Yemen: How we got here, from there

I have written more or less nothing on this site, since its launch in December 2013, about Yemen, and my previous site (some content of which is now available in the archives of this site) featured a fair amount on al Qaeda in Yemen but ended coverage in February 2011 as the Arab Spring was beginning ( — we shut down right around then by unlucky coincidence).

The reason I’ve said so little about Yemen, in contrast to say Syria (which actually has a smaller population despite its higher intensity conflict) — even as the capital has fallen, a coup has occurred, and the country has begun to fracture back into its constituent statelets — is because Yemen is extraordinarily complex, news there develops sluggishly from initial spark to result, and media coverage is often sketchy or unreliable (even wildly inaccurate). I like to talk about and learn about many issues and countries in the news, but Yemen so thoroughly stumps me so frequently I have generally opted to stay in my many other lanes and leave it for other, more knowledgeable people to analyze.

It’s also very hard to break down for casual readers. In the incisive words of someone I know, “Yemen has a coup every day. At some point you can’t tell who’s couping who.”

So, when I ran across Adam Baron’s new “Who is in charge of Yemen?” article for Al Jazeera America — an article which offers the single clearest and most concise guide I’ve yet seen on how we got here from there — I had to mention it.

Two paragraphs in particular stand out for their effective summary of the background events that led, in typically Yemeni slow-moving fashion, toward the present emergency. I’m quoting it here with only a few minor bracketed insertions for clarity of points elided or mentioned elsewhere:

The roots of the current crisis date back more than a decade before last week’s events. In June 2004 then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh dispatched government forces to arrest Hussein al-Houthi, a charismatic [Zaidi-Shia] cleric and former member of parliament. Saleh felt increasingly threatened by Houthi’s soaring popularity, due in large part to his sharp critiques of the Yemeni government’s alliance with the United States [nominally against al Qaeda], the marginalization of the his native province of Saada and the capital’s rampant corruption. He was killed along with more than a dozen followers in the rugged mountains of Marran, according to a statement the government released on Sept. 10, 2004. But his Ansar Allah movement — better known as the Houthis — soldiered on under the leadership of his younger brother, Abdul Malek al-Houthi, as Saleh’s regime waged a series of brutal wars that devastated much of northern Yemen over the past decade. The military campaign further intensified the feelings of marginalization and resentment that laid the seeds for the Houthi rebellion.

During Yemen’s Arab Spring–inspired uprising in 2011, the Houthis took advantage of the power vacuum and expanded their control over Saada. Emboldened by the lack of resistance, they soon began to face off against the Islamist Islah party, their former allies against Saleh. Islah is an opposition faction that incorporates the bulk of the Yemeni branch of the [Sunni] Muslim Brotherhood — in tribal areas between Saada and the capital. After fallout with the Houthis and as the country’s internationally mediated transition sputtered on, Islah eventually forged a new alliance with Saleh and his backers [who left the government due to the Arab Spring]. The Houthis’ success on the battlefield and astute political messaging eventually paid off big last September, when they took control of Sanaa and forced their Islah-allied adversaries to flee.

 
For the descent from the capital’s fall, several months later, into a botched coup d’état and this month’s political chaos, keep reading the full “Who is in charge of Yemen?” article.

Flag of Yemen

Flag of Yemen

AFD 67 – Wall St Goes Rent-Seeking

Latest Episode:
“AFD 67 – Wall St Goes Rent-Seeking”

Guest co-host Greg joins me to talk about Wall Street’s big plans for renters, a ruling on the NSA, and a US drone strike in Yemen.

Additional links:

– WSJ: “Blackstone Tries Bond Backed by Home-Rental Income

– AFD: “NH State Rep: Scott Brown *is* Tyranny

Note: Next Monday, December 23rd, will be posting a special bonus half-episode of two additional segments that Greg and I recorded this week. It will be released only through the website.

Heavy fighting in Yemen

Just days after President Obama said he had “no intention of sending U.S. boots on the ground” in Yemen or Somalia, US-supported and armed Saudi and Yemeni forces began heavily “cleansing” Yemeni villages of rebel forces.

Side note, added 11:57 PM US ET: I think cleansing is a surprising choice of words, especially since this is a Shia group with ethnotribal elements. So is Saudi Arabia admitting to ethnic cleansing? (Assuming this has been translated correctly.)

Two rebellions in rural, mountainous regions have grown in strength this year and pushed the Yemeni government’s attention away from terrorism and back to the rebellions, just when the United States expects the former to be a priority. Saudi Arabia, feeling threatened both by cross-border rebel attacks and by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (which has flourished in rebel-protected safe havens), launched a military offensive into Yemen in early November 2009.

Oddly, Yemen is still saying that they will not allow foreign troops into Yemen, despite the presence of Saudi Arabian troops right near Yemeni operations. The US has been sending arms and money to the Army, as well, and conducted missile strikes in mid-December on alleged al Qaeda sites. Yemen receives military training from US special forces advisers and the CIA is active in various covert or semi-cover operations there. Even before the Christmas Day bombing attempt was linked to Yemen, drawing renewed attention to the problem of terrorism there, Yemen had been (fairly successfully, if questionably) trying to cast the struggle against the rebels as part of the global war on terrorism, in an effort to secure funding.

