Yemen: The War On Outlaw Bikers


November 29, 2012: The U.S. has brought more intelligence and security specialists into Yemen to assist and train their Yemeni counterparts. Most American counter-terrorism assistance is still performed by U.S. forces stationed outside the country (in Saudi Arabia, other Gulf States, Djibouti across the Straits of Aden, and off shore on U.S. Navy ships). The U.S. has set up a well-guarded residential compound in the capital for over 200 advisors. This reflects the much reduced strength of al Qaeda in Yemen. But the Islamic terrorists (and tribesmen looking to kidnap a foreigner for ransom) are still active and the search goes on. That’s what the Americans are there for. The tools developed in Iraq and Afghanistan (UAVs and other recon aircraft, plus telephone and Internet taps and database tools) are being used more and more in Yemen to identify and track Islamic terrorists. The government won’t admit it but they are reluctant to capture the most dangerous terrorists because of the pervasive corruption. Terrorists with access to enough cash can bribe their way out or, in some cases, kidnap kin of the guards and threaten to kill the captives if the terrorists are not helped to escape. Finding and killing these terrorists via a UAV missile attack is preferred. For the senior government officials, this is all a matter of kill-or-be-killed. The terrorists are constantly trying to murder senior officials, and the only way to stop that is to wipe out al Qaeda. The unruly tribes can be negotiated with, al Qaeda is on a mission from God and not willing to make deals.

The government is offering the southern tribes half the seats in the upcoming constitutional conference, which will put together a new constitution that will be put to a national vote. This may not be enough. Many Yemenis in the north and south want to partition the country again, that is tempered by the realization that partition means a lot of tribal disputes that will only be resolved by constant fighting. Ending that violence was one of the reasons the country united in the 1990s. With partition there is the fear that Yemen would turn into another Somalia, and no one wants that. The numerous Somali refugees are a constant source of horror stories about the chaos and violence across the Gulf of Aden. But the Yemeni tribes are still the law in many parts of the country. Indeed, the tribes like to think of themselves as tiny countries, with a foreign policy, armed forces, and goals that conflict with the national government and neighboring tribes. The tribes are strong because the central government has always been week. That weakness arises from poverty. Yemen is the poorest country in the Arab world. While Somalis flee to Yemen, Yemenis flee to anywhere else.  The situation is getting worse. The increased violence has cut off the flow of tourists. The terrorism has been hurting the tourist trade for years now, and the open rebellion has just about killed it. Plans to invest in the economy (especially by the wealthy Gulf oil states) are delayed by the violence and rebellion.

Despite the continued unrest in the south, over 80,000 refugees from the fighting have recently returned to their homes. Al Qaeda no longer openly controls any territory, although there are some tribal areas where the government forces stay away and al Qaeda does not. Al Qaeda is now in terrorism mode, with its members spending a lot of time ensuring they remain undetected.

November 28, 2012: In the capital a car full of men in police uniforms fired on a vehicle carrying a Saudi Arabian army officer attached to the Saudi embassy. The officer was killed and al Qaeda was suspected. Many al Qaeda men in Yemen are Saudis and they have a great deal of animosity towards the security forces of their homeland (which has managed to drive al Qaeda out of the country).

Government forces continue to fight tribesmen, preventing repairs to the main oil export pipeline to a Red Sea terminal. The government has lost over $4 billion from these attacks over the last two years. Local tribesmen responsible for the attacks want more money from the government in return for peace. Negotiations have failed to settle this matter and troops have been unsuccessful as well.

November 24, 2012: Customs officials found 225 weapons accessories (including laser sights) hidden in a container of disposable diapers. Yemen has long been one of the most heavily armed states in Arabia and a major source of illegal arms throughout the region. The increased fighting in Yemen over the last two years has increased demand for weapons, and now the government is trying to put a dent in the smuggling of arms into the country.

In the north Sunni terrorists bombed a Shia (Zaidi) religious celebration (Ashura), killing three and wounding 13 more. It’s unclear if al Qaeda or local Sunni tribes (who have long feuded with Zaidi tribes) were responsible.

November 22, 2012: The government has banned all motorcycles without legal license plates and the seizure of bikes that violate any traffic laws. Motorcycles are a favorite form of transportation for terrorists and tribal rebels. The number of motorcycles has more than doubled (to 250,000) in the last two years because smugglers had an easier time bringing in untaxed bikes and selling them to terrorists with money (from criminal activities or wealthy donors) to spend on essentials, like transportation. Many of the new bikes were never registered and now the police are going after them. Because of the corruption many of the seized bikes will soon be back in use, with legal plates and all. But the seizure process will slow down the terrorists and gangs for a while.

November 19, 2012: Police arrested two al Qaeda men in a hotel in the southern port city of Aden. The two had documents and other materials with them indicating they were there to carry out attacks in the city.

November 18, 2012: In the capital a soldier was killed by a gunman riding on the back of a motorcycle.

November 16, 2012: In the southern city of Zinjibar, a suicide bomber killed himself and three members of a pro-government militia. The animosity between pro and anti-government tribes is still a major cause of violence.




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