March 21, 2011
After obtaining a United Nations Security Council resolution establishing a “no fly zone” and authorizing “all necessary measures” to stop Libyaʻs military assault on rebel forces, the U.S. and European began their attack on Libya. The AP wrote:
The U.S. claimed initial success two days into an assault on Libya that included some of the heaviest firepower in the American arsenal — long-range bombers designed for the Cold War — but American officials on Sunday said it was too early to define the international military campaign’s end game.
The New York Times reported:
American and European forces began a broad campaign of strikes against the government of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi on Saturday, unleashing warplanes and missiles in a military intervention on a scale not seen in the Arab world since the Iraq war.
The mission to impose a United Nations-sanctioned no-fly zone and keep Colonel Qaddafi from using air power against beleaguered rebel forces was portrayed by Pentagon and NATO officials as under French and British leadership.
But the Pentagon said that American forces were mounting an initial campaign to knock out Libya’s air defense systems, firing volley after volley of Tomahawk missiles from nearby ships against missile, radar and communications centers around Tripoli, the capital, and the western cities of Misurata and Surt.
And while the Pentagon is reporting that the initial missile and bombardment campaign was successful, the U.S. strategy is unclear. Another AP article reports that the western campaign in Libya could last “a while”:
The U.S. military, for now at the lead of the international campaign, is trying to walk a fine line over the end game of the assault. It is avoiding for now any appearance that it aims to take out Gadhafi or help the rebels oust him, instead limiting its stated goals to protecting civilians.
Britain also is treading carefully. Foreign Secretary William Hague refused Monday to say if Gadhafi would or could be assassinated, insisting he would not “get drawn into details about what or whom may be targeted.”
“I’m not going to speculate on the targets,” Hague said in a heated interview with BBC radio. “That depends on the circumstances at the time.”
So, the legal and moral justification for the military intervention is “humanitarian”, to protect civilians. But the real objective is regime change. As Global Research reports, the Security Council resolution was not unanimous; Russia, China, Germany, Brazil and India abstained from the vote. A Russian commentator also remarked that the “humanitarian” bombing of Yugoslavia was the precedent for the latest U.S. attack on Libya and that Libya was the fourth country in twelve years to be directly attacked by the west. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin criticized the UN Security Council resolution authorizing military attacks against Libya:
“The Security Council resolution is deficient and flawed; it allows everything and is reminiscent of a medieval call for a crusade,” Putin told workers at a ballistic missile factory in the Urals region. “It effectively allows intervention in a sovereign state.”
Analysis from Stratfor suggests that while the immediate objective is regime change, the long term strategy in Libya is unclear:
The Libyan war has now begun. It pits a coalition of European powers plus the United States, a handful of Arab states and rebels in Libya against the Libyan government. The long-term goal, unspoken but well understood, is regime change — displacing the government of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and replacing it with a new regime built around the rebels.
The mission is clearer than the strategy, and that strategy can’t be figured out from the first moves. The strategy might be the imposition of a no-fly zone, the imposition of a no-fly zone and attacks against Libya’s command-and-control centers, or these two plus direct ground attacks on Gadhafi’s forces. These could also be combined with an invasion and occupation of Libya.
The question, therefore, is not the mission but the strategy to be pursued. How far is the coalition, or at least some of its members, prepared to go to effect regime change and manage the consequences following regime change? How many resources are they prepared to provide and how long are they prepared to fight? It should be remembered that in Iraq and Afghanistan the occupation became the heart of the war, and regime change was merely the opening act. It is possible that the coalition partners haven’t decided on the strategy yet, or may not be in agreement. Let’s therefore consider the first phases of the war, regardless of how far they are prepared to go in pursuit of the mission.
Rick Rozoff points out in Global Research that the war on Libya is NATOʻs first direct African conflict as well as the first war for the newly created U.S. African Command (AFRICOM). He also points out that the humanitarian war justification for the attack on Libya has not been applied consistently the current wave of protest in the Arab world:
A crisis in Yemen is rapidly escalating. A standoff centered on the presidential palace is taking place between security forces in the capital city of Sanaa while embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh continues to resist stepping down, claiming that the “majority of Yemeni people” support him. While a Western-led military intervention in Libya is dominating the headlines, the crisis in Yemen and its implications for Persian Gulf stability is of greater strategic consequence. Saudi Arabia is already facing the threat of an Iranian destabilization campaign in eastern Arabia and has deployed forces to Bahrain in an effort to prevent Shiite unrest from spreading. With a second front now threatening the Saudi underbelly, the situation in Yemen is becoming one that the Saudis can no longer leave on the backburner.
The turning point in Yemen occurred March 18 after Friday prayers, when tens of thousands of protesters in the streets calling for Saleh’s ouster came under a heavy crackdown that reportedly left some 46 people dead and hundreds wounded. It is unclear whether the shootings were ordered by Saleh himself, orchestrated by a member of the Yemeni defense establishment to facilitate Saleh’s political exit or simply provoked by tensions in the streets, but it does not really matter. Scores of defections from the ruling party, the prominent Hashid tribe in the north and military old guard followed the March 18 events, both putting Saleh at risk of being removed in a coup and putting the already deeply fractious country at risk of a civil war.
