U.S. military deepens intervention in Yemen
BY DOUG NELSON In a January 7 speech laying out more aggressive “security” measures and “intelligence” procedures, President Barack Obama used the failed Christmas Day suicide bombing aboard a Detroit-bound flight to garner support for Washington’s expanded military role in Yemen and beyond. “Let’s be clear about what this moment demands,” he said. “We are at war against al-Qaeda, a far-reaching network of violence and hatred… . And we will do whatever it takes to defeat them.”
Implicit was a justification for increased spy operations worldwide as an integral part of Washington’s war drive. “It is clear that al-Qaeda increasingly seeks to recruit individuals without known terrorist affiliations not just in the Middle East, but in Africa and other places,” Obama said. “I’ve directed my national security team to develop a strategy that addresses the unique challenges posed by lone recruits.”
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, based in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, claimed responsibility for training and arming the bomber, Nigerian-born Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. In the weeks leading up to the attack, Washington had conducted air strikes and stepped-up its military operations in Yemen.
Obama alluded to increased U.S. intervention in Yemen in his December 1 speech on U.S. troop increases in Afghanistan. “Where al-Qaeda and its allies attempt to establish a foothold—whether in Somalia or Yemen or elsewhere—they must be confronted by growing pressure and strong partnerships.”
The CIA sent top operatives to Yemen last year and Washington is set to more than double its military aid there over the next year and a half.
The London Daily Telegraph reported December 13 that according to U.S. officials, Washington had dispatched Special Forces to Yemen to “improve training” of Yemeni troops in a joint campaign against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Then, on orders from Obama, the U.S. military launched missile attacks December 17 against two alleged al-Qaeda bases in an area north of Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, and in the village of al-Maajala in the southern province of Abyan. The strikes were coordinated with ground assaults by Yemeni troops to prevent survivors from escaping. Some 120 people, most of them civilians, were reportedly killed in the assault.
Forty-nine civilians, “including 23 children and 17 women” were killed in al-Maajala alone, according to a local official quoted on Iran’s Press TV. “Al-Qaeda has chosen to build its training center on land where Bedouin nomads pitch their tents and the government forces believe the nomads harbor al-Qaeda forces,” a leader of the Al-Kazam tribe said.
People in Abyan marched with flags of the former People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen) in a protest against the assault a few days later. A month earlier, in nearby Shabwa province, Yemeni forces killed five people in a demonstration backing the former south Yemeni state.
A second U.S.-backed Yemeni air and ground assault was conducted December 24 in Shabwa, a day before the failed bombing of the Northwest Airlines Detroit-bound airplane. The assault reportedly killed dozens of al-Qaeda members, including some leaders.
Washington and Sanaa are looking for another target in Yemen in preparation for a possible strike in retaliation for the attempted suicide bombing, U.S. officials told CNN January 11. The two governments have signed a military cooperation agreement, CNN reports, that allows the U.S. military to fly cruise missiles, fighter jets, and aerial drones in the country, but does not include use of U.S. ground forces.
Under the pact, Washington is to remain publicly silent about its operations and military aid there. The U.S. government has not officially divulged that it has conducted any strikes. However, U.S. officials told CNN that the Yemeni military could not have carried out the assaults without help.
Sanaa is wary of public knowledge about U.S. operations in the country given widespread anti-American sentiment that exists throughout Yemen. “Any intervention or direct action could strengthen” al-Qaeda, Rashed al-Aleemi, deputy prime minister, told a press conference January 7. “All we need from the United States is training and providing weapons.”
With a Shiite insurgency in the north and a resurgent separatist movement in the south, Sanaa has many enemies at home and is increasingly dependent on military help from Washington and the regime in Saudi Arabia.
The northern-dominated government relies on backing from a reactionary Islamist movement, which supplied U.S.-backed Mujahideen fighters to the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. These forces were welcomed as heroes on their return to Yemen and remain an integral part of the government and military apparatus.
Until recently Yemeni president Saleh has pursued a policy of deal-making with al-Qaeda as he sought help from Islamist forces against “domestic enemies of the state.” Hundreds of jailed al-Qaeda members were released on a pledge not to engage in “terrorism,” according to the Washington Post.
Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, Yemen’s foreign minister gave the New York Times the following explanation for why Sanaa recently went to war with al-Qaeda: “There was intelligence that they were targeting the British Embassy and a number of government institutions as well as private schools,” he said. “The second reason is that they have become more vocal, trying to show that hey can undertake terrorist activities in an open fashion.”