craig and Jeb Boone. Both are freelance journalists based in Sana'a. They are the journalists who produce the latest stories for the Washington Post, LA Times, Time Magazine, and the Times of London. Nasser Arrabyee, a Yemeni journalist who has recently contributed to a few New York Times pieces, is also worth following. He keeps a blog where he posts his own work and articles by others on Yemen.

Life is pretty busy now with work, keeping track of Yemen, and trying to find permanent employment, but I hope to (finally) post the last installment of my travels outside of Sana'a and to write a post on Women in Yemen, a topic I know at least two of you are curious about.