Read more: Yemen in Crisis: A Special Report | STRATFOR
The U.S. has conducted secret military operations in Yemen to hunt Al-Qaeda in Yemen. Last year it was reported Yemenʻs President Saleh and General David Petraeus, Commander of the US Central Command held closed door meetings during which arrangements were made for the U.S. to establish a military base on the Yemeni island of Socotra.
November 16, 2010
U.S. Pursues Wider Role in Yemen
Americans Move to Bring In Equipment and Operatives and Propose New Bases for Fight Against al Qaeda Affiliate
By ADAM ENTOUS and JULIAN E. BARNES in Washington and MARGARET COKER in Abu Dhabi
The U.S. is preparing for an expanded campaign against al Qaeda in Yemen, mobilizing military and intelligence resources to enable Yemeni and American strikes and drawing up a longer-term proposal to establish Yemeni bases in remote areas where militants operate.
The developments are part of a U.S. scramble to step up the hunt for members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terrorist organization behind a recent failed attempt to blow up two planes over the U.S. using bombs hidden in cargo.
Limited U.S. intelligence experience in Yemen has created “a window of vulnerability” that the U.S. government is “working fast to address,” a senior Obama administration official said.
For now, the U.S. gets much of its on-the-ground intelligence from a growing partnership with Saudi Arabia, which shares a border with Yemen and has a fruitful informant network in Yemen’s tribal areas.
In the rush to build up capabilities, the Central Intelligence Agency and other agencies are moving in equipment and personnel from other areas, and over the past year have expanded the size of teams in the U.S. analyzing intelligence on AQAP. The emphasis now is on expanding the number of intelligence operatives and analysts in the field.
August 15, 2010
The New York Times has published a new article in its series “Shadow Wars”, about the expanding covert war that rages in many countries even as troop withdrawals are planned for Iraq and debated for Afghanistan.
The article makes several important observations to consider:
- “While the stealth war began in the Bush administration, it has expanded under President Obama…”
- “The administration’s demands have accelerated a transformation of the C.I.A. into a paramilitary organization as much as a spying agency, which some critics worry could lower the threshold for future quasi-military operations.”
- “For its part, the Pentagon is becoming more like the C.I.A. Across the Middle East and elsewhere, Special Operations troops under secret “Execute Orders” have conducted spying missions that were once the preserve of civilian intelligence agencies. With code names like Eager Pawn and Indigo Spade, such programs typically operate with even less transparency and Congressional oversight than traditional covert actions by the C.I.A.”
- “…private contractors have taken on a prominent role, raising concerns that the United States has outsourced some of its most important missions to a sometimes unaccountable private army.”
The full implications of these changes and the blurring of traditional lines of authority and accountability for military operations are not yet known. A disturbing revelation is the fact that old covert operatives of the Iran-Contra era have been recalled to run these new covert operations:
Michael G. Vickers, who helped run the C.I.A.’s campaign to funnel guns and money to the Afghanistan mujahedeen in the 1980s and was featured in the book and movie “Charlie Wilson’s War,” is now the top Pentagon official overseeing Special Operations troops around the globe. Duane R. Clarridge, a profane former C.I.A. officer who ran operations in Central America and was indicted in the Iran-contra scandal, turned up this year helping run a Pentagon-financed private spying operation in Pakistan.
These are some of the same guys that created the “blowback” problem of Al-Qaeda, who were initially trained, funded and armed by the C.I.A.
These developments have alarmed even old covert operatives such as Jack Devine, a former C.I.A. clandestine officer who was involved in the covert war against the Soviet Army in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Devine was quoted as saying: “We got the covert action programs under well-defined rules after we had made mistakes and learned from them…Now, we’re coming up with a new model, and I’m concerned there are not clear rules.”
The new covert strategy has been touted as a surgically precise ‘scapel’, in contrast to the ‘hammer’ of conventional warfare. But a scapel can be a poor tool to remove a viral phenomenon such as the global networked resistance that has spread as a reaction to imperialism and globalization.
Secret Assault on Terrorism Widens on Two Continents
By SCOTT SHANE, MARK MAZZETTI and ROBERT F. WORTH
Published: August 14, 2010
WASHINGTON — At first, the news from Yemen on May 25 sounded like a modest victory in the campaign against terrorists: an airstrike had hit a group suspected of being operatives for Al Qaeda in the remote desert of Marib Province, birthplace of the legendary queen of Sheba.
But the strike, it turned out, had also killed the province’s deputy governor, a respected local leader who Yemeni officials said had been trying to talk Qaeda members into giving up their fight. Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, accepted responsibility for the death and paid blood money to the offended tribes.
February 20, 2010
The U.S. interest in Yemen may have more to do with establishing a military base in the Yemeni island of Socotra than hunting down Al Quaeda affiliates.
