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Quick Facts: Yemen, a Dilemma for US

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TEHRAN, March 24 (ICANA) – For two years, the Obama administration has had a relationship of convenience with Yemen: The U.S. kept the Yemeni government armed and flush with cash. In return, Yemen's leaders helped fight al-Qaeda or, as often, looked the other way while the U.S. did.
Thursday, March 24, 2011 1:32:58 PM
Quick Facts: Yemen, a Dilemma for US

Of all the uprisings and protests that have swept the Middle East this year, none is more likely than Yemen's to have immediate damaging effects on U.S. counterterrorism. Yemen is home to al-Qaeda's most active franchise and, as President Ali Abdullah Saleh's government crumbles, so does Washington's influence there.

Saleh's 32-year hold on power has weakened during street protests over the past month. Several foreign diplomats have turned against him. On Monday, three senior army commanders joined a protest movement calling for his ouster, and as rival tanks rolled through the streets of the capital, current and former government officials and analysts said Saleh's days appeared to be numbered. AP

In September 2010, the U.S. military's Central Command proposed pumping as much as $1.2 billion over five years into building up Yemen's security forces, a major investment in a shaky government, in a sign of Washington's fears of al Qaeda's growing foothold on the Arabian Peninsula. WSJ

The president of Yemen secretly offered U.S. forces unrestricted access to his territory to conduct unilateral strikes against al-Qaeda terrorist targets, the leaked U.S. embassy cables revealed in December 2010. Guardian

However, most Yemenis consider the group a myth, or a ploy by their president to squeeze the West for aid money and punish his domestic opponents. Instead, they believe, the violence is "because of the regime and the lack of stability and the internal struggles."

Saleh's grip on this volatile Arabian Peninsula nation is unraveling after weeks of bloodshed and street protests that have led to the defection of five top army commanders and dozens of government officials. LA Times

Popular protests in Yemen

Anti-government protests have persisted in Yemen for nearly two months now but things seem to be reaching a tipping point. Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets to call for the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, after government forces opened fire on protesters on Friday.

And it appears that sections of the military now support them. The country faces an anxious wait to see if President Saleh steps aside peacefully or attempts to use the military to tighten his grip.

Yemen's parliament has approved a law imposing a state of emergency in the country amid protest-related violence.

Al-Qaeda in Yemen

According to the United States, the group, known as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, was behind the attempted bombings of U.S. cargo planes last fall and a passenger jet on Christmas 2009. Star Telegram

The Obama administration responded by stepping up airstrikes in Yemen and urging Saleh to carry out raids based on U.S. intelligence. Aid to Yemen more than doubled. Star Telegram

"In the counterterrorism area, it will be a great loss," said Wayne White, a former senior State Department intelligence analyst. Star Telegram

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said on March 22 that he is worried that prolonged political upheaval would distract Yemeni officials from counter-terrorism efforts: "Instability and diversion of attention from [al-Qaeda] are my primary source of concern." LA Times

Yemen's people say al-Qaeda is a myth

However, most Yemenis consider the group a myth, or a ploy by their president to squeeze the West for aid money and punish his domestic opponents.

"What is al-Qaeda? The truth is there is no al-Qaeda," said Lutfi Muhammad, a weary-looking unemployed 50-year-old walking through this city's tumultuous Tahrir Square. Instead, he said, the violence is "because of the regime and the lack of stability and the internal struggles."

The Yemeni authorities have long paid tribal leaders to fight domestic enemies, or even other tribes that were causing trouble for the government. That policy has helped foster a culture of blackmail: some tribal figures promote violence, whether through jihadists or mere criminals, and then offer to quell it in exchange for cash.

"Al-Qaeda (sic) literally 'the database,' was originally the computer file of the thousands of mujahedeen who were recruited and trained with help from the CIA to defeat the Russians," admits former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, whose Foreign Office portfolio included control of British Intelligence Agency MI-6 and the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), in a column published by the UK Guardian newspaper.

