Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Can Obama Ignore Anti-AQAP Protests? – OpEd

August 23, 2011

By James Gundun

It’s a contest that no revolutionary wants to enter: most ignored. Although Western backing hasn’t generated decisive victory for Libyans or Syrians, these revolutionaries would presumably pass on swapping with their Bahraini and Yemeni peers. The dual-core of Saudi Arabia’s counterrevolution exemplifies America’s double-standard towards manipulable regimes, and Yemenis understand this much about Washington’s relationship with the murderous Ali Abdullah Saleh. However their realization doesn’t fully alleviate the pains of international isolation, especially after largely peaceful demonstrations defied Western notions of extremism.

Yemenis have been left to wonder what could possibly attract international support if not six months of bloodshed. Soon the question will shift to how long the Obama administration can ignore demonstrations against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Ideally President Barack Obama and his national security team would have no need to ignore Yemenis, but within the ugly world of geopolitics, the White House has too many reasons to shun their revolution. Rooted in training and funding for Saleh’s personal security forces, Washington pumped low-level economic aid into his corrupt regime in a vain effort to balance one-sided militarism. Crowning three decades of misrule, widespread economic shortages and misappropriated counter-terrorism units finally pushed Yemenis into revolution mode, disrupting Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and the CIA’s escalation in their country.

Labeled an inconvenience, revolution against Saleh was immediately flagged as “against U.S. interests” and green-lit for a controlled transition. This policy fuels a negative cycle whereby anti-American sentiment is exploited to justify unilateral or “joint” military operations: drone strikes, a network of Special Forces and CIA “trainers,” and a flotilla parked off Yemen’s southern coast. Last month, during one of several admissions that support for Saleh’s regime is ongoing, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “It’s obviously a dangerous and uncertain situation, but we continue to work with elements there to try to develop counterterrorism.”

In searching for measures to preserve semi-obedient “elements,” the Obama administration went beyond orchestrating a favorable power transfer through the Saudi-backed Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which would leave a shell of the current regime in power. Mimicking daily power outages in Yemen, one of Saleh’s many stall tactics, the administration cut the lights on Yemen’s revolution. Only after March 18th’s sniper massacre in Sana’a, when at least 50 protesters were gunned down by Saleh’s security units, did Obama condemn Yemen’s sweeping violence. 92 days have elapsed since he mentioned Yemen – a single line in his “Moment of Opportunity” – and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last grazed over the revolution in early June.

The administration in general remains silent on vicious human rights abuses committed by U.S.-trained security forces, now considered war crimes by Yemenis. At one point in Taiz’s Change Square, the Republican Guard’s gasoline-filled water cannons rolled over tents and torched protesters in their sleep. Neither the White House nor State Department has issued a reaction to any transitional council, months of bombardment against anti-government tribes or a government-induced humanitarian crisis. Meanwhile Panetta has accordingly filled the White House and State Department’s vacuum, keen to protect the Pentagon’s investments by hyping AQAP and ignoring Ali Saleh.

Tasking U.S. Ambassador Gerald Feierstein with the daily grunt work of mingling with Saleh’s regime, counter-terrorism chief John Brennan has assumed the role of Obama’s leading diplomat. Brennan is supposedly close to both Saleh and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, a toxic mix to Yemenis.

Washington’s response to their revolution (and the refusal to break with Riyadh) has infuriated some protesters, confused many more and given rise to the belief that no Western support is forthcoming. Although many rightfully declare that a revolution can only be achieved by the people, revolutions historically receive external assistance. Yemenis also deserve U.S. support after their mistreatment; unlike Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Washington played a direct role in empowering Saleh’s regime. This complicity has rendered U.S. cooperation and UN sanctions a fool’s hope, except Yemenis haven’t given up trying to attract President Obama’s support.

They just needed time to organize and probe the depths of Western misconceptions.

Last week in Taiz, one of several revolutionary epicenters, a group of activists hosted a symposium entitled, “Our Revolution Against Terrorism.” The first of many planned events against AQAP, the gathering rebuked perceptions of unchecked extremism and pledged to combat terrorism after Saleh’s regime falls into the dustbin of history. A “rejection of al-Qaeda and terrorism” march is tentatively planned and more demonstrations will follow if all goes according to schedule.

“Saleh is willing to do anything to stay in power,” explains Dr. Abdulkani Alguneid, a leading Taiz activist who gave a seminar on Saleh’s relationship with AQAP and Saudi Arabia. “He sold Yemen’s image as an al-Qaeda sanctuary, to the wealthiest oil country and to a superpower. Yemen’s revolution is all about civil society and civil state. Both Saleh and al-Qaeda have no place in such a habitat.”

