Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Trouble in Yemen Could Give Al-Qaida New Opening

By Dina Temple-Raston

Apr 6, 2011

The protests in Yemen have counterterrorism officials in this country particularly worried. That's because Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has been a key U.S. ally in the fight against al-Qaida.

Several hundred fighters who are known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, are based in Yemen. The group, which was behind the Christmas Day bombing attempt on Northwest Flight 253, also sent printer-cartridge bombs to the U.S. on cargo planes last fall. (Saudi intelligence revealed the plot to U.S. officials before the bombs went off.)

AQAP's chief propagandist is Anwar al-Awlaki, the Internet imam who has been linked to a number of terrorist plots against the U.S. and Europe, including the shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, two years ago. U.S. National Intelligence Director James Clapper told Congress last month that AQAP is "increasingly devoted" to attacking the United States.

U.S. Ally Under Pressure

Saleh has been a key player in the battle against al-Qaida's arm in his country. He has allowed the U.S. to set up a joint military command center in Yemen that is almost exclusively focused on AQAP. He has allowed the Americans to set up a training program aimed at teaching Yemenis to fight terrorism. Hundreds of local law enforcement personnel there have been going through the training.

Saleh has also provided cover for U.S. counterterrorism operations in his country. When the WikiLeaks documents were released last year, one of the most explosive revelations was in a cable involving the relationship between Saleh and the Americans. In the leaked document, Saleh tells U.S. diplomats that he'd continue to say publicly that U.S. attacks on militants in Yemen were conducted by his troops and not theirs. "We'll say the bombs are ours, not yours," he is quoted as saying.

Now, intelligence sources say, Saleh's priorities have changed. He is all about staying in power. Among other things, he has called counterterrorism squads back to Sanaa to protect him in the capital. That means teams that used to be chasing al-Qaida in southern Yemen are now up north, guarding the president, giving the terrorist group a lot more room to operate.

Restarting Drone Attacks

U.S. officials say they are thinking about resurrecting a Predator drone program in Yemen to target the suspected terrorists the Yemeni soldiers are no longer tracking. The U.S. had been killing suspected al-Qaida members in Yemen with missile strikes until last May. That's when a U.S. strike accidentally killed a Yemeni deputy governor who was, allegedly, meeting with al-Qaida militants in south Yemen. (AQAP is thought to be based in the southern part of the country.)

There was so much fallout from that attack, U.S.-led operations in Yemen basically came to a standstill. That has meant that for the past year, al-Qaida has had more room to plan attacks. Now that there are reports of more possible terrorist attacks, it makes sense for the U.S. to be looking at bringing the predators back.

The big debate inside Yemen is whether the president there will go out peacefully, like Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, or fight tooth and nail like Libya's Moammar Gadhafi. No one knows. But counterterrorism officials say that if Saleh does indeed fall and Yemen dissolves into chaos, that could be bad news for the fight against terrorism.

One of the scenarios they are worrying about: With Somalia already teetering between a transitional government and hardcore Islamists, having Yemen in the same precarious situation could hand al-Qaida control of hundreds of miles of territory.

One official says what the U.S. is facing in Yemen is nothing but bad options. If Saleh stays, there will be increasingly violent protests. If he goes, there could be anarchy or, another possibility, a government that doesn't want to be helpful in hunting down al-Qaida terrorists. That's why officials are watching what is going on there so closely.

Source: NPR

Was supporting Saleh worth it?

By Charles Homans

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

This weekend, the U.S. government finally threw Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh under the bus, with administration officials telling the New York Times on background that it was increasingly clear Saleh was incapable of reforming his government and had to go. On Tuesday, the Pentagon made it official, with spokesman Geoff Morrell saying the United States was "urging a negotiated transition [of power] as quickly as possible."

All of this would have been unthinkable even a month ago, when it seemed relatively likely that Saleh would survive the wave of unrest sweeping his country, at least through the end of his current term. The Yemeni president is a Hosni Mubarak-style survivor, who has managed to hold onto power for three decades in one of the Arab world's most reliably restive countries -- a longevity that is in no small part guaranteed by the United States, which has viewed Saleh as a crucial, if unreliable, ally in the fight against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

No one ever pretended it was an uncomplicated relationship, and the WikiLeaks cables show the United States making extraordinary, often unreasonable demands of counterterrorism allies such as Saleh. But you don't have to agree with the U.S. government's actions here to ask whether the $155 million the United States gave Yemen in military aid last year alone was worth the investment. A tour through the WikiLeaks cables from the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa -- of which the Times offered a very good overview in December -- is instructive. The cables, of course, present the State Department's view of the situation, not the U.S. intelligence community's -- but the diplomats seem to have trusted Saleh about as far as they could throw him.

