Yemen: Eyes On The Prize

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October 17, 2011: Fighting in the capital increased, at least according to the amount of gunfire and explosions heard across the city overnight. Violence in the capital has been increasing for the last few days, as armed anti-government tribesmen and army deserters grow in numbers, and join the fight. There have been over a hundred casualties in the capital in the last few days, including several dozen dead. The anti-government violence has, so far this year, left nearly a thousand dead, and over 25,000 injured. For most of the year, security forces avoided killing demonstrators. But now the anti-government activity is increasingly in the form of gunfire.  There are still a lot of demonstrations, but the security forces are increasingly trigger-happy. Many demonstrators are taking up arms and shooting back.

The demonstrations are still about establishing a true democracy, but most of the fighting, which is getting more intense each week, is between tribal coalitions seeking to control the country, and especially the oil and gas fields in the south. The tribal leaders have more gunmen than the democracy demonstrators and have local interests that trump national ones. Thus the longer this goes on, the more it will look and feel like a civil war, which may ultimately leave Yemen divided again (as it so often has been in the past.) The government supporters are fighting hard because they know that if their coalition losses control of the central government, many economic benefits will be lost as well. This is all made worse by the fact that Yemen's economic situation has been rapidly deteriorating for the last decade. This is largely because the government has done nothing to address the problems of over-population, water shortages and Khat (a narcotic plant that is chewed fresh, and is worth a lot of money in Saudi Arabia, where it is illegal.)

In the south, the government is trying to hold on to the major towns and cities. The attacks often come in the form of assassinations and suicide bombers. The strategy here is to take out the leaders of the secret police and key military units, and thus persuade subordinates to switch sides or just desert. In the last week, such attacks have killed the head of the air force, as well as several police commanders.

Tribal leaders, who have cash, and extra weapons, are recruiting. There are plenty of unemployed Yemenis to choose from, but these guys are undisciplined and often more of a general menace. The most vulnerable victim is the economy which, in the best of times, left over ten percent of the population hungry and very poor. But now that has more than doubled, and the UN is organizing a food relief effort. This will mean trying to negotiate with all manner of armed tribesmen (including some al Qaeda) for safe passage. Many of these irregular fighters will demand bribes, as will a few of the soldiers. Aid donors are increasingly unwilling to pay for bribes needed to get food to the starving.

Leaders of the al Awlaqi tribe complained that the United States was less popular with the al Awlaqi tribe because of American UAV missile attacks on tribe members who belonged to al Qaeda. This included Anwar al Awlaqi, a senior terrorist leader, his 21 year old son, and the head of public relations for al Qaeda in Arabia, plus at least half a dozen other al Qaeda members. Many tribesmen in Yemen are sympathetic to al Qaeda, and hostile to the non-Moslem world. This includes a sense of superiority and entitlement (because Islam was founded in Arabia by Arabs) that Westerners have a difficult time comprehending. But since al Qaeda is an Arab supremacy organization, many Arabs will automatically support it, even if al Qaeda terrorism hurts someone close to them.

October 14, 2011:  An American UAV missile attack hit two vehicles carrying al Qaeda members in the south. The 21 year old son of Anwar al Awlaqi (killed by a similar attack on September 30) and several senior al Qaeda men were among the nine killed.

October 13, 2011: Saudi Arabia has ordered 517 Saudi students studying in Yemeni schools, to return home. The Saudi government considers the chaos in Yemen to be bad and getting worse. Saudis in general have been warned to avoid going to, or staying in, Yemen until things settle down.

October 10, 2011: Al Qaeda in Arabia admitted that an American UAV attack had killed Anwar al Awlaqi, one of their most well-known leaders. Al Qaeda complained that al Awlaqi, as an American citizen, should not have been killed like that, and vowed revenge against America for this outrage.  Some in the West agreed with this, pointing out that while al Awlaqi was in charge of foreign terror operations, he had never been tried and found guilty of killing anyone. The al Qaeda playbook (available on the Internet) urges members to take advantage of Western attitudes towards fair play and judicial procedure. This procedure has grown enormously since World War II, and attempted to regulate ancient practices. Thus pirates are no longer considered "enemies of humanity" and subject to summary execution, nor are those who openly declare war on their country, from a foreign sanctuary, automatically subject to lethal attack. Well, actually, that last one is still a bit murky, which al Qaeda is trying to exploit.

General Ali Mohsin Al Ahmar, who has deserted Saleh, said that the 2006 elections were rigged, and that Saleh did not get the majority of the votes. Many had long suspected this.

October 8, 2011: President Saleh again pledged to step down soon, but few Yemenis believed him.

October 6, 2011: For the sixth time in ten days, the oil pipeline in the south was attacked. Oil is the main source of income for the government, and the rebellious tribes know it.

 

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