Al Qaeda’s Nuclear Plant

May 7, 2010


Alain Pilon

All eyes are on Faisal Shahzad, the man charged with the attempted bombing in Times Square on Saturday.

But perhaps we ought to be concerned a bit less with Mr. Shahzad, a failed terrorist now in custody, and significantly more with Sharif Mobley – a New Jersey native, a former high school wrestler and, until shortly before he moved to Yemen to allegedly join Al Qaeda, a maintenance worker at five nuclear power plants along the East Coast.

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Yemen’s al Qaeda calls for jihad in region: report

February 9, 2010

DUBAI (Reuters) – The Yemen-based wing of al Qaeda called on Muslims in the Arabian Peninsula to wage jihad, or holy war, against Christians and Jews in the region.

“The Christians, the Jews, and the treacherous apostate rulers have pounced on you…you have no other way out from this plight other than to wage jihad,” the wing’s deputy leader, Saeed al-Shehri, a former Saudi inmate at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, said in an audio tape posted on a website often used by Islamist groups.

Shehri was one of 30 al Qaeda members that Yemen claimed to have killed in an air strike in December but this was later denied by the global militant network.

“We advise you, our people in the Peninsula, to prepare and carry your weapons and to defend your religion and yourselves and to join your mujahideen brothers,” he said.

Shehri said the Yemen-based wing’s failed bomb attack on a U.S. bound plane in December had been carried out in coordination with network leader Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden claimed responsibility for the attack in January, weeks after the al Qaeda in Yemen first said it was behind the operation.

Shehri said a conference convened in London last month where high-level officials discussed how to stabilize Yemen showed there was an ideological war being waged against Muslims in Yemen by the West.

Shehri said U.S. forces had killed Yemeni women and children with what he termed “espionage planes,” an apparent reference to unmanned drones.

Yemen has said it would not allow direct foreign military intervention in its fight against al Qaeda, which could play into the hands of the militants.

Shehri also addressed his call for jihad to a number of Yemeni tribes, including to the sheikhs of the “Houtha,” in what appeared to be a reference to the northern Shi’ite rebels known as the Houthis.

Yemen has been fighting a northern rebellion from a minority Shi’ite sect since 2004 and is also struggling with a secessionist movement in the south.

(Reporting by Raissa Kasolowsky and Andrew Hammond; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Clear views from the Afghan summit

February 1, 2010

London’s conference on Afghanistan concentrated minds, but did not answer the vital question: will the new strategy work?

Simon Tisdall

If nothing else, the London conference on Afghanistan concentrated minds. It defined the parameters of success and failure. It went some way towards charting a co-operative path out of the morass after eight years of often directionless drift. It dangled the prospect of a longed-for peace. But it provided no answer to the only question that really matters: will the new strategy work?

The war’s western principals have now made clear how they plan to proceed and roughly how long they think it will take. The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, no great democrat but a great political survivor, completed his latest rehabilitation. The key regional player, Pakistan, renewed its pro-western vows just as divorce beckoned.

But Taliban leaders looking down from their Hindu Kush fastnesses stuck stubbornly to the old script. “Invading forces” must withdraw before there could be any talk of talks, they said.

Today’s conference was a “waste of time”. And offers to rehabilitate Talib foot soldiers were an infidel “trick”.

Important things changed in London nonetheless. Karzai’s prominent appeal to Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, presumably agreed in advance, for guidance and assistance for the new peace and reintegration programme was a sharp move. Potential Saudi leverage over the militants, going back to the Soviet invasion, is unmatched.

As recent events in Yemen show, the old Saudi posture of standing back, cashing the west’s oil receipts, and indulging Wahhabi fantasies of an untrammelled, conservative Islam is no longer affordable. The London message to all parties – the need to commit – seems to have been heard at last.

Pakistan, too, is back onside after a difficult year politically and rifts with the Obama administration.

Pakistan’s relations with Kabul are also much improved. Islamabad seems to belatedly recognise that its aim of curbing Indian influence in Afghanistan is best served by supporting the western-backed government, especially given the prospect, post-London, of power-sharing with Taliban elements friendly to, or schooled by, Pakistan.

Interviewed before the conference,the foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, said Pakistan was ready and able to mediate any future talks with the Taliban. His offer has taken on added significance after it emerged that some elements of the Taliban held secret talks with a UN special envoy this month. This increased engagement by regional countries signals acceptance of the British argument that Afghanistan poses regional problems requiring collective, self-generated regional answers.