The process admittedly struggled to come online due to a vast divergence in Yemeni and American mindsets. Many peaceful Yemenis don’t think twice in associating AQAP with Saleh, whereas Americans generally consider Yemen as a backwards breeding land for terrorists. Although the country has become a hotbed of anti-Americanism and some fighters made the journey to Afghanistan or Iraq, Yemen’s revolutionaries want nothing to do with terrorism. Believing it was planted in their country, they point to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s failed Christmas bombing in 2009 – to a Nigerian finally attracting the U.S. public’s attention – and to the Saudi legion that formed AQAP’s old guard, many released from Guantánamo Bay.

Then comes Saleh’s systematic methods of enabling AQAP: crippling Yemen’s economy and alienating tribes within AQAP’s area of operations (including cleric Anwar al-Awlaki), exploiting al-Qaeda’s name to quell the secessionist-oriented Southern Movement, funding his own “jihadists.” al-Awlaki “is not part of our fabric,” says Alguneid, though he acknowledges that Saleh’s corrupt system drove the cleric to action. Yemen’s besieged tyrant has a vested interest in keeping AQAP alive and continues to play his double-game with Washington, going so far as to cede territory and weapons in the south. Saleh’s regime then leaks a steady flow of intel on AQAP to keep himself useful, resulting in unpopular U.S. air-strikes.

By propping up a despot and killing rows of civilians, America has contributed to AQAP’s growth by validating al-Qaeda’s political ideology.

AQAP does exist and so do its plans to strike outside of Yemen. However its influence, strength and source have all been misrepresented by Western governments and media. The end result is that an anti-AQAP campaign became a footnote to the revolutionaries, who periodically reaffirm their commitment against terrorism with the sinking expectation of being ignored. Even as they organize to disprove foreign impressions, the White House fired a blatant shot of propaganda by warning of a non-imminent ricin attack. This Goldilocks threat – not too hot, not too cold – is tailored to smother the revolution through the GCC’s initiative. Yet as stalemate with Saleh and his arms drags on, Yemenis are planning to increasingly fold anti-AQ themes into their political narrative.

“Yemenis are most tolerant when it comes to other people’s faith,” Alguneid argues, adding that they prayed after the assassination of John F. Kennedy and accommodated American tourists in the 1970s. “Yemen’s heritage, culture, precedents and soft Islam are so rich that we can’t be tempted easily by new comers to tell us what we should or should not do.”

AQAP’s limited influence still doesn’t negate the risks assumed by Yemen’s protesters. If the group decides to save the remainder of its popularity and avoid targeting demonstrations, Saleh’s regime could exploit the tension with its own plots. Supporting Yemen’s revolutionaries is more vital than ever – to their interests and to U.S. interests. Ultimately the real terror threat stems from Saleh and aborting Yemen’s revolution through the GCC, which Saleh has no intention of signing. An opposite course towards democracy provides the best opportunity to counter AQAP’s ideology and territorial growth.

If Washington still doesn’t hear a mass of Yemenis chanting against al-Qaeda, the revolutionaries will have no choice except to believe that America truly wants AQAP to stay.

- James Gundun is a political scientist and counterinsurgency analyst. His blog, The Trench, covers the underreported areas of U.S. foreign policy. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RealistChannel.

Qaeda suspects kill seven Yemen soldiers: officer

August 23, 2011

ADEN — Seven soldiers were killed on Tuesday and 30 others wounded in an attack launched by suspected Al-Qaeda militants on a base in the restive southern province of Abyan, a senior officer told AFP.

"Six soldiers and an officer were killed and 30 others wounded when Al-Qaeda militants attacked the camp of the 201 Brigade in Dofes," south of Abyan, capital of Zinjibar, the officer said.

The attackers had used the cover of a wooded area around the base to approach a unit of the brigade and opened fire with rocket-launchers and automatic weapons.

An official from a military hospital that took in the casualties confirmed the toll.

On Monday, government warplanes killed six presumed Al-Qaeda fighters in Arkub, another village in Abyan province, that they had seized a day earlier.

Yemeni PM Returning Home

August 23rd, 2011

Yemen's Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Megawar is expected to return home soon after recovering from injuries in neighboring Saudi Arabia.

Government aides say Mr. Megawar could return to Yemen as soon as Tuesday. He was wounded in June when opposition fighters bombed the government compound in Sana'a. President Ali Abdullah Saleh also was wounded in the blast and is being treated in Saudi Arabia.

