Friday, May 20, 2011

Millions of Yemenis Protest with and against President Saleh

By Fatik Al-Rodaini

Sana'a, May 20, 2011- Millions of Yemeni anti-Saleh protesters took to the streets in Sana'a and others provinces in the biggest crowds against Saleh since the beginning of demonstrations in late January demanding the ouster of the longtime embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

At least 15 of Yemeni provinces witnessed a huge crowd on the Friday of People's Unity to protest against President Saleh.

Meanwhile, thousands of supporters of the president Saleh from across the country gathered in Sana'a to express their solidarity.

President Saleh has been addressing supporters at such gatherings near the presidential palace every Friday for weeks. His supporters are demanding that he stays in power until the end of his term in 2013.

Analysts: US Must Expand Its Counterterrorism Focus on Yemen

Sean Maroney | Pentagon May 20, 2011

While U.S. President Barack Obama has announced his broad vision for American policy in the Middle East, questions remain on his strategy for one country still wracked by political uncertainty, Yemen.

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has been a consistent U.S. partner in the fight against a major al-Qaida group based in his country. But he faces a fight for his very survival as he refuses the demands of anti-government activists and fellow Arab states to transfer power. Some analysts say Washington now must convince the people of Yemen that the United States is not pursuing just its own goals in their country as it works with an unpopular ruler to fight militants.

As the brushfire of popular uprisings simmers in some areas of the Middle East, an already precarious situation in Yemen has become even more unstable.

Analysts say months of anti-government demonstrations have offered al-Qaida an opening in the fragile state torn by tribal allegiances, a rebellion in the north and a secessionist movement in the south.

On Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama urged his Yemeni counterpart, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to comply with demands to transfer power. But at the same time, Obama acknowledged that Saleh is a "friend" of America.

Without President Saleh's support over the years, analysts say Washington would have had a tough time going after members of the Yemeni-based group al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

Frederick Kagan is the director of the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.

Kagan says the U.S. government now faces an even tougher sell convincing Yemenis who want political change that a fight against militants is critical to them.

"Al-Qaida is not the number one problem facing the Yemenis these days," explained Kagan. "And we're going to have to work on bringing interest together. And that means we're going to have to do things for the Yemenis that aren't directly related to killing al-Qaida."

For many Yemenis, their biggest concern is poverty, not terrorists bent on attacking the West. Detractors of Saleh have seized on this issue, saying the president overstates the terror threat and his role in fighting it in order to keep the backing of his foreign allies.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Edmund Hull says that the United States must appease the Yemeni public's concerns in order to successfully fight al-Qaida there.

"The whole public diplomacy of counterterrorism is extremely important - how what we do is not seen purely as serving U.S. interests, but serving broader interests," said Hull. "You have to get that right if you're going to have long-term success. And I think those are areas for improvement and areas that we need to be working on."

U.S. officials say Washington's total assistance to Yemen was more than $300 million in 2010's fiscal year. And while Ambassador Hull says this investment is significant, he believes Washington needs to staff more highly trained civilian workers in the country to complement the counterterrorism military side.

U.S. military officials refuse to talk on the record about operations in Yemen, but Yemeni authorities have acknowledged that U.S. drones are flying over their country. Security experts also say U.S. Special Forces and intelligence agents are most likely assisting Yemeni security forces in targeting al-Qaida.

Jeffery Dressler is a senior analyst at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington. He specializes in the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Dressler says he sees similarities in the U.S. involvement in Yemen with that of the situation in Pakistan.

Both sovereign countries have remote, mountainous regions with fiercely independent groups of people. It is in these areas in Pakistan and Yemen that al-Qaida and other militants are hiding.

Dressler says he foresees Washington's use of unmanned aircraft to remain popular for years to come in these situations.

"It's sort of the option of last resort frankly," Dressler noted. "I mean, they're effective, but they're only effective to a point. They can't eradicate these threats. They can't really prevent these groups from operating. But they can make it more difficult for them to operate."

Several days after U.S. Special Forces shot and killed al-Qaida founder and leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, media reports said the United States launched a missile strike in Yemen targeting a radical U.S.-born cleric with al-Qaida links.

Authorities say Anwar al-Awlaki is a high-ranking member of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

The May 5 strike reportedly missed him, but is said to have killed two other suspected al-Qaida militants.

Katherine Zimmerman is an expert with the American Enterprise Institute on al-Qaida and its associated movements in the Gulf of Aden.

Zimmerman says she does not think these so-called successes in killing militants with unmanned aircraft justify relying on them in the fight against extremism.

"Drone strikes don't work," said Zimmerman. "We've seen that in Yemen before where al-Qaida was greatly and severely disabled when the U.S. took out its leadership in [the] early 2000s, but it was able to reemerge and reestablish itself."

Zimmerman says she believes U.S. efforts must focus on helping Yemen enjoy a stable government and economic improvements. Otherwise, it will remain a breeding ground for militancy.

And while Washington says it is reaching out to Yemen's opposition even as it seeks to remove President Saleh - a U.S. ally - from power, analysts say U.S. actions ultimately will speak louder than words for the people of Yemen.

American radical cleric al-Awlaki gave lecture at Pentagon months after 9/11 attacks

From ANI

Washington, May 20: Yemen-based American radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki was a guest speaker at the Pentagon just months after the September 11 terror attacks, new documents have revealed.

The US had launched air strikes against al-Awlaki, the first American on the Central Investigation Agency's (CIA) kill or capture list, in Yemen following Osama bin Laden's death, but he escaped.

This is contrast to the February 5, 2002, when the radical imam was invited to and attended the Pentagon event, Fox News reoports.

An internal Department of Defense email that announced the event with Awlaki also revealed other details, like a proposed menu including pork, which is prohibited for Muslims. The email states "the chef will create something special for vegetarians."

The document also revealed that over 70 people were invited by the Defense Department's Office of the General Counsel.

"I have reserved one of the executive dining rooms for February 5th, which is the date he (Awlaki) preferred. He will be leaving for an extensive period of time on February 11," a defense department lawyer wrote in the e-mail.

The e-mail states that al-Awlaki was the featured guest speaker on "Islam and Middle Eastern Politics and Culture."

The Defense Department lawyer who vetted the imam wrote that she "had the privilege of hearing one of Awlaki's presentations in November and was impressed by both the extent of his knowledge and by how he communicated that information and handled a hostile element in the audience."

Al-Awlaki, a dual U.S. and Yemeni national, was interviewed at least four times by the FBI in the first eight days after the September 11 attacks because of his ties to the three hijackers of American Airlines Flight 77, including Nawaf al-Hazmi, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Hani Hanjour.

Yemen's Saleh calls for early elections

SANAA, May 20, 2011 (Reuters) - Yemen's entrenched President Ali Abdullah Saleh called for early presidential elections in a speech to a pro-government rally Friday, though he gave no details on when or how the election would take place.

"We call for an early presidential election to prevent bloodshed ... in a smooth and democratic way," Saleh told a cheering crowd of supporters.

Saleh has been under growing pressure from Gulf Arab and Western diplomats seeking his signature to a power transition deal, twice derailed since April.