The regional approach, coupled with the emphasis on Afghan self-reliance in security matters, a progressive reconciliation and reintegration process, and ongoing financial, developmental and institutional assistance, is the way Britain and the US hope finally, and in the not too distant future, to extract their legions. Like past empires, they have learned the hard way that nobody wins in Afghanistan. London confirmed the best they now hope for is an orderly and honourable retreat, scattering alms as they leave.

Yet to succeed, even this limited, stripped-down objective must negotiate a string of booby-traps both numerous and daunting, such as endemic corruption. Karzai’s suggestion today that it may be 15 years before Afghanistan’s security forces achieve reliable self-sufficiency seems more realistic than the more ambitious transitiontargets touted by Gordon Brown.

In the regional context, India’s refusal or inability to respond substantively to efforts to reboot its peace process with Pakistan is deeply troubling for western policy-makers. Another Mumbai-style terrorist attack, blamed on Pakistan-based militants, would spark “limited war” between the two, most probably in Kashmir, a well-placed diplomat predicted. That could spell disaster for the Afghan strategy. Yet it seems to some that India is waiting for the bombers to strike again.

Most tendentious of all is the ­dazzling assumption, propagated by Brown today and Barack Obama in his state of the union address, that the Afghan troop surge will work. Nothing in the past two years, a time of significant Taliban advances, justifies any such unqualified conclusion. It’s a live hope, not a dead certainty. Because Afghanistan is different, there can be absolutely no guarantee of success. Who’s saying that? General David Petraeus, architect of the original Iraq surge, that’s who. And he should know.

Violence, fear and confusion: welcome to the Horn of Africa

January 11, 2010

Peter Beaumont

In Yemen, Somalia and beyond, the lawless, strife-torn region has provided disturbing evidence that its myriad problems cannot be ignored – and that the west must see the connections between them all

It looked like many of the dhows that sail the Gulf of Aden, a nameless boat identifiable only by its registration number – 11S2. This dhow, however, was not carrying fish, or even engaged in the lethal people smuggling trade conducted across these waters.

Tracked by Yemeni intelligence officials, it was laden with a quite different cargo that had been loaded at Hes Bes on Somalia‘s arid coastline.

When it was boarded late last year by Yemeni coastguards, the ship’s captain and his crew of 12 were discovered to be ferrying arms into a country already awash with weapons. About 60 million handguns, at the last count, arm a population of 21 million people in Yemen. The arms traffic is hardly one-way. Indeed, Yemeni ships are more often smuggling arms in the opposite direction, to fuel the terrible conflict in Mogadishu and south central Somalia.

The capture of the ship was a small event in the scheme of things, but an illustrative one. The Horn of Africa retains the potential to be one of the continent’s most explosive regions, having suffered some of Africa’s longest and most bitter conflicts during the past century. “The problem with this region as a whole,” says Richard Dowden, director of the Royal African Society, “is that you cannot talk about Ethiopia without talking about Eritrea and Somalia. You can’t talk about Sudan without mentioning Egypt.” Dowden is convinced too that a failure to understand the nature of the relationships between the various neighbours by other countries – not least the US and Britain – has contributed to the difficulties in the area. With Yemen, just across the Gulf of Aden, added to the mix, the area’s multi-layered security, economic and political problems appear so interconnected at so many levels as to seem irresolvable at a local one alone.

This region has left its mark on the international consciousness over the past two decades for all the wrong reasons: war, famine and massive displacement of civilian populations.

The most potent images, inevitably, are of disasters that struck westerners rather than the local populations: the Battle of Mogadishu that saw dead US servicemen dragged through the city’s streets; the 2000 attack on the USS Cole by al-Qaida in the Yemeni port of Aden that killed 17 American sailors, and the kidnapping of western ships and tourists by pirates off Somalia’s coast. Then there are the connections to the failed Christmas Day plane-bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who is believed to have received training and instruction from al-Qaida in Yemen.

The profundity of the region’s problems has seen it defined as one of the two anchors of the so-called “arc of crisis” – the locus of religious, economic and political faultlines which extends in a broad sweep through the Middle East, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, terminating in India.

Yet the complexity of the relationships between the states that make up the area remains the least examined and least understood contributor to that arc.

Last week, it was the turn of the prime minister of Somalia’s beleaguered Transitional Federal Government, Omar Sharmarke, to dramatise what many see as the shortcomings of western policy towards the region – a tendency to ignore the potential fallout from and consequences of external intervention.