“Whoever attains maritime supremacy in the Indian Ocean would be a prominent player on the international scene.” (US Navy Geostrategist Rear Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840-1914))
The Yemeni archipelago of Socotra in the Indian Ocean is located some 80 kilometres off the Horn of Africa and 380 kilometres South of the Yemeni coastline. The islands of Socotra are a wildlife reserve recognized by (UNESCO), as a World Natural Heritage Site.
Socotra is at the crossroads of the strategic naval waterways of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden (See map below). It is of crucial importance to the US military.
Among Washington’s strategic objectives is the militarization of major sea ways. This strategic waterway links the Mediterranean to South Asia and the Far East, through the Suez Canal, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
It is a major transit route for oil tankers. A large share of China’s industrial exports to Western Europe transits through this strategic waterway. Maritime trade from East and Southern Africa to Western Europe also transits within proximity of Socotra (Suqutra), through the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. (see map below). A military base in Socotra could be used to oversee the movement of vessels including war ships in an out of the Gulf of Aden.
“The [Indian] Ocean is a major sea lane connecting the Middle East, East Asia and Africa with Europe and the Americas. It has four crucial access waterways facilitating international maritime trade, that is the Suez Canal in Egypt, Bab-el-Mandeb (bordering Djibouti and Yemen), Straits of Hormuz (bordering Iran and Oman), and Straits of Malacca (bordering Indonesia and Malaysia). These ‘chokepoints’ are critical to world oil trade as huge amounts of oil pass through them.” (Amjed Jaaved, A new hot-spot of rivalry, Pakistan Observer, July 1, 2009)
From a military standpoint, the Socotra archipelago is at a strategic maritime crossroads. Morever, the archipelago extends over a relatively large maritime area at the Eastern exit of the Gulf of Aden, from the island of Abd al Kuri, to the main island of Socotra. (See map 1 above) This maritime area of international transit lies in Yemeni territorial waters. The objective of the US is to police the entire Gulf of Aden seaway from the Yemeni to Somalian coastline. (See map 1).
Socotra is some 3000 km from the US naval base of Diego Garcia, which is among America’s largest overseas military facilities.
The Socotra Military Base
On January 2nd, 2010, President Saleh and General David Petraeus, Commander of the US Central Command met for high level discussions behind closed doors.
The Saleh-Petraeus meeting was casually presented by the media as a timely response to the foiled Detroit Christmas bomb attack on Northwest flight 253. It had apparently been scheduled on an ad hoc basis as a means to coordinating counter-terrorism initiatives directed against “Al Qaeda in Yemen”, including “the use [of] American drones and missiles on Yemen lands.”
Several reports, however, confirmed that the Saleh-Petraeus meetings were intent upon redefining US military involvement in Yemen including the establishment of a full-fledged military base on the island of Socotra. Yemen’s president Ali Abdullah Saleh was reported to have “surrendered Socotra for Americans who would set up a military base, pointing out that U.S. officials and the Yemeni government agreed to set up a military base in Socotra to counter pirates and al-Qaeda.” (Fars News. January 19, 2010)
On January 1st, one day before the Saleh-Petraeus meetings in Sanaa, General Petraeus confirmed in a Baghdad press conference that “security assistance” to Yemen would more than double from 70 million to more than 150 million dollars, which represents a 14 fold increase since 2006. (Scramble for the Island of Bliss: Socotra!, War in Iraq, January 12, 2010. See also CNN January 9, 2010, The Guardian, December 28, 2009).
This doubling of military aid to Yemen was presented to World public opinion as a response to the Detroit bomb incident, which allegedly had been ordered by Al Qaeda operatives in Yemen.
The establishment of an air force base on the island of Socotra was described by the US media as part of the “Global war on Terrorism”:
“Among the new programs, Saleh and Petraeus agreed to allow the use of American aircraft, perhaps drones, as well as “seaborne missiles”–as long as the operations have prior approval from the Yemenis, according to a senior Yemeni official who requested anonymity when speaking about sensitive subjects. U.S. officials say the island of Socotra, 200 miles off the Yemeni coast, will be beefed up from a small airstrip [under the jurisdiction of the Yemeni military] to a full base in order to support the larger aid program as well as battle Somali pirates. Petraeus is also trying to provide the Yemeni forces with basic equipment such as up-armored Humvees and possibly more helicopters.” (Newsweek, Newsweek, January 18, 2010, emphasis added)
Existing runway and airport
US Naval Facility?
The proposed US Socotra military facility, however, is not limited to an air force base. A US naval base has also been contemplated.
The development of Socotra’s naval infrastructure was already in the pipeline. Barely a few days prior (December 29, 2009) to the Petraeus-Saleh discussions (January 2, 2010), the Yemeni cabinet approved a US$14 million loan by Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED) in support of the development of Socotra’s seaport project.
The Great Game
The Socotra archipelago is part of the Great Game opposing Russia and America.
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union had a military presence in Socotra, which at the time was part of South Yemen.
Barely a year ago, the Russians entered into renewed discussions with the Yemeni government regarding the establishment of a Naval base on Socotra island. A year later, in January 2010, in the week following the Petraeus-Saleh meeting, a Russian Navy communiqué “confirmed that Russia did not give up its plans to have bases for its ships… on Socotra island.” (DEFENSE and SECURITY (Russia), January 25, 2010)
The Petraeus-Saleh January 2, 2010 discussions were crucial in weakening Russian diplomatic overtures to the Yemeni government.
