On Saturday Yemeni army forces killed 18 'terrorists' in Zinjibar, the capital of the southern Abyan province, and another three in Lawdar, a second provincial city, according to Reuters). In a text message from the Yemeni Defense Ministry, officials said that the army had also destroyed a weapons and ammunition cache in Zinjibar.
Yemeni President Saleh sustained serious burns and shrapnel injuries in an attack on his presidential complex in Sanaa on June 3. Saleh was transported to Saudi Arabia and is "in stable condition and recovering," the Yemen's ambassador to Britain told Reuters. But, according to an informed source, identified by Agence-France Presse as a Yemeni expatriate in Riyadh, the health of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh was 'bad.' (Source: Al Arabiya).
Colonel mustard in the library with the candlestick
While the government has blamed the al-Ahmar tribe for the attack, Al Jazeera reports that some residents in Sanaa suspect that the raid could actually be orchestrated by the president himself.
Ibrahim Sharqieh, Deputy Director of the Brookings Doha Center said in an interview with Canadian National Television that:
[T]he strongest story is that the tribal forces, which have been clashing with the government forces for the past couple of days, are responsible for the attack. However, the tribal leader of the biggest tribe, Al-Ahmar, has announced today that they are not responsible for the attack, that they did not attack the presidential palace as many have said. So it's really hard to say. We know there are other troops that defected on their own and that some of them might have done that on their own. Others have said that Mohsen al-Ahmar, the general, was probably involved, but these are all speculations. One thing that we know for sure is that protestors in the main square in Sanaa are committed to the non-violent protests in the protest against the regime. (Source: Brookings Institute)
On Saturday, a Senior Yemeni official told the Global Post that the "FBI is aiding Yemeni law enforcement in their investigation in the attack on the presidential compound. The FBI team arrived in Sanaa last Wednesday." "[The FBI] are concerned about how the attack was carried out. Everyone is a suspect," the Yemeni official said. The official added that the FBI team is expected to complete its investigation by the end of the week.
Aid, Intel, Al Qaeda, and the FBI
The FBI's involvement came at the request of the Yemeni government, and follows a traditional pattern of Saleh using US interests in Al Qaeda and the 'Global War on Terror' as a means of shoring up aid, weapons, and Intel in his battle against intranational conflicts that predate the civil youth protests that began in late January.
The US Congress approved $58.4 million in aid to Yemen in fiscal year 2010. That same year, the US Defense Department provided Yemen's security forces with $150 million worth of training and equipment. In 2011, the Obama Administration requested $106 million in U.S. economic and military assistance to Yemen. (Source: March 2011 Congressional Research Report).
As Yemeni tweeter, @alguneid , remarked, it's a win, win scenario for the powerful: "Manipulate the USA for more support and aid, while the USA administration shows the public that it is tough on security. Good for votes and popularity rating."
The request for FBI involvement follows on the heels of , assistant for US homeland security and counterterrorism, John Brennan's, June 3 dispatch to the Persian Gulf, the same day at the attack on the Yemini presidential palace. Brennan traveled onward to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for talks with officials there about Yemen.
The Yemeni official, cited in the Global Post report, "denied that the Yemeni government believed Al Qaeda had infiltrated the Yemeni government or security apparatus, emphasizing that the government simply wanted the aid of the FBI's expertise and resources in the investigation."
Al Qaeda to base, 'The NSA are dummies.'
On June 2, Al Qaeda's media arm, As-Sahab, published a new video on the Internet. According to Stratfor analysis, the "video was the Al Qaeda core's latest attempt to encourage grassroots jihadists to undertake lone-wolf operations in the West, a recurrent theme in jihadist messages since late 2009."
In earlier days, the message of Islamist militants like Abdullah Azzam was 'Come, join the caravan.' This message suggested that militants who answered the call would be trained, equipped and put into the field of battle under competent commanders. It was a message of strength and confidence -- and a message that stands in stark contrast to As-Sahab's current message of 'Don't come and join us, it is too dangerous -- conduct attacks on your own instead.' The very call to leaderless resistance is an admission of defeat.
CIA was there first, in a big way
According to the Global Post, the FBI's arrival follows a large escalation of US presence in the region with a "covert military campaign against Al Qaeda cells in the southern Yemeni governorate of Abyan." The same report states that the "United States has been using airstrikes and unmanned drone attacks in its attempt to kill the American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, the leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and other top Al Qaeda members based in Yemen.