A number of Yemeni officials who were hurt in the attack sought treatment in the neighboring country.

On Monday, the speaker of the Yemeni parliament's upper house died from his injuries while in Saudi Arabia. Shura Council leader Abdul Aziz Abdul Ghani was the first senior political official to succumb to his injuries.

Yemen security forces have been battling militants and other opposition elements who have made weekly calls for his President Saleh's ouster.

Government officials say at least five suspected militants were killed late Monday when security forces launched airstrikes over the southern Abyan province.

Armed tribesmen storm prison, police station in south Yemen

Sana'a, August 23, 2011- Dozens of armed tribesmen stormed a police station and a central prison in Yemen's southern province of Lahj early Tuesday, releasing 20 prisoners, security officials said.

Two groups of tribesmen raids the two sites, which share one buliding in Tuban district, and freed 20 prisoners following clashes with guards around the building, the official told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.

No casualties have been reported, he added.

One of the guards said they were unable to counter the heavy shootings by the armed tribesmen, who were backed by members of the separatist Southern Movement in Lahj, and finally surrendered.

Lahj, some 337 km northwest of the capital Sanaa, is a key stronghold of the Southern Movement.

South and north Yemen unified peacefully in 1990, but the relationship deteriorated in 1994, when southern insurgency was quelled in a civil war.

Calls for separation have been renewed since early 2007

Gov't troops shell Qaida hideouts in south Yemen, 4 killed, 2 injured

ADEN, Yemen, Aug. 22 (Xinhua) -- The Yemeni army forces shelled the al-Qaida hideouts in the southern province of Abyan on Monday evening, killing four members of the terrorist group and injuring two others, a local army officer said.
The officer told Xinhua on condition of anonymity that several hideouts and fortifications of the al-Qaida militants were shelled by units of the 25th Mechanized Army Brigade across the Zinjibar city, the provincial capital of Abyan province, leaving four militants killed and two others injured.
The al-Qaida militants carried out three armed attacks on the army troops stationed in the eastern outskirts of Zinjibar in an attempt to seize more cities in Abyan following the coastal city of Shakra, which was seized earlier this week, he added.
Chairman of Yemen's Intelligence Agency Ali Mohammed al-Anesi said Monday that 80 al-Qaida militants of various foreign nationalities were killed in recent battles with the army forces supported by armed tribesmen across the Abyan province.
Abyan, some 480 km south of the capital Sanaa, is a key stronghold of the al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
Militants of the AQAP took control over three major cities in Abyan province late in May. The government forces then tried to push al-Qaida militants out the seized cities by carrying out intensified air strikes.

Yemen braces for fallout from Libya

SANAA, August 22, 2011- Thousands of troops were deployed on to the streets of Yemen's capital and other cities yesterday as Libyan rebels consolidated their hold on the Tripoli thousands of miles away.

Witnesses in Sanaa said that more than 60 tanks, sent from Republican Guard bases in neighbouring Dhammar province, were seen entering the presidential palace yesterday morning.

Dozens of armoured vehicles, accompanied by troops, were stationed on main roads.

A senior Yemen security official said that the government was prepared for a worst-case scenario.

"We watched closely the rapid fall in Libya, and are learning and preparing how to plan our upcoming steps," said the security staff member, who is not authorised to talk to media.

Checkpoints were set up on all main road in the provinces of Sanaa, Aden, Baitha, Hajjah, and Hodeida.

Tribesmen travelling in groups of more than five were rejected entry into the capital, out of fear that the opposition parties might use tribes in any coup attempt against the regime.

Military aircraft were flying continuously over areas where opposition protesters were gathered in Taiz and Ibb provinces.

"The planes were flying very low above our heads. The ruling family knows its turn is soon," said Mohammed Badani, a youth leader in Ibb province.

Arhab, a tribal region 30 kilometres north of Sanaa, was bombarded by government forces yesterday, after tribes attacked government bases and seized a large number of its weapons only hours after the rebels took control of most of the Libyan capital.

Tribal fighters damaged two tanks and captured six Republican Guard soldiers yesterday morning.

Government spokesman Abdu Ganadi said that the opposition parties are calling for a peaceful transfer of power from President Ali Abdullah Saleh while, at the same time, killing soldiers and attacking government military bases.

"Is this the peaceful revolution the opposition was seeking? Killing soldiers and civilians is not peaceful," he said.

Mr Ganadi insisted that no change in power would take place in Yemen without elections.

Hundreds of thousands of opposition supporters marched the streets of