The US military has had its eye on the island of Socotra since the end of the Cold War.
In 1999, Socotra was chosen “as a site upon which the United States planned to build a signal intelligence system….” Yemeni opposition news media reported that “Yemen’s administration had agreed to allow the U.S. military access to both a port and an airport on Socotra.” According to the opposition daily Al-Haq, “a new civilian airport built on Socotra to promote tourism had conveniently been constructed in accordance with U.S. military specifications.” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pennsylvania), October 18, 2000)
The Militarization of the Indian Ocean
The establishment of a US military base in Socotra is part of the broader process of militarization of the Indian Ocean. The latter consists in integrating and linking Socotra into an existing structure as well as reinforcing the key role played by the Diego Garcia military base in the Chagos archipelago.
The US Navy’s geostrategist Rear Admiral Alfred T. Mahan had intimated, prior to First World War, that “whoever attains maritime supremacy in the Indian Ocean [will] be a prominent player on the international scene.”.(Indian Ocean and our Security).
What was at stake in Rear Admiral Mahan’s writings was the strategic control by the US of major Ocean sea ways and of the Indian Ocean in particular: “This ocean is the key to the seven seas in the twenty-first century; the destiny of the world will be decided in these waters.”
Michel Chossudovsky is Professor of Economics (Emeritus) at the University of Ottawa and Director of the Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG), Montreal, which hosts the award winning website: www.globalresearch.ca . He is the author of the international best-seller “The Globalisation of Poverty and The New World Order”. He is contributor to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, member of the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission and recipient of the Human Rights Prize of the Society for the Protection of Civil Rights and Human Dignity (GBM), Berlin, Germany. His writings have been published in more than twenty languages.
Related Global Research Article: See Rick Rozoff, U.S., NATO Expand Afghan War To Horn Of Africa And Indian Ocean, Global Research, 8 January 2010.
January 27, 2010
U.S. special forces and intelligence agents are deeply involved in military operations against suspected al-Qaeda affiliates. It is amazing and frigthening that the government has designated at least three U.S. citizens for assassination. The U.S. is now killing its own citizens for political crimes of being affiliated with a government identified “terrorist” organization.
U.S. military teams, intelligence deeply involved in aiding Yemen on strikes
By Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 27, 2010; A01
U.S. military teams and intelligence agencies are deeply involved in secret joint operations with Yemeni troops who in the past six weeks have killed scores of people, among them six of 15 top leaders of a regional al-Qaeda affiliate, according to senior administration officials.
The operations, approved by President Obama and begun six weeks ago, involve several dozen troops from the U.S. military’s clandestine Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), whose main mission is tracking and killing suspected terrorists. The American advisers do not take part in raids in Yemen, but help plan missions, develop tactics and provide weapons and munitions. Highly sensitive intelligence is being shared with the Yemeni forces, including electronic and video surveillance, as well as three-dimensional terrain maps and detailed analysis of the al-Qaeda network.
As part of the operations, Obama approved a Dec. 24 strike against a compound where a U.S. citizen, Anwar al-Aulaqi, was thought to be meeting with other regional al-Qaeda leaders. Although he was not the focus of the strike and was not killed, he has since been added to a shortlist of U.S. citizens specifically targeted for killing or capture by the JSOC, military officials said. The officials, like others interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the operations.
The broad outlines of the U.S. involvement in Yemen have come to light in the past month, but the extent and nature of the operations have not been previously reported. The far-reaching U.S. role could prove politically challenging for Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who must balance his desire for American support against the possibility of a backlash by tribal, political and religious groups whose members resent what they see as U.S. interference in Yemen.
The collaboration with Yemen provides the starkest illustration to date of the Obama administration’s efforts to ramp up counterterrorism operations, including in areas outside the Iraq and Afghanistan war zones.
“We are very pleased with the direction this is going,” a senior administration official said of the cooperation with Yemen.
Obama has ordered a dramatic increase in the pace of CIA drone-launched missile strikes into Pakistan in an effort to kill al-Qaeda and Taliban members in the ungoverned tribal areas along the Afghan border. There have been more such strikes in the first year of Obama’s administration than in the last three years under President George W. Bush, according to a military officer who tracks the attacks.
Obama also has sent U.S. military forces briefly into Somalia as part of an operation to kill Saleh Ali Nabhan, a Kenyan sought in the 2002 bombing of an Israeli-owned resort in Kenya.
Republican lawmakers and former vice president Richard B. Cheney have sought to characterize the new president as soft on terrorism after he banned the harsh interrogation methods permitted under Bush and announced his intention to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Obama has rejected those two elements of Bush’s counterterrorism program, but he has embraced the notion that the most effective way to kill or capture members of al-Qaeda and its affiliates is to work closely with foreign partners, including those that have feeble democracies, shoddy human rights records and weak accountability over the vast sums of money Washington is giving them to win their continued participation in these efforts.