Responding to the US offer to help Yemen in its fight against al-Qaida – and Gordon Brown’s move to convene a summit on the issue – Sharmarke issued a warning. He said the sudden upsurge of interest after Abdulmutallab was linked to Yemeni-based extremists would only displace Yemen’s problem to Somalia and other parts of Africa.

“Gordon Brown has rushed to call an emergency summit on Yemen,” said Sharmarke, “but it must be understood that the problem will simply displace to Somalia unless there is corresponding support here. We call on Mr Brown to ensure that the summit agreed for the end of this January considers Somalia and Yemen jointly, and that resources are deployed immediately to assist our efforts against this scourge.

“Al-Qaida and their affiliates such as al-Shabaab [the Somali Islamist militia] are simply making sure that whilst Yemen is the subject of increased western attention and Somalia receives only empty gestures, they seize the opportunity to secure new supply routes and movement corridors for a move deeper into Africa.”

Western preoccupations have not only been driven by the alleged links between Abdulmutallab and the radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. There are also reports that fighters from Afghanistan have relocated recently to Somalia and Yemen. Yemen is also home to thousands of former mujahideen who fought in Afghanistan against the Soviets.

But while the increased presence of al-Qaida and its proxies in both Yemen and Somalia are the inevitable focus of concern, there are other more worrying dynamics at work – all of them with the potential to cause widespread violence.

Three key externally sponsored peace processes in the region appear to be either in danger of unravelling, or not worth the paper they are written on.

The most dangerous situation for now is in Somalia, where relative stability is confined to the autonomous Puntland and Somaliland regions. There, the feeble stop-start peace process of the past decade which created a Transitional National Government – torpedoed by Ethiopian interference – and then the present Transitional Federal Government, installed by force with the help of the same state, has hardly solved the country’s problems; in fact it appears to have exacerbated them.

The involvement of the US in approving Ethiopia’s disastrous intervention encouraged the rise of the brutal al-Shabaab militia, which has been backed by Ethiopia’s enemy Eritrea, and armed with weapons smuggled from Yemen. It is precisely this competition between Ethiopia and Eritrea that has been one of the most dangerous conflict accelerators in the Horn in the past five years. While the political elites on both sides were once allies in the battle against Ethiopia’s Marxist regime of president Mengistu Haile Mariam – who was toppled in 1991 – the “civil divorce” that subsequently permitted Eritrea’s secession turned into conflict over a border dispute in 1998.

While that war ended in 2000 with the Algiers Agreement – which saw the two countries agree to binding arbitration over the demarcation of the border – the mechanisms of arbitration failed when Ethiopia refused to recognise the new border. The result – driven by a mutual loathing that has seen policy dictated by the credo of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” – has been a proxy conflict in Somalia which has seen Eritrea – a secular state – back the al-Qaida-allied al-Shabaab and Ethiopia, the Transitional Government.

A final area of risk has been produced by the slow corrosion of the US-brokered comprehensive peace agreement which ended the second Sudanese war between the mainly Muslim north and Christian-Animist south. That agreement began unravelling at the end of 2007. Tensions have been exacerbated by plans in the south to hold a referendum next year on full independence – a vote Khartoum has warned could lead to all-out war.

In the past year alone, according to a report released last week by aid groups, 2,500 people have been killed in the south and more than 350,000 have fled amid renewed ethnic clashes. Violence flared again last week when 140 villagers were killed in a cattle raid.

Meanwhile in Yemen, a slow disintegration is taking place of a government faced with insurgencies in the north and south – the latter associated by the government with al-Qaida.

Dowden is worried that the same tactics employed in the past by the west – largely without success – are now being used again without thought for the lessons of history. “I believe that grave mistakes are being repeated right now,” he said. On the question of Ethiopia and Somalia, he believes the west’s tacit approval of Ethiopia’s intervention to counter the rise of the Islamic Courts Union – one of whose militias was al-Shabaab – failed to appreciate the enmity between Somalians and Ethiopians. “It showed an unbelievable lack of knowledge when all anyone had to do was ask the question: how will the neighbours feel?”

The answer to that question has had baleful consequences for Yemen and Somalia. Abdul Ghani al-Aryani, an independent political analyst based in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, is increasingly fearful that the Yemeni state may struggle to survive. “Thousands of Somali refugees have been arriving on Yemen’s coastline,” he said. “It is open to them. No one knows how many are associated with al-Shabaab and al-Qaida, but there is evidence that some of them are. We know too that fighters who were with al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan have returned in recent months to both Somalia and Yemen.”