In other words, the so-called al-Qaeda, which has been promoted by the Media Cartel as the cause of all bombings and terrorism since the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001, is simply a database of CIA trained "terrorists" (or "freedom fighters," depending on your perspective) which has become a convenient Global Boogeyman for the 21st Century.

Fall of Yemeni president a great loss for US

Saleh's grip on this volatile Arabian Peninsula nation is unraveling after weeks of bloodshed and street protests that have led to the defection of five top army commanders and dozens of government officials. LA Times

Saleh, in his latest effort to calm the rage against him, indicated on Tuesday that he would step down before his term ends in 2013. He rejected a similar proposal two weeks ago and it is unclear whether protesters and opposition members would accept the offer now, especially after government forces killed at least 50 demonstrators on Friday. LA Times

Furthermore, the challenge for the U.S. will be to persuade Yemen's next leader to continue an unpopular campaign against al Qaeda. Sheik Hamid al-Ahmar, a leading member of the opposition mentioned as a possible successor has dismissed al Qaeda in Yemen as a creation of Saleh's government. Star Telegram

Yemen strategically borders the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and Saudi Arabia. If Saleh is overthrown, civil wars could erupt in both the north and south, the Saudis would be rattled and possibly intervene militarily, and the U.S. would be dealt a major setback in containing al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an entrenched terrorist affiliate. LA Times

US has no substitute for Saleh

Despite the recent push, the U.S. still has little clarity about what the Yemeni government would look like without Saleh. AP

For years, the U.S. knew it could influence Yemen by influencing Saleh and those close to him. Because the government there is notoriously secretive, and influence is traded among tribal and tribal leaders, the U.S. has struggled to understand the world behind Saleh's leadership. AP

"I don't think we know who runs Yemen and what they think," said Christopher Boucek, a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who briefs government officials and recently testified before Congress about Yemen. "I don't think we know very much about who they are, how they're connected to each other, what their family relationships are." AP

Earlier this month, the Congressional Research Service produced a 48-page analysis for lawmakers on the situation in Yemen. The question of who might replace Saleh was among the first topics. But the research paper devoted just two paragraphs to it, mostly speculation. AP

"Currently, there is no real consensus alternative to President Saleh," researchers wrote. AP

WikiLeaks cables: Yemen offered US 'open door' to attack 'al-Qaeda' on its soil

The president of Yemen secretly offered U.S. forces unrestricted access to his territory to conduct unilateral strikes against al-Qaeda terrorist targets, the leaked U.S. embassy cables revealed in December 2010. Guardian

In a move that risked outraging local and Arab opinion, Ali Abdullah Saleh told Barack Obama's deputy national security adviser, John Brennan, in September 2009: "I have given you an open door on terrorism. So I am not responsible," according to a secret dispatch back to Washington. Guardian

The cables exposed for the first time the true scale of America's covert military involvement in the Arab world's poorest nation amid deep concern in Washington that it has become the haven for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (Aqap). Guardian

While Saleh's government publicly insists its own forces are responsible for counter-terrorism operations, the cables detail how the president struck a secret deal to allow the U.S. to carry out cruise missile attacks on Aqap targets. Guardian

US military aid to Yemen

In September 2010, the U.S. military's Central Command proposed pumping as much as $1.2 billion over five years into building up Yemen's security forces, a major investment in a shaky government, in a sign of Washington's fears of al Qaeda's growing foothold on the Arabian Peninsula. WSJ

U.S. officials said Central Command originally floated the idea of a bigger, $1.6 billion package for Yemen, but scaled it back after objections from the State Department and some in the Pentagon. WSJ

Aid to Yemen under the U.S. government's main counterterrorism program has grown from less than $5 million in fiscal 2006 to more than $155 million in fiscal 2010, the Pentagon said. WSJ

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Watch said March 19 that the United States should "immediately" suspend military aid to Yemen until President Ali Abdullah Saleh stops attacking anti-government protesters and prosecutes those responsible. AFP

Washington has provided "more than $300 million in military and security aid to Yemen in the past five years," the New York-based group said. AFP

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