A November 2010 Washington Post reports, "U.S. officials described a major buildup of intelligence and lethal assets already underway, including the arrival of additional CIA teams and up to 100 Special Operations force trainers, and the deployment of sophisticated surveillance and electronic eavesdropping systems operated by spy services including the National Security Agency.
According to a March 2011 Congressional Research Report by Jeremy Sacks:
The U.S. military historically has maintained only a limited presence in Yemen, and as such, U.S. intelligence agencies may have limited knowledge of the local terrain and may need time before they are able to effectively employ all assets to their maximum capacity. In December 2010, Yemeni security officials said that they would establish provincial anti-terrorism units. The announcement came a day after John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, reportedly called President Saleh to stress the need for more Yemeni counterterrorism cooperation against AQAP.
But far back as the Fall of 2009, "a select group of American officials met with Saleh and showed him irrefutable evidence that Al Qaeda was aiming at him and his relatives, who dominate Yemen's military and intelligence services. That seems to have abruptly changed Saleh's attitude, American diplomats told me. The Yemenis began to mount more aggressive ground raids on Al Qaeda targets, in coordination with the airstrikes that began in December, according to a 2009 report in the New York Times.
US Counter Terrorism Policy in Yemen = GTMO + Drones + Tyrant Aid
The US policy towards Yemen ostensibly centers on counter-terrorism. Its operational application in diplomatic relations with Yemen concerns itself with GTMO detainees and drones in a Global War on Terror.
Yemeni detainees, "89 in total -- make up over half of the 172 prisoners still held" at the torture camp. In an WL Central interview with former detainee Omar Deghayes, Deghayes said, "It is very sad because...there are very many of the Yemenis. Even the Americans think they are insignificant. Even according to their standards... and they are not people who are important for interrogation." Some of them held for up to seven years despite the fact that they have been cleared for release, ">according the Andy Worthington:
On the one hand, this involves the US government endorsing guilt by nationality, and being content to tar the whole of Yemen as a terrorist nation that cannot be trusted with looking after prisoners released from Guantánamo, and on the other it involves supporters of Guantánamo telling deliberate lies about the Yemenis, by claiming that released Yemenis have "returned to the battlefield" in significant numbers, when only two examples have been reported -- one who was subsequently killed in an airstrike, and another whosurrendered to the Yemeni authorities. (Source: Andy Worthington).
The irony, Worthington continues, is that the "majority of the alleged recidivists in the Gulf -- around a dozen ex-prisoners -- are Saudis, released by President Bush against the advice of his own intelligence agencies, who identified them as a threat. These men passed through the rehabilitation program but then some of them crossed the border into Yemen to join Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a small terrorist cell inspired by Osama bin Laden's example."
Yemen first became an interest to US counter-terrorism policy with the 2000 Colebombing. Cable 07SANAA1989 recounts how "Frances Townsend, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, met with President [Bush] ALi Abdullah Saleh in Aden on October 22 to discuss mutual
cooperation in the War on Terror" and Jamal Al-Badawi.
Jamal al Badawi was held in Yemeni custody despite two successful escapes in April 2003 and then again in 2006. After his second escape with 22 other Al Qaeda convicts in 2006, in what many believe was an officially sanctioned prison break:
Badawi turned himself in a year later, pledged his allegiance to President Saleh, and promised to cooperate with the authorities and help locate other militants. In October 2007, soon after his return to custody, the Yemeni government reportedly released Badawi from house arrest despite vocal protestations from the Bush Administration. Yemen has refused to extradite Badawi to the United States (Article 44 of the Yemeni constitution states that a Yemeni national may not be extradited to a foreign authority), where he has been indicted in the U.S. District Court in New York on murder charges. (Source: March 2011 Congressional Research Report)
US Counter Terrorism Policy in Yemen ≠ Non-violent Protesters ≠ Reform
For the Obama administration actions speak louder than words. In February, WL Central editor Heather Marsh wrote a piece about how Obama overruled both Amnesty International and Saleh on the release of Journalist Abdul Ilah Shayi, who had been jailed after alleging US involvement in missile attack on the community of al-Ma'jalah in the Abyan area, southern Yemen, which took place on 17 December 2009 and killed 55 people, including 14 women and 21 children.
Shayi had written articles accusing the US government of involvement and had been interviewed by Al Jazeera. He was sentenced on January 18 to five years in prison by the Specialized Criminal Court in the capital Sana'a, for his purported links to al-Qa'ida. His acquaintance, Abdul Kareem al-Shami, was jailed for two years on similar charges. He "appears to have been targeted for his work uncovering information on US complicity in attacks in the country," Amnesty International has said.