Houthi rebels allege that the Yemeni Army has been bulldozing village houses to force rebels out. The central government of Yemen, which prematurely declared the war over in 2008, is insisting that they will wipe out the rebels once and for all.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Somehow not good enough

I still don’t understand why Republicans suddenly think that civilian court is not good enough for alleged terrorists, even though President Bush himself did that in quite a few cases and we’ve been prosecuting terrorists that way for decades now. What is especially preposterous here is that the Nigerian trust-fund terrorist case (Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab) is nearly identical to Richard Reid’s case with the December 2001 shoe-bombing, as Jon Stewart pointed out the other day. Both attempted bombings used the same kind of explosives, both made their attempts on transatlantic flights, both weren’t Arabs (or any other typically profiled race or nationality), both were stopped by passengers and subdued, and both attempts failed completely. The only difference was that Reid put the explosives in his shoe, and Abdulmutallab put them in his underwear.

Reid was convicted in US Federal Court and he’ll be in jail for quite a while. Problem solved, by the Bush Administration no less. And yet, the Republicans keep carrying on and on about how Abdulmutallab, in a virtually identical case, doesn’t deserve due process and civilian court and how we should have tortured him. He faces life in prison from his civilian indictment on six serious counts by a federal jury, but that’s somehow not good enough for Republicans.

Here’s the Republican version of reality, 2009/2010 Edition:

“We have learned the hard way that trying terrorists in federal court comes at a high price, from losing out on potentially lifesaving intelligence to compromising our sources and methods,” [Senator] Bond said. “We must treat these terrorists as what they are — not common criminals, but enemy combatants in a war.”
[…]
That theme was also amplified on Wednesday by Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina who said in a statement, “If it had been bin Laden himself on that plane, would we read him his Miranda rights and try him in civilian court?”

 
Which is to say, their reality demonstrably doesn’t match anyone else’s reality:

But several administration officials said on Wednesday that the Federal Bureau of Investigation did not initially read Mr. Abdulmutallab his Miranda rights nor provide him with a lawyer when agents interrogated him.

Law enforcement officials had concluded that because they had a planeload of eyewitnesses who could testify against Mr. Abdulmutallab, they did not need to worry about the fact that if he made any self-incriminating statements before being read his rights, they would not be admissible in court.

The White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs, has said Mr. Abdulmutallab provided “useable, actionable intelligence,” but declined to specify what it was. A law enforcement official said Mr. Abdulmutallab explained who gave him the bomb, where he received it and where he was trained to use it, among other things.

Eventually, Mr. Abdulmutallab stopped talking and asked for a lawyer, which he received about 30 hours after his arrest. It was not clear when in that timeline that the F.B.I. read him his Miranda rights.

 
The civilian court system that worked perfectly in very similar cases is somehow not good enough anymore. I wonder if it’s too soon to ask obnoxiously why Republicans hate our freedoms and the founding fathers… because that’s what they’ve been doing for several years now for us.

This post was originally published on Starboard Broadside.

New plans for Yemen

Britain has announced new joint plans with the US and Yemen and a UN proposal, all of which would go toward managing threats originating in Yemen, Somalia, and the Indian Ocean:

The British government said Sunday that Prime Minister Gordon Brown and U.S. President Barack Obama had agreed to fund a counterterrorism police unit in Yemen to tackle the rising terrorist threat from the country.

Brown’s Downing Street Office said the United Kingdom and the United States had also agreed to increase support for Yemen’s coast guard operation. Pirates operating in the waters between Somalia and Yemen have seized four ships in the last week.

Downing Street said Brown and Obama will push the U.N. Security Council to create a larger peacekeeping force for Somalia.

The British government unveiled its plans in the wake of the thwarted Christmas Day bombing of a passenger plane bound for Detroit.

 
While Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who is facing a tough election in May, has been pushing heavily in the past week for more international efforts to combat these threats, a US official made it sound like the administration might have been taken by surprise to some degree by the announcement late tonight (morning there). The US has agreed to a British-led conference on addressing radicalism in Yemen.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

US ignoring Saudi link again

Serious news about the “trust-fund terrorist” and the attempted Christmas Day bombing (NYT):

[…] the Saudi arm of Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attempted attack and said it was in retaliation for recent American-backed attacks on its members in Yemen, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks militant Islamist Web sites.

In a statement issued on jihadist forums, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula boasts the success of the “Nigerian brother” in breaking through security barriers and of its own explosives technology, SITE reported, blaming a technical fault for the low-power detonation. The group has mounted attacks within Yemen and Saudi Arabia and in 2004, captured and beheaded a 49-year-old American engineer working in Riyadh, Paul M. Johnson Jr.

Government terror experts said the Qaeda claim was apparently legitimate.