In the case of Yemen, a steady stream of high-ranking officials has visited Saleh, including the rarely seen JSOC commander, Vice Adm. William H. McRaven; White House counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan; and Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command.
A Yemeni official briefed on security matters said Tuesday that the two countries maintained a “steadfast cooperation in combating AQAP, but there are clear limits to the U.S. involvement on the ground. Information sharing has been a key in carrying out recent successful counterterrorism operations.” AQAP is the abbreviation for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the affiliate operating in Yemen.
In a newly built joint operations center, the American advisers are acting as intermediaries between the Yemeni forces and hundreds of U.S. military and intelligence officers working in Washington, Virginia and Tampa and at Fort Meade, Md., to collect, analyze and route intelligence.
The combined efforts have resulted in more than two dozen ground raids and airstrikes. Military and intelligence officials suspect there are several hundred members of AQAP, a group that has historical links to the main al-Qaeda organization but that is thought to operate independently.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, told a Navy War College class in early January that the United States had “no plans” to send ground troops to Yemen and that he had been concerned about the growing al-Qaeda presence there “for a long time now.”
“We have worked hard to try to improve our relationships and training, education and war-fighting support,” Mullen said. “And, yet, we still have a long way to go.”
Saleh has faced pressure not only from the United States but also his country’s main financial backers, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to gain better control over its lawless northern border. In August, Saleh asked U.S. officials to begin a more in-depth conversation over how the two countries might work together, according to administration officials. The current operation evolved from those talks.
“President Saleh was serious about going after al-Qaeda and wasn’t going to resist our encouragement,” the senior official said.
The Obama administration’s deepening of bilateral intelligence relations builds on ties forged during George J. Tenet’s tenure as CIA director.
Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Tenet coaxed Saleh into a partnership that would give the CIA and U.S. military units the means to attack terrorist training camps and al-Qaeda targets. Saleh agreed, in part, because he believed that his country, the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden, was next on the U.S. invasion list, according to an adviser to the Yemeni president.
Tenet provided Saleh’s forces with helicopters, eavesdropping equipment and 100 Army Special Forces members to train an antiterrorism unit. He also won Saleh’s approval to fly Predator drones armed with Hellfire missiles over the country. In November 2002, a CIA missile strike killed six al-Qaeda operatives driving through the desert. The target was Abu Ali al-Harithi, organizer of the 2000 attack on the USS Cole. Killed with him was a U.S. citizen, Kamal Derwish, who the CIA knew was in the car.
Word that the CIA had purposefully killed Derwish drew attention to the unconventional nature of the new conflict and to the secret legal deliberations over whether killing a U.S. citizen was legal and ethical.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush gave the CIA, and later the military, authority to kill U.S. citizens abroad if strong evidence existed that an American was involved in organizing or carrying out terrorist actions against the United States or U.S. interests, military and intelligence officials said. The evidence has to meet a certain, defined threshold. The person, for instance, has to pose “a continuing and imminent threat to U.S. persons and interests,” said one former intelligence official.
The Obama administration has adopted the same stance. If a U.S. citizen joins al-Qaeda, “it doesn’t really change anything from the standpoint of whether we can target them,” a senior administration official said. “They are then part of the enemy.”
Both the CIA and the JSOC maintain lists of individuals, called “High Value Targets” and “High Value Individuals,” whom they seek to kill or capture. The JSOC list includes three Americans, including Aulaqi, whose name was added late last year. As of several months ago, the CIA list included three U.S. citizens, and an intelligence official said that Aulaqi’s name has now been added.
Intelligence officials say the New Mexico-born imam also has been linked to the Army psychiatrist who is accused of killing 12 soldiers and a civilian at Fort Hood, Tex., although his communications with Maj. Nidal M. Hasan were largely academic in nature. Authorities say that Aulaqi is the most important native, English-speaking al-Qaeda figure and that he was in contact with the Nigerian accused of attempting to bomb a U.S. airliner on Christmas Day.
Yemeni Foreign Minister Abubaker al-Qirbi said in Washington last week that his government’s present goal is to persuade Aulaqi to surrender so he can face local criminal charges stemming from his contacts with the Fort Hood suspect. Aulaqi is being tracked by the country’s security forces, the minister added, and is now thought to be in the southern province of Shabwa.
Staff writer R. Jeffrey Smith and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.
January 9, 2010
Yemen: The Latest U.S. Battleground
Chair of Mid-Eastern Studies program at the University of San Francisco
Posted: January 8, 2010 05:10 PM
The United States may be on the verge of involvement in yet another counterinsurgency war which, as is the case in Iraq and Afghanistan, may make a bad situation even worse. The attempted Christmas Day bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight by a Nigerian man was apparently planned in Yemen. There were alleged ties between the perpetrator of the Ft. Hood massacre and a radical Yemeni cleric, and an ongoing U.S.-backed Yemeni military offensive against al-Qaeda have all focused U.S. attention on that country.
Yemen has almost as large a population as Saudi Arabia, but differently lacks much in the way of natural resources. What little oil the country has is rapidly being depleted. Indeed, Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the world, with a per-capita income of less than $600 per year. More than 40 percent of the population is unemployed and the economic situation is increasingly deteriorating for most Yemenis as a result of a U.S.-backed structural adjustment program imposed by the International Monetary Fund.
