Yemen: We Take Care Of Our Own


December 8, 2010:  The massive amount of leaked American diplomatic messages (Wikileaks) made public much that was long suspected. For example, the robust arms trade in Yemen (adult men are expected to own a firearm) has made the country a marketplace for illegal arms in the region. This includes supplying weapons to Somalia and Gaza (via Sudan and Egypt). East European arms dealers have long been doing business in Yemen, and the Yemeni government is reluctant to shut down the weapons trade because of the economic and political blowback. Another revelation is that, while Yemen has accepted over a hundred million dollars from the United States to organize, train and equip counter-terror forces, the Yemeni government considered these units just an addition to the military, and freely diverted them from operations against al Qaeda, to help fight the Shia rebels in the north. The U.S. went along with this, recognizing that Yemen had multiple threats. American diplomats kept trying to explain to their bosses that the Yemenis saw al Qaeda as just one problem of many, and that Yemen could not concentrate just on fighting Islamic terrorism. Thus U.S. politicians had to be careful what they said to the American public about how American money was being used in Yemen to fight terrorism. Yemeni politicians actually enjoy this power they have over American leaders, in how much help they actually provide in the battle against al Qaeda. At the same time, Yemeni leaders like to blame foreigners for many of their problems. This is nonsense, as Yemen has long been a mess because Yemenis don't get along with each other. But Yemen has long seen Saudi Arabia behind anything that went wrong in the country, now foreign al Qaeda fanatics and American demands are seen as causing problems.

Meanwhile, Yemeni leaders resent being called a center for Islamic terrorism. The chaotic politics of Yemen means the government cannot impose its will throughout the country. Thus al Qaeda remains protected by tribes that are hospitable to Islamic radicalism, or al Qaeda cash (or a combination of the two).

The leaked documents also reveal that Saudi Arabia considers Yemen a failed state (no secret to most Yemenis, and Saudis), but is willing to whatever it takes to prop up a government down there, in order to help cut down on the smuggling, illegal migration and Islamic terrorism. The Saudis, as well as Yemen, are also concerned with Iranian support for the Shia minorities in both countries. This has broken out in war in Yemen over the last few years, and that violence continues. Yemen and Saudi Arabia both have problems with independent minded tribal leaders, but the Saudis have been far more successful coping with this (something that is invisible to most Westerners, but is a big deal in Arabia). The Saudis understand, more than most, the problem Yemen has with its unruly tribal leaders, and the gun culture that permeates all of Arabia. But this is the main reason the Yemeni military effort against al Qaeda goes so slowly. A quicker effort might weaken al Qaeda sooner, but could trigger a longer lasting battle with some of the major tribes in the south. This would antagonize the other tribes, who could see themselves as victims of such aggression.

December 7, 2010: Near the capital, police found a bomb in a car. The vehicle contained five women, and the driver was a woman. It's unclear if the women were involved with a terrorist group, or to what extent. One of the women was also carrying illegal drugs, but such pill popping is common among women in Yemen. Being a woman in Yemen is a very hard life, especially by Western standards.

December 6, 2010:  Several European countries are pressuring Yemen to do more to shut down al Qaeda bases, because these Yemeni hideouts are the source of an increasing amount of al Qaeda propaganda, sent out in a wide array of languages, to young Moslems throughout the world. Al Qaeda encourages violence, preferably attacks in non-Moslem nations. Thus France is arresting more and more illegal migrants from North Africa who admit that there effort to enter France illegally wasn't to get a job, but to carry out terror attacks.

December 2, 2010: Prominent Islamic clerics, backed by the government, have begun a campaign to displace radical Islamic ideas, with more moderate ones. This is a tough sell, as power and violence are a popular items for the young men al Qaeda goes after.

November 30, 2010:  Yemen released a suspected Islamic terrorist, held in jail for a year, in exchange for the freedom of a Saudi Arabian doctor (and head of a local hospital) who was kidnapped two days ago. Such kidnappings are a common tactic when a tribe wants to get back one of their own (arrested by the government, or held captive by another tribe). The tribes don't care if the charge is terrorism, their motto is, "we take care of our own."





Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close