If there are, as al-Aryani suspects, links between al-Qaida groups and proxies in the two countries, he contends that the mutual destabilisation has been driven in recent years by the Yemeni government – not least from the involvement of powerful figures in the arms trade. The same weapons, it would now appear, that are coming back into Yemen to supply a separatist Shia conflict in the north and a second insurgency tied to al-Qaida-linked tribal leaders in the south. Echoing Dowden’s concerns, al-Aryani is concerned that in a country with strong anti-western feelings, unpopular outside intervention, including US involvement in an airstrike before Christmas, can only inflame the problems.

It is a view endorsed by Roger Middleton, who co-ordinates the Horn of Africa Group at the Chatham House thinktank. Middleton believes that a combination of ignoring endemic problems – as described by prime minister Sharmarke – and ill-considered interventions, have contributed to the dangerous cocktail. “If you look at Somalia, for instance, the lesson to the international community is if you ignore these place you do not know what is going to happen. And a policy of intervention can be dangerous.

“You could argue that the US intervention in the early 1990s fuelled the growth of warlordism and that the Ethiopian intervention fuelled the growth of al-Shabaab.” But if the problems of the Horn and Yemen are marked by their similarities they are also distinguished by crucial differences.

Patrick Smith, editor of Africa Confidential, sees a number of common threads, but warns against “lumping” the region’s states together despite the way in which individual agendas appear to collide. “All the players have very different public personas and agendas, although many of them feed each other. Is there a centre? I am not sure.”

One thing most analysts do agree on, is the risk. Ginny Hill, who runs Chatham House’s Yemen Forum, believes future instability in Yemen could expand a lawless zone from northern Kenya, through Somalia and the Gulf of Aden, to Saudi Arabia. “People are worried about the transit of Islamist radicals, but the real story is arms. If you can find a way of tackling the arms trade you could improve governance in Yemen and reduce the potential for further conflict in Somalia. It also needs to be recognised that the Gulf of Aden itself is a vector for instability.” The Yemeni coastguards who intercepted dhow 11S2, stuffed with guns, would doubtless agree.

Luck must go

January 5, 2010

Zafar Hilaly

India has also commenced the process of taking on board Kashmiri groups fighting for independence in discussions on the future of Kashmir. These are nascent but welcome steps. Nevertheless, they are not enough. India should restart the composite dialogue process

Even the most foolish must know by now that the greater the turmoil, the higher the casualties, the more intense the indignation, the larger the media coverage, the deeper is the satisfaction that terrorists derive from their actions. And, as happens so often, an unwitting accomplice of the terrorists is their enemy. Today it is America and tomorrow perhaps India too. Only the Israelis have done better than America in antagonising an entire religion, nay civilisation.

Seeking revenge, rather than justice, the US has waged war on Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia and is about to do so in Pakistan and perhaps Yemen. In its search for a handful of terrorists, the US has destroyed countries and caused the death and dislocation of millions. Not content, Washington is preparing to wreak havoc in Pakistan. Harassed and on the run, Al Qaeda terrorists are the quarry, and so is the leadership of the Taliban – an assortment of hitherto defeated, demoralised and unpopular antediluvian fundos that have prospered, gained respect and, to a large extent, become popular as a result of a lethal mix of American folly and Afghan xenophobia.

The misguided crusade begun by the doltish Bush against militant Islam continues under the stewardship of the opportunistic Obama. Soon America may be joined by India. The latter’s fanciful doctrines, such as ‘Cold Start’ and ‘Three Front War’, are reminiscent of Cheney’s ‘One Percent’ and the Petraeus’s ‘Surge’ theories. Spawned in the military classrooms of India’s indolent soldiers, they are being trotted out for airing as lynchpins of Indian military strategy. Presumably, the Indian establishment will indulge these military fantasies if another attack is mounted by terrorists whose provenance is traced to Pakistan. This only provides further incentive to the lashkars and jaishes, which seek to profit from the turmoil, to launch yet another attack on India. Encouraging a war that the enemy craves for is surely the height of folly.

America’s war in Afghanistan is not going well. Robert Taber summed up why America will lose in Afghanistan, “The guerrilla fights the war of the flea, and his military enemy suffers the dog’s disadvantages: too much to defend, too small, ubiquitous, and agile an enemy to come to grips with.” The same fate awaits an Indian incursion into Pakistan. At best, Pakistan may be destroyed but never defeated. The true war would only begin once the fighting is over. Indian gains on the battlefield will be lost in the blood lust that would ensue as entire religions and populations collide. And this would happen even if a nuclear conflict is avoided.

The US and India would do better to heed to the desire of their respective populations which, in the case of the former, shows a steady erosion of support for the war in Afghanistan and a decisive shift in favour of an American withdrawal and in case of the latter, was revealed by what a recent poll conducted by two media houses of India and Pakistan discovered. Only a tiny minority, 17 percent in India and 8 percent in Pakistan, it discovered, are opposed to the idea of consigning their hostility to the dustbin of history. An overwhelming 66 percent of those polled in India and 72 percent in Pakistan said that they desire a peaceful relationship between the two countries.

These encouraging results were supported by the observations of an eminent Indian doctor holidaying in Indonesia whose contacts with most segments of Indian society are intense. “Indians do not buy their government’s line that the regime in Pakistan or the people were involved in the attack on Mumbai. They favour greater people-to-people contacts and are appalled at what the public in Pakistan were being subjected to at the hands of the terrorists. They genuinely wish that Pakistan is able to tide over the crisis and defeat terrorism. They feel that India must help where it can,” he wrote.

Of course, the next al Qaeda sortie from Pakistan may drown such friendly sentiments, at least that is what the terrorists count on. Manmohan Singh, who has dragged his feet in engaging with Pakistan after Mumbai, may find himself compelled to let the desire for revenge replace reasoned judgment. America too may seize on the additional pressure another Mumbai would exert on Pakistan’s brittle regime to obtain Islamabad’s concurrence for American forces to fan out looking for jihadists in Pakistan. That, of course, would be a recipe for disaster. A Pakistan invaded, weakened, divided and even defeated might bring temporary relief, but eventually permanent ruin to India. There seems no reason for India to play fortune’s fool. India and Pakistan can determine their own fate although time is not on their side.

Following their unsuccessful attempt to blow up Margaret Thatcher and other members of the British Cabinet at a hotel in Britain in 1984, the Irish Republican Army called the police to say, “Today we were unlucky. But remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always.” The Nigerian student Omer Farooq Abdulmuttallab caught trying to blow up an American airliner over the Atlantic might have said the same thing, and so too other suicide bombers prevented by luck or good intelligence from reaching their targets. But luck, like chance, is a fickle friend. Eventually it runs out.

Manmohan Singh has begun what could prove to be the first step in a long process of the demilitarisation of Kashmir by withdrawing 30,000 Indian forces from Indian Kashmir. Pakistan has reciprocated by transferring an equal number of her forces to the Western border with Afghanistan. Sensibly, India has also commenced the process of taking on board Kashmiri groups fighting for independence in discussions on the future of Kashmir. These are nascent but welcome steps. Nevertheless, they are not enough. India should restart the composite dialogue process, conclude a number of agreements that await signature and begin once again the process of building confidence.

Because how far India and Pakistan are down the path of peace will determine their response to the next terrorist attack. Hopefully, negotiations would have advanced far enough to ensure that they can make their own ‘luck’ and not let the terrorists do so. In fact, the object should be to banish luck as a determining factor in relations. That surely is also the mandate that their respective peoples have given to two democratically elected governments. It is not ordained that the poisonous, clinging ivy of the terrorist should smother and suffocate the tree of peace. “We may become the makers of our fate when we have ceased to pose as its prophets,” rightly said Karl Popper.

The writer is a former ambassador

Pakistan does not want arms race in the region, says Zardari

January 5, 2010

KARACHI: Pakistan is a peace-loving country that does not want an arms race in the region, President Asif Ali Zardari said on Monday.

The president made the comments while addressing a passing-out parade of the Pakistan Naval Academy (PNA). However, he said, “Our desire for peace must not be taken as a sign of weakness … our armed forces are ready to meet all challenges … our forces are ready to meet all the challenges and guard [the country] against all external and internal threats”. He also said that the country must remain prepared to face any threat to sovereignty. He said it was “our duty” to fight external and internal enemies disrupting country’s peace and progress. Zardari also said that the Pakistan People’s Party would not disappoint the nation.

He said a strong navy was necessary to meet challenges to maritime security. He said the Pakistan Navy was following a path of self-reliance, and the construction of submarines within the country was a significant step in this context. He also called for the optimum use of the national resources. “The country is facing new challenges to its security … extremism is a big threat to our existence. We need united national commitment to fight and defeat militancy,” he said, adding that the current government had given political ownership to the war on terror.

He said the Pakistan Navy’s participation in the Coalition Maritime Campaign (CMCP) had improved country’s capability to check the smuggling of arms and drugs and human trafficking. He said the campaign had also improved Pakistan’s capacity to fight militancy.

The president urged young naval officers to dedicate themselves to their profession and guard the maritime boundaries of the country. He said he had been pleased to learn that the Pakistan Naval Academy was training cadets from Kazakhistan, Maldives, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Sudan. He said he was particularly pleased to note that women officers were also part of the pass out parade. He said women’s presence at the ceremony reflected the policy of the government to encourage women to play their role in all areas of the national progress. app

New Wars for the New Year?

January 4, 2010

by William Pfaff

While the government of Iran reels under the continuing pressures of a popular uprising, whose character is inexorably changing from protest at a rigged election, contrived by the ambitious and obscurantist Revolutionary Guard, into a challenge to the Islamic government itself, the American-backed campaign for further sanctions on the economy, and inevitably the people, continues, to punish Iran’s resistance to further international inspection of its nuclear facilities.

The Israeli threat of military intervention also has been intensified, despite the public uprising against the Tehran regime and the perfectly real possibilities of a government upheaval that could prove of great and even pacific significance in the country’s relationship with its neighbors, the U.S., and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

It should be understood that there are two reasons why Iran’s rivals would wish to attack that country. The first is to destroy a supposed nuclear threat to other countries. The other would be simply to cripple Iran as an industrial economy and major actor in the affairs of the region, as has happened to Iraq.

In this respect, supposedly official documents demonstrating the military nature of the Iranian nuclear program continue to be distributed by unidentified sources. The latest, published in the Times of London on Dec. 14, purports to show that Tehran has worked upon or is working on a “nuclear initiator,” a component in a nuclear weapon. The document is challenged by some independent intelligence sources because of its lack of an identifiable source, implausibility in the document itself, and because of its suspicious dating.

American intelligence officials say that the document “has yet to be authenticated.” Its claimed date, later than November 2007, would be consistent with an effort to undermine the conclusion that Iranian work on nuclear weapons has ceased, which was the finding of the United States intelligence community’s National Intelligence Estimate in 2007, which Washington has never repudiated.

If this were not cheer enough for New Year’s Eve 2010, we have news of a new American military intervention into an Arab country of which Americans know next to nothing, the land of the Queen of Sheba, Yemen.

The young son of a prominent Nigerian banker and former official, who studied engineering at the distinguished University College London, seems to have passed by Yemen in the peregrinations that on Christmas Eve took him to Amsterdam and Northwest Airlines Flight 253 to Detroit, which he attempted to blow up. This drew attention to Yemen, where a terrorist group has claimed that he is indeed one of their agents.

This was no surprise to American security specialists, who have had their eye on Yemen for some time, with special forces operators reportedly active in a $70 million plan to train counterterrorism forces, while unofficially assisting in certain operations against this group, which calls itself “al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.”

Sen. Joe Lieberman and other officials visited Yemen in August, and Lieberman declared that “Yemen now becomes one of the centers” of the fight against lawlessness. Gen. David H. Petraeus had been there earlier in the summer.

U.S. officials are quoted by the New York Times as saying that the country could become “al-Qaeda’s next operational and training hub, rivaling the lawless tribal areas of Pakistan,” which suggests that the American “surge” in Afghanistan may soon find a rival claim on American resources from Yemen, a country engaged in regional civil war until 1990.

That year, Arab League mediation culminated in a constitutional agreement between Yemen’s rival republics, the nationalist and Marxist People’s Democratic Republic and the nationalist and Nasserist Yemen Arab Republic, mainly identifiable as representing, respectively, northerners and southerners. Yemen also enjoys the anxious regard of its large and not particularly friendly neighbor, Saudi Arabia.

In the time of the Queen of Sheba, in the first millennium B.C., Yemen was known for its rich and prosperous trade in spices and incense. Today its exportable resources are cotton, salt, gypsum and stone. It had some oil, but this reportedly is running out. There are possibly exploitable natural gas resources. The estimated population is 24 million, with a per capita annual individual income with a purchasing power equivalent to $870.

The reliable Statesman’s Yearbook reports that Yemen possesses an estimated four firearms for every person in its population and is therefore “arguably the world’s most heavily-armed country.” The United States and Israel will be relieved to know that it is a signatory to the international nuclear non-proliferation treaty.


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