 
This announcement comes on the heels of rising rhetoric and news attention to terrorists based in Yemen. President Obama himself today implied that the US would be increasing military action in Yemen in response to this attack:

We will continue to use every element of our national power to disrupt, to dismantle and defeat the violent extremists who threaten us, whether they are from Afghanistan or Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia, or anywhere they are plotting attacks against the U.S. homeland.

 
We already have the CIA and special forces involved there. We conducted cruise missile strikes there ourselves, and we helped the Yemeni army’s attacks on terrorists. So this new bombing attempt looks like it will set in motion even more involvement.

However, this raises a more serious question about our priorities. Obama lists Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. But what about Saudi Arabia? Osama bin Laden and many of the leaders in and financiers of al Qaeda hail from Saudi Arabia. Fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers were Saudi Arabian. These connections have long been known. Now the Saudi Arabian branch of al Qaeda (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) is claiming responsibility for planning and nearly executing a large bombing in the US. Another attack plan, another Saudi link. At what point do we stop trying to solve everything with airstrikes on disorganized countries with much lower oil exports, which the group claims was the motivation here specifically, and face the facts that our oil-rich “ally” is a serious threat to our security?

Yes, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (a merger of Al Qaeda in Yemen and Al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia) includes Yemen in its sphere of operations, but they’re primarily aimed at bringing down the Saudi monarchy, so that’s their big target and Yemen is just a base of operations. However, we’ve entangled ourselves by aiding Yemen and the Saudi regime, and thus we’ve drawn the terrorists’ attention back onto the United States. I can see how there’s an argument that we don’t want Salafist radicals to seize control of the Arabian Peninsula… but it still seems like we’re just in it for the oil, which is why we continue to prop up an unjust, undemocratic, unpopular regime in Saudi Arabia, rather than pressuring the government to make reforms that would undercut the radicals. Basically, we’re taking the most expensive and most dangerous route on dealing with radicalism in the Middle East by ignoring the Saudi problem. Bombing more of Yemen will just make things worse and won’t get to the root of the problem.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

flag-of-saudi-arabia

Lieberman wants US into Yemen

Yesterday I did a post on Yemen and terrorism, and I filled it with many links to recent news stories about that topic, which had been heating up even before the failed Christmas Day airline bomber (nicknamed the “trust fund bomber” because of his affluent background) was connected to Yemen. What I wrote yesterday was

The Yemen connection, however, is most interesting to me because of how much news there has been regarding terrorist and rebel activities in Yemen over the past few months.

 
What I was thinking, but decided not to write, was that this connection and all the news about Yemeni terrorists really interested me because I wondered how soon some hawk in the US government would start demanding war with Yemen. I chose not to write it because it sounded like a conspiracy theory to me. Well, it didn’t take even a day for me to realize I wasn’t being unreasonable, even if the people making that case are being unreasonable.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-CT), chair of the Homeland Security committee in the United States Senate, and always a super-hawk who wants to bomb anything that moves, has announced his support for direct, pre-emptive action in Yemen. Somehow, he is under the impression that this would prevent us being bogged down in a war there like we are in Afghanistan… I beg to differ, but that’s actually almost beside the point when you consider that the US is already providing logistical support to the Yemeni government against terrorists and has admitted to launching two recent cruise missile strikes in Yemen.

Lieberman also seems not to have noticed the longstanding Yemeni connection to terrorism until the past few weeks because he cited this attempted bombing and the Fort Hood attacks as justification enough for pre-emptive US action now. I wonder if he remembers that the USS Cole was bombed in the Port of Aden in Yemen in 2000? Incidentally, he also cited his position as deriving from a comment by someone in the administration, which is really odd since that person should have been able to tell him about the cruise missile strikes. However, as usual, Lieberman wants to take things that much farther and get the US more openly involved on the ground. I’m not sure how he thinks that will prevent war, since that’s kind of the definition of it.

Military force and enmeshing the US in foreign conflict zones are not the solutions to everything, no matter how excited and powerful they make Joe feel. I’m tempted to label the senator “Joe the Bomber,” but the reference is almost fading out of the political landscape fortunately.

UPDATE @ 10:30 PM: Actually, it sounds like he was even later to this parade than I’d realized myself:

In the midst of two unfinished major wars, the United States has quietly opened a third, largely covert front against Al Qaeda in Yemen.

A year ago, the Central Intelligence Agency sent many field operatives with counterterrorism experience to the country, according a former top agency official. At the same time, some of the most secretive Special Operations commandos have begun training Yemeni security forces in counterterrorism tactics, senior military officers said.

The Pentagon is spending more than $70 million over the next 18 months, and using teams of Special Forces, to train and equip Yemeni military, Interior Ministry and coast guard forces, more than doubling previous military aid levels.

 
However, he does seem to have been paying attention to the covert operations there, according to the article. So this makes it sound more like he’s just warmongering as usual and seizing on the new incidents to expand US operations in Yemen.

Unfortunately, I am now thinking that the writing is on the wall for serious US involvement there. Which is what I was really worrying about with yesterday’s post.

UPDATE II @ 5:40 PM on 12/28:
See also my new post, “US ignoring Saudi link again,” now that Saudi-based al Qaeda operatives have claimed responsibility for this attempted bombing.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.