Marsh writes that, "President Saleh issued a decree of pardon to Shayi, as part of the concessions he was offering to protesters. But on February 2, according to a statement from the White House, US President Barack Obama expressed his 'concern' over the proposed release and the promised release has since been ignored":
As shown in cable 09SANAA2251 the government of Yemen was lying to the Yemeni people and claiming responsibility themselves for attacks on the people which were carried out by the US. The cable complains that Saleh "appears not overly concerned about unauthorized leaks regarding the U.S. role and negative media attention to civilian deaths."
In March, Human Rights Watch urged the Obama Administration to suspend military assistance
On March 18, Human Rights Watch urged the Obama Administration to immediately suspend military assistance to Yemen until President Saleh "ends attacks on largely peaceful anti-government protesters and prosecutes those responsible." One month prior, the Obama Administration requested $115 million in military and economic assistance for Yemen for 2012.
As New York Times writer Robert Worth write about US counter-terrorism policy in Yemen, "raids and strikes" are short term tactics used by a government bureaucracy with a lot of weapons, and powerful interests, and no real expertise about Yemen. Worth writes:
The real problem was that Yemen, with its mind-boggling corruption, its multiple insurgencies, its disappearing oil and water and its deepening poverty, is sure to descend further into chaos if something does not change. Everyone has acknowledged this, including President Obama and a growing chorus of terrorism analysts. So far, the calls for action have yielded nothing. I spoke to a number of American officials in Washington and to a variety of diplomats at the embassy in Sana. They all told me the same thing: no one has a real strategy for Yemen, in part because there are so few people who have any real expertise about the country. No American diplomats travel to the provinces where Al Qaeda has found sanctuary. Even the Yemeni government has great difficulty reaching these places; often they have no idea whether airstrikes or bombing runs have hit their targets, because they dare not show up to check until days afterward.(Source: New York Times)
So, while every other entrenched interest inside Yemen and abroad is trying to co-opt the non-violent movement's revolution for their own, the US government has practically ignored it altogether.
"The parties think the youth can continue to be their weapon in the face of Saleh, but in negotiations pay no attention to them. The opposition has become part of the regime we want to bring down, and are no different than it." said Adel Saleh, an organizer with one of the youth groups active in protests demanding Saleh's departure. (Source: Reuters.)
US + Saudi - Yemen = Oil
This US policy towards Yemen may have more to do with the US commercial interests and Saudi Arabia than front facing security concerns towards Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Bab al Mandab between the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean is one of the most strategic shipping lanes in the world with 3 million barrels per day of oil, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
Quoting the Yemen Observerable 08SANAA1053 states that, "Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz said Yemen's security is "inseparable" from the Kingdom's security." The cable goes on to state that "rumors persist in Yemen that Saudis fund many of Yemen's Internal conflicts":
Saudi Arabia supported and funded royalist forces in Yemen in the 1962 revolutionary war against Egyptian-backed republicans. Again in the 1994 civil war, Saudi Arabia supported the southern secessionists against the Saleh government. "Elaph.com" reported on November 14, 2007, that King Abdullah met with Yemeni opposition figures in London, lending credence to Yemeni allegations of Saudi interference in current North-South relations. Yemeni privately-owned newspaper al-Shari' wrote that senior Saudi officials met exiled Yemeni leadership in August 2007, opining that these meetings usurped Saleh's attempts to secure meetings with the same exiled Yemenis. Al-Shari' asserted that this interference gave Saudi Arabia a degree of control over the developments in the south" (Source: 08SANAA1053)
The cable also states that Saudis are rumored to be "helping the al-Houthis in their fight against the Republic of Yemen, solidarity in counterterrorism efforts, stating "Saudi Arabia and Yemen praise their cooperation on counterterrorism, but give few details," and insight into Saudi geopolitical interests in Yemen centering on an oil pipeline:
A British diplomat based in Yemen told PolOff that Saudi Arabia had an interest to build a pipeline, wholly owned, operated and protected by Saudi Arabia, through Hadramaut to a port on the Gulf of Aden, thereby bypassing the Arabian Gulf/Persian Gulf and the straits of Hormuz. Saleh has always opposed this. The diplomat contended that Saudi Arabia, through supporting Yemeni military leadership, paying for the loyalty of shaykhs and other means, was positioning itself to ensure it would, for the right price. (Source:08SANAA1053)
Cable 09SANAA1617, states, "Removing Saleh from power in a scenario that does not involve throwing the country into complete chaos will be impossible without the support of the (currently skeptical) Saudi leadership and elements of the Yemeni military.
*This post was published originally for WL Central.