The county is desperate for assistance in sustainable economic development. The vast majority of U.S. aid delivered to the country, however, has been in the form of military assets. The limited economic assistance made available has been of dubious effectiveness and has largely gone through corrupt government channels.
The United States has long been concerned about the presence of al-Qaeda operatives within Yemen’s porous borders, particularly since the recent unification of the Yemeni and Saudi branches of the terrorist network. Thousands of Yemenis participated in the U.S.-supported anti-Soviet resistance in Afghanistan during the 1980s, becoming radicalized by the experience and developing links with Osama bin Laden, a Saudi whose father comes from a Yemeni family. Various tribal loyalties to bin Laden’s family have led to some support within Yemen for the exiled al-Qaeda leader, even among those who do not necessarily support his reactionary interpretation of Islam or his terrorist tactics. Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis have served as migrant laborers in neighboring Saudi Arabia. There, exposure to the hardline Wahhabi interpretation of Islam dominant in that country combined with widespread repression and discrimination has led to further radicalization.
In October 2000, al-Qaeda terrorists attacked the U.S. Navy ship Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden, killing 17 American sailors. This led to increased cooperation between U.S. and Yemeni military and intelligence, including a series of U.S. missile attacks against suspected al-Qaeda operatives.
Currently, hardcore al-Qaeda terrorists in Yemen — many of whom are foreigners — probably number no more than 200. But they are joined by roughly 2,000 battle-hardened Yemeni militants who have served time in Iraq fighting U.S. occupation forces. The swelling of al-Qaeda’s ranks by veterans of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s Iraqi insurgency has led to the rise of a substantially larger and more extreme generation of fighters, who have ended the uneasy truce between Islamic militants and the Yemeni government.
Opponents of the 2003 U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq correctly predicted that the inevitable insurgency would create a new generation of radical jihadists, comparable to the one that emerged following the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the Bush administration and its congressional supporters — including then-senators Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton — believed that a U.S. takeover of Iraq was more important than avoiding the risk of creating of a hotbed of anti-American terrorism. Ironically, President Obama is relying on Biden and Clinton — as well as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, another supporter of the U.S. invasion and occupation — to help us get out of this mess they helped create.
Not a Failed State
Yemen is one of the most complex societies in the world, and any kind of overreaction by the United States — particularly one that includes a strong military component — could be disastrous. Bringing in U.S. forces or increasing the number of U.S. missile strikes would likely strengthen the size and radicalization of extremist elements. Instead of recognizing the strong and longstanding Yemeni tradition of respecting tribal autonomy, U.S. officials appear to be misinterpreting this lack of central government control as evidence of a “failed state.” The U.S. approach has been to impose central control by force, through a large-scale counterinsurgency strategy.
Such a military response could result in an ever-wider insurgency, however. Indeed, such overreach by the government is what largely prompted the Houthi rebellion in the northern part of the country, led by adherents of the Zaydi branch of Shia Islam. The United States has backed a brutal crackdown by Yemeni and Saudi forces in the Houthi region, largely accepting exaggerated claims of Iranian support for the rebellion. There is also a renewal of secessionist activity in the formerly independent south. These twin threats are largely responsible for the delay in the Yemeni government’s response to the growing al-Qaeda presence in their country.
With the United States threatening more direct military intervention in Yemen to root out al-Qaeda, the Yemeni government’s crackdown may be less a matter of hoping for something in return for its cooperation than a fear of what may happen if it does not. The Yemeni government is in a difficult bind, however. If it doesn’t break up the terrorist cells, the likely U.S. military intervention would probably result in a greatly expanded armed resistance. If the government casts too wide a net, however, it risks tribal rebellion and other civil unrest for what will be seen as unjustifiable repression at the behest of a Western power. Either way, it would likely increase support for extremist elements, which both the U.S. and Yemeni governments want destroyed.
For this reason, most Western experts on Yemen agree that increased U.S. intervention carries serious risks. This would not only result in a widespread armed backlash within Yemen. Such military intervention by the United States in yet another Islamic country in the name of “anti-terrorism” would likely strengthen Islamist militants elsewhere as well.
Cold War Pawn
As with previous U.S. military interventions, most Americans have little understanding of the targeted country or its history.
Yemen was divided for most of the 20th century. South Yemen, which received its independence from Great Britain in 1967 after years of armed anti-colonial resistance, resulted from a merger between the British colony of Aden and the British protectorate of South Arabia. Declaring itself the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, it became the Arab world’s only Marxist-Leninist state and developed close ties with the Soviet Union. As many as 300,000 South Yemenis fled to the north in the years following independence.
North Yemen, independent since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, became embroiled in a bloody civil war during the 1960s between Saudi-backed royalist forces and Egyptian-backed republican forces. The republican forces eventually triumphed, though political instability, military coups, assassinations, and periodic armed uprisings continued.
