The US is stepping up its efforts in Yemen quietly, giving the country tools and money to comabt terrorism without fanfare. The strategy is the result of lessons learned in Pakistan, in particular.
For Americans focused on Afghanistan and Pakistan as key in the fight against terrorism, the attacks late last year at Fort Hood, Texas, and in an airplane over Detroit were a wake-up call that a new front is quickly emerging in Yemen.
The Nigerian who tried to blow up a jetliner as it landed in Detroit on Christmas Day claims to have received training in Yemen. And US officials found numerous links between alleged Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan and a radical Yemeni cleric.
The White House, however, is already ahead of the curve in addressing the security concerns there, some experts say. Without fanfare, the Obama administration has ramped up military aid and backed vigorous counterterrorist action. Indeed, the Yemeni branch of Al Qaeda said the Christmas attack was payback for two US-backed airstrikes.
Yemen presents an opportunity for the United States to get right what it has tried with mixed results in Pakistan and Afghanistan, experts say: take early action to help a faltering nation from becoming a haven for terrorists. America’s experience in those countries is informing how it deals with Yemen – quietly and carefully so as not to be seen as using Yemen to do its dirty work.
Yemen’s unemployment at 40 percent
The threats to Yemen’s stability are mounting. Once a culturally rich country steeped in thousands of years of African and Arab influences, Yemen has become economically, socially, and politically impoverished. Its population of 22 million is expected to double within the next 20 years, and about 40 percent of the current population is unemployed.
With the country’s main resource, oil, expected to zero out within seven years, according to an energy index compiled by BP, the concern is that the growing number of young men will become disaffected and radicalized, according to a report by Richard Fontaine, an analyst at the Center for a New American Security, a think tank in Washington.
This is the setting that Al Qaeda seeks to turn to its advantage. Al Qaeda in Yemen came to prominence in 2000 with the bombing of the USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden that killed 17 American sailors. Largely ignored since, Al Qaeda in Yemen now has about 1,000 operatives, say Yemeni officials.
Its failed attempt to use a suicide bomber to assassinate the head of counterterrorism of the Saudi royal family in August 2009, combined with the failure of the Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Flight 253, suggests an ineffective organization. Yet AQAP presents a nascent threat as it reaches to make an impact outside the region.
Nearly half the detainees remaining in Guantánamo Bay are from Yemen. Some reports suggest Yemenis already released were behind the Christmas Day bombing attempt. For this reason, Obama will confront a problem in trying to close Guantánamo.