Are American troops heading to Yemen? No…

…said Gen. David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command, for CNN. But what to do in Yemen?

Questions:

1. Yemen is mentioned in connection with terrorism for more than a decade but yet the focus on the country is only when something happens. Wasn’t the problem of Yemen neglected by the US? If yes, what was the reason?

2. Is there a way how to help Yemen to leave a path of failed state turning to terrorist safe-haven? Can this be achieved by military means or would that lead to even bigger chaos and strenghten the position of extremists in Yemen?

3. Among the states which have problems with terrorism, is Yemen specific somehow? What does the country has in common with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Somalia etc and in what it differs?

Answers:

Lars Berger, Lecturer in Politics and Contemporary History of the Middle East and part of successful MA programme in Terrorism and Security Studies at University of Salford

1. U.S. commentators and authorities have been mentioning Yemen as a potential new safe haven for al Qaeda for quite some time. What we are witnessing now is simply to continuation of a pattern we witnessed since the early 1990s. When things got problematic for al Qaeda they moved to Sudan, from there back to Afghanistan. With the increasing pressure on them by the U.S. and Pakistani forces it is only natural that they look for other safe havens. In the case of Yemen the situation has been exacerbated by the successful counterterrorism measures undertaken by Saudi Arabia. We have to remember that al Qaida on the Arab peninsula which now claimed responsibility for the Christmas plot only narrowly failed to kill the Saudi counterterrorism chief last spring when a bomb which the suicide bomber was carrying in his rectum failed to explode properly. U.S. authorities should therefore have been warned about al Qaeda’s creativity with regard to causing terror.

2. Everybody is aware of the fact that military means alone cannot achieve victory over terrorism, if that is possible at all. That is why British PM Gordon Brown has called for international conference in Yemen. We have to keep in mind, however, that simply increasing foreign aid does not help either. We have to make sure that it does not end up in the pockets of corrupt politicians but leads to real progress in the lives of people, including in particular education and job creation.

3. It share with other so called failing states a relatively weak central authority which has problems controlling the country. That is why al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula relocated there from Saudi Arabia where it was under severe pressure. It shares with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan the fact that it is led by a political elite which has in the past been reluctant to put pressure on radical Islamists which are sometimes viewed even in a favourable light. What could work to the West’s favour in the case of Yemen as well is that the local tribes do not like foreigners whether they are Americans or members of al Qaeda. If the West and the Yemeni government play it right they might be able to rely on Yemeni tribes to undermine the al Qaeda presence in the country.

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