In both countries, ancient tribal and modern ideological divisions have made control of these disparate armed forces virtually impossible. Major segments of the national armies would periodically disintegrate, with soldiers bringing their weapons home with them. Lawlessness and chaos have been common for decades, with tribes regularly shifting loyalties in both their internal feuds and their alliances with their governments. Many tribes have been in a permanent state of war for years, and almost every male adolescent and adult routinely carries a rifle.
In 1979, in one of the more absurd episodes of the Cold War, a minor upsurge in fighting along the former border led to a major U.S. military mobilization in response to what the Carter administration called a Soviet-sponsored act of international aggression. In March of that year, South Yemeni forces, in support of some North Yemeni guerrillas, shelled some North Yemeni government positions. In response, Carter ordered the aircraft carrier Constellation and a flotilla of warships to the Arabian Sea as a show of force. Bypassing congressional approval, the administration rushed nearly $499 million worth of modern weaponry to North Yemen, including 64 M-60 tanks, 70 armored personnel carriers, and 12 F-5E aircraft. Included were an estimated 400 American advisers and 80 Taiwanese pilots for the sophisticated warplanes that no Yemeni knew how to fly.
This gross overreaction to a local conflict led to widespread international criticism. Indeed, the Soviets were apparently unaware of the border clashes and the fighting died down within a couple of weeks. Development groups were particularly critical of this U.S. attempt to send such expensive high-tech weaponry to a country with some of the highest rates of infant mortality, chronic disease, and illiteracy in the world.
The communist regime in South Yemen collapsed in the 1980s, when rival factions of the Politburo and Central Committee killed each other and their supporters by the thousands. With the southern leadership decimated, the two countries merged in May 1990. The newly united country’s democratic constitution gave Yemen one of the most genuinely representative governments in the region.
Later in 1990, when serving as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, Yemen voted against the U.S.-led effort to authorize the use of force against Iraq to drive its occupation forces from Kuwait. A U.S. representative was overheard declaring to the Yemeni ambassador, “That was the most expensive ‘no’ vote you ever cast.” The United States immediately withdrew $70 million in foreign aid to Yemen while dramatically increasing aid to neighboring dictatorships that supported the U.S.-led war effort. Over the next several years, apparently upset with the dangerous precedent of a democratic Arab neighbor, the U.S.-backed regime in Saudi Arabia engaged in a series of attacks against Yemen along its disputed border.
Renewed Violence and Repression
In 1994, ideological and regional clan-based rivalries led to a brief civil war, with the south temporarily seceding and the government mobilizing some of the jihadist veterans of the Afghan war to fight the leftist rebellion.
After crushing the southern secessionists, the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh became increasingly authoritarian. U.S. support resumed and aid increased. Unlike most U.S. allies in the region, direct elections for the president and parliament have continued, but they have hardly been free or fair. Saleh officially received an unlikely 94 percent of the vote in the 1999 election. And in the most recently election, in 2006, government and police were openly pushing for Saleh’s re-election amid widespread allegations of voter intimidation, ballot-rigging, vote-buying, and registration fraud. Just two days before the vote, Saleh announced the arrest on “terrorism” charges a campaign official of his leading opponent. Since that time, human rights abuses and political repression — including unprecedented attacks on independent media — have increased dramatically.
Obama was elected president as the candidate who promised change, including a shift away from the foreign policy that had led to such disastrous policies in Iraq and elsewhere. In Yemen, his administration appears to be pursuing the same short-sighted tactics as its predecessors: support of a repressive and autocratic regime, pursuit of military solutions to complex social and political conflicts, and reliance on failed counterinsurgency doctrines.
Al-Qaeda in Yemen represents a genuine threat. However, any military action should be Yemeni-led and targeted only at the most dangerous terrorist cells. We must also press the Yemeni government to become more democratic and less corrupt, in order to gain the support needed to suppress dangerous armed elements. In the long term, the United States should significantly increase desperately needed development aid for the poorest rural communities that have served as havens for radical Islamists. Such a strategy would be far more effective than drone attacks, arms transfers, and counterinsurgency.
January 3, 2010
Patrick Cockburn: Threats to Yemen prove America hasn’t learned the lesson of history
Extraordinarily, the US is making exactly the same mistake as in Iraq and Afghanistan
Thursday, 31 December 2009
We are the Awaleq
Born of bitterness
We are the nails that go into the rock
We are the sparks of hell
He who defies us will be burned
This is the tribal chant of the powerful Awaleq tribe of Yemen, in which they bid defiance to the world. Its angry tone conveys the flavour of Yemeni life and it should give pause to those in the US who blithely suggest greater American involvement in Yemen in the wake of the attempt to destroy a US plane by a Nigerian student who says he received training there.
Yemen has always been a dangerous place. Wonderfully beautiful, the mountainous north of the country is guerrilla paradise. The Yemenis are exceptionally hospitable, though this has its limits. For instance, the Kazam tribe east of Aden are generous to passing strangers, but deem the laws of hospitality to lapse when the stranger leaves their tribal territory, at which time he becomes “a good back to shoot at”.
The Awaleq and Kazam tribes are not exotic survivals on the margins of Yemeni society but are both politically important and influential. The strength of the central government in the capital, Sanaa, is limited and it generally avoids direct confrontations with tribal confederations, tribes, clans and powerful families. Almost everybody has a gun, usually at least an AK-47 assault rifle, but tribesmen often own heavier armament.
I have always loved the country. It is physically very beautiful with cut stone villages perched on mountain tops on the sides of which are cut hundreds of terraces, making the country look like an exaggerated Tuscan landscape. Yemenis are intelligent, humorous, sociable and democratic, infinitely preferable as company to the arrogant and ignorant playboys of the Arab oil states in the rest of the Arabian Peninsula.
It is very much a country of direct action. Once when I was there a Chinese engineer was kidnapped as he drove along the main road linking Sanaa to Aden. The motives of the kidnappers were peculiar. It turned out they came from a bee-keeping tribe (Yemen is famous for its honey) whose bees live in hives inside hollow logs placed on metal stilts to protect them from ants. The police had raided the tribe’s village and had damaged hives for which the owners were demanding compensation. The government had been slow in paying up so the tribesmen had decided to draw attention to their grievance by kidnapping the next foreigner on the main road and this turned out to be the Chinese engineer.
Yemen is a mosaic of conflicting authorities, though this authority may be confined to a few villages. Larger communities include the Shia around Sanaa in the north of the country near Saada, with whom the government has been fighting a fierce little civil war. The unification of North and South Yemen in 1990 has never wholly gelled and the government is wary of southern secessionism. Its ability to buy off its opponents is also under threat as oil revenues fall, with the few oilfields beginning to run dry.
It is in this fascinating but dangerous land that President Barack Obama is planning to increase US political and military involvement. Joint operations will be carried out by the US and Yemeni military. There will be American drone attacks on hamlets where al-Qa’ida supposedly has its bases.
There is ominous use by American politicians and commentators of the phrase “failed state” in relation to Yemen, as if this some how legitimised foreign intervention. It is extraordinary that the US political elite has never taken on board that its greatest defeats have been in just such “failed states”‘, not least Lebanon in 1982, when 240 US Marines were blown up; Somalia in the early 1990s when the body of a US helicopter pilot was dragged through the streets; Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein; and Afghanistan after the supposed fall of the Taliban.
Yemen has all the explosive ingredients of Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan. But the arch-hawk Senator Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, was happily confirming this week that the Green Berets and the US Special Forces are already there. He cited with approval an American official in Sanaa as telling him that, “Iraq was yesterday’s war. Afghanistan is today’s war. If you don’t act pre-emptively Yemen will be tomorrow’s war.” In practice pre-emptive strikes are likely to bring a US military entanglement in Yemen even closer.
The US will get entangled because the Yemeni government will want to manipulate US action in its own interests and to preserve its wilting authority. It has long been trying to portray the Shia rebels in north Yemen as Iranian cats-paws in order to secure American and Saudi support. Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) probably only has a few hundred activists in Yemen, but the government of long time Yemeni President Ali Abdulah Salih will portray his diverse opponents as somehow linked to al-Qa’ida.
In Yemen the US will be intervening on one side in a country which is always in danger of sliding into a civil war. This has happened before. In Iraq the US was the supporter of the Shia Arabs and Kurds against the Sunni Arabs. In Afghanistan it is the ally of the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazara against the Pashtun community. Whatever the intentions of Washington, its participation in these civil conflicts destabilises the country because one side becomes labelled as the quisling supporter of a foreign invader. Communal and nationalist antipathies combine to create a lethal blend.
Despite sectarian, ethnic and tribal loyalties in the countries where the US has intervened in the Middle East, they usually have a strong sense of national identity. Yemenis are highly conscious of their own nationality and their identity as Arabs. One of the reasons the country is so miserably poor, with almost half its 22 million people trying to live on $2 a day, is that in 1990 Yemen refused to join the war against Iraq and Saudi Arabia consequently expelled 850,000 Yemeni workers.
It is extraordinary to see the US begin to make the same mistakes in Yemen as it previously made in Afghanistan and Iraq. What it is doing is much to al-Qa’ida’s advantage. The real strength of al-Qa’ida is not that it can “train” a fanatical Nigerian student to sew explosives into his underpants, but that it can provoke an exaggerated US response to every botched attack. Al-Qa’ida leaders openly admitted at the time of 9/11 that the aim of such operations is to provoke the US into direct military intervention in Muslim countries.
In Yemen the US is walking into the al-Qa’ida trap. Once there it will face the same dilemma it faces in Iraq and Afghanistan. It became impossible to exit these conflicts because the loss of face would be too great. Just as Washington saved banks and insurance giants from bankruptcy in 2008 because they were “too big to fail,” so these wars become too important to lose because to do so would damage the US claim to be the sole superpower.
In Iraq the US is getting out more easily than seemed likely at one stage because Washington has persuaded Americans that they won a non-existent success. The ultimate US exit from Afghanistan may eventually be along very similar lines. But the danger of claiming spurious victories is that such distortions of history make it impossible for the US to learn from past mistakes and instead it repeats them by fresh interventions in countries like Yemen.