Last year, the security forces suffered 1,030 casualties, including 178 killed. This is a death rate of 255 killed per 100,000 troops per year. That's about half the rate for foreign troops in Afghanistan, and about twice the rate for American troops still in Iraq. It's the same kind of combat, lots of raids, ambushes and skirmishes. The low casualty rate is partly the result of a desire to maintain morale among the 70,000 members of the armed forces. Troops are recruited (and retained) based on their loyalty to the rulers. The government is using military aid from the United States ($67 million in 2009, $150 million in 2010) to reinforce the loyalty of the troops. This is particularly the case with the Special Forces brigade. While only containing a few percent of the army manpower, the Special Forces brigade is receiving a third of the American military aid. The U.S. wants to turn these guys into more effective terrorist hunters. American Special Forces are in Yemen (in small numbers) to supervise distribution of aid and training in the use of new equipment and weapons. The war against al Qaeda in Yemen is a slow motion affair, with neither side willing to risk a major action, for fear of losing too much.
The recent popular uprising in Tunisia has prompted several large demonstrations in the capital, protesting the fact that Yemen suffers from the same kind of corrupt and inept government recently overturned in Tunisia. Yemen's Arab neighbors fear that Yemen is on the brink of chaos, and not just because of its unpopular government. The water supply is rapidly running out because nearly half of it is now being used to grow the drug Khat, which is smuggled into Saudi Arabia, or consumed locally (and leaving much of the adult male population dazed and idle most of the day). The economy is a mess, with only four percent of the population having bank accounts and most people just getting by, or trying to get out of the country. Thus with a rapidly disappearing water supply, a growing population, a corrupt government, tribes constantly in revolt, rampant smuggling (of Africans into Yemen and drugs and other banned substances into Saudi Arabia) and little legal revenue sources for the tax collector, chaos is seen as inevitable. While Yemenis complain that their government is run by corrupt crooks, that outlaw attitude is popular throughout the country. This makes it difficult to form a new government that is not full of self-serving scoundrels.
Al Qaeda leader, radical cleric Anwar al Awlaqi, has been convicted, in absentia, by a court, and responded by calling on Yemenis to steal foreign aid and anything else the U.S. is providing to the government.
The UN is under pressure to do something about its staff demanding bribes from refugees to get documents to travel on to nations willing to accept UN administered refugees as residents. The UN employees, often local hires, pay armed tribesmen to act as enforcers to persuade the refugees to pay. Corruption among UN relief officials is common, but not something the UN likes to attract attention to.
January 18, 2011: A journalist was sentenced to five years in prison for pretending to be a journalist while working for al Qaeda (from 2008-10) to collect information and keep in touch with terrorist supporters outside the country. This sort of thing is common in many countries where al Qaeda operates.