There were, it's true, a couple of now-well-reported incidents in which Saleh covered for the Americans. When a U.S. unmanned drone washed up on the Yemeni coast in 2007, he had his official media call it an "Iranian spy plane"; and a 2010 cable reports the Yemeni president offering to take credit for clandestine U.S. bombing campaigns inside his country during a meeting with Gen. David Petraeus.

But in general there's a uniquely sardonic tone to the 31 Sanaa embassy cables released so far. The embassy's interactions with Saleh documented here -- and as always, keep in mind that it's a very selective record -- mostly fall into two categories. One is diplomats receiving assurances from Saleh that some sort of progress is being made against AQAP, following immediately by demands for more weapons -- a routine that happens so often that the diplomats treat it as a running joke. Following the arrest of a suspected terrorist in 2005, one cable reports,

Saleh did not waste time for his usual quid-pro-quo tactics. "So, where's my stuff? We have requested equipment and weapons for our CSF counter terrorism unit," said Saleh. "We have suffered important and costly losses in Saada and we need your help. Please tell Washington that this is urgent." "I respond to you immediately when you need something," added Saleh, "and now, you must do the same for me."

The diplomats don't seem overly convinced that Saleh is holding up his end of the bargain. In a 2007 meeting with Saleh in the port city of Aden, White House counterterrorism adviser Frances Townsend asked after the whereabouts of Jamal al-Badawi, who had been convicted of planning the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000. Saleh replied that his government had let al-Badawi go, and that he was under house arrest on a farm near Aden, where Saleh had met with him recently. "Al-Badawi promised to give up terrorism and I told him that his actions damaged Yemen and its image; he began to understand," the president said. The Americans were less than thrilled about this.

The other category of Yemen cable finds U.S. officials trying fruitlessly to get Saleh to do something about his country's enormous black market in small arms, which is contributing to Yemen's own instability and to conflicts in troubled countries elsewhere in the region, such as Somalia -- a situation that is complicated by their ostensible alliance with Saleh on matters of counterterrorism. Asked in 2004 about one arms dealer that the U.S. Justice Department believed had links to Al Qaeda, Saleh replied dismissively that "if we arrest every arms dealer in the country, we will have hundreds of them in prison." In 2008, U.S. officials grumbled about an alleged $78 million deal between Saleh and Serbian illegal arms traffickers.

But the best account by far ("you can't make this stuff up," the cable's author notes at one point) is from the 2007 meeting between Saleh and Townsend, during which Saleh invited one of Yemen's most notorious black-market arms barons to join them for lunch. "Hey FBI," Saleh joked during the meeting, "if he does not behave properly, you can take him... back to Washington in Townsend's plane or to Guantanamo."

"He has donated weapons to the nation's military -- he can be considered a patriot now," Townsend jokingly replied. "No, he is a double agent -- he also gave weapons to the al-Houthi rebels," Saleh responded, laughing.

All of this stands in contrast to neighboring Saudi Arabia, whose intelligence about Yemen American diplomats seem to take with far fewer grains of salt in the WikiLeaks cables. While Al Qaeda made it clear in 2009 that it had no particular beef with the Yemeni state, the organization and its local affiliates have been gunning for the Saudis for years, including a 2009 attempt on Saudi counterterrorism chief Mohammad bin Nayef's life. The Saudis -- who have been publicly skeptical of Yemen in matters of counterterrorism since at least 2002, when Saudi officials claimed to have seen Yemen's deputy director of intelligence out and about in Sanaa with high-ranking Al Qaeda operative Abdal-Rahim al-Nashiri -- responded by beefing up their network of informants across the border in Saleh's country. It's not surprising, then, that one of the few substantial WikiLeaked reports on terrorists in Yemen comes from the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, not Sanaa, in a 2009 cable describing a meeting between bin Nayef and the late U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke. "We have a problem called Yemen," bin Nayef told Holbrooke:

[Bin Nayef] described Yemen as a failed state that is "very, very, extremely dangerous," and required focus. [...] This was a threat forming around Saudi Arabia that required action now. The Saudis would like Saleh to be a strong leader, [bin Nayef] said, but "his vision of Yemen has shrunk to Sana'a," and he was losing control over the rest of the country. Saleh's old advisors were gone and now he relied on his son and other younger men who did not have good connections with the Yemeni tribes. In contrast, Saudi Arabia had good connections with the tribes, [bin Nayef] said.

This was a Saudi official talking, of course, but it's worth noting that it was the Saudis, not the Yemenis, who tipped off U.S. officials to AQAP's Yemen-originating package bomb plot in October.

Source: wikileaks.foreignpolicy

Seven Anti-Government Protesters Wounded in Sana'a

By Fatik Al-Rodaini

Sana'a, Apr 6, 2011- At least seven anti-government protesters were wounded on Wednesday evening during fighting between anti and pro government protesters in Sana'a province.

Eyewitnesses said that pro-Saleh protesters attacked a rally for anti-government protesters in which batons, knives, and rocks were used to stop protesters from going on their rally.

On the other hand, thousands of women staged to the streets in Yemen's western port of Hodeida demanding the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh's regime.

Protests chanted slogans demanding the fall of President Saleh's regime who has been facing nationwide demonstrations since two months in all Yemen's provinces.

Russia hails Yemeni Gov., opposition's decision for dialogue to end crisis

MOSCOW, April 06 (Saba) - Russia welcomed on Wednesday the decision of the Yemeni government and opposition to tackle the current crisis via dialogue.

In a press conference held in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described such decision as positive, saying Russia has always called on Yemen and other countries to deal with their problems via dialogue.

The Russian Minister pinned hopes the Gulf Cooperation Council would continue its mediation efforts to settle down the situation in Yemen, voicing confidence that such efforts would definitely yield specific positive results.

"Reform issues in the Middle East and North African countries must be handled through negotiations not by using force", Lavrov said.

UPDATE 1-Total's Yemen LNG not hit by turmoil-CEO

Wed Apr 6, 2011
* Total's global output target for 2011 unchanged-CEO
* Yemen has capacity to supply up to 6.7 mln T of LNG/ year
By Matthias Blamont and Muriel Boselli
PARIS, April 6 (Reuters) - Unrest in Yemen is not disrupting output at Total's (TOTF.PA: Quote) Yemen LNG project, the group's chief executive said on Wednesday, adding widespread protests in the Middle East had not changed its 2011 output target.
Yemen's only liquefied natural gas producer, Yemen LNG, warned its customers last month of potential supply curtailments and a possible force majeure on exports, as violence spreads across the nation. [ID:nN22159737]
"For the time being, it is not hurt, we produce normally," Christophe de Margerie told reporters at an oil summit in Paris.
Asked whether protests in the arab world had changed the French major's production target for 2011, he said: "It hasn't changed".
Total said in February its output target would be stable in 2011.
Yemen has the capacity to supply up to 6.7 million tonnes of LNG per year. Last year Yemen LNG, the 16th largest seller of the gas, shipped more than half its supplies to Asia, with the rest going to the Americas and Europe.
The project delivers LNG under long term contracts to GDF Suez (GSZ.PA: Quote), Total and Korea Gas Corp (036460.KS: Quote).

Yemen president gets a stern warning from Obama press secretary

Apr 6, 2011

Statement by Press Secretary Jay Carney on violence in Yemen, as provided by the White House

The United States strongly condemns the use of violence by Yemeni government forces against demonstrators in Sanaa, Taiz and Hodeida in the past several days.

The Yemeni people have a right to demonstrate peacefully, and we remind President Ali Abdullah Saleh of his Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh responsibility to ensure the safety and security of Yemenis who are exercising their universal right to engage in political expression.

We call upon the Government of Yemen to conduct full investigations into these events and to hold those responsible accountable for their actions.

The United States strongly supports the Yemeni people in their quest for greater opportunity and their pursuit of political and economic reform that will fulfill their aspirations.

President Saleh needs to resolve the political impasse with the opposition so that meaningful political change can take place in the near term in an orderly and peaceful manner.

We call upon all sides to engage in a constructive political dialogue and to chart a course that puts Yemen’s unity, progress and future prosperity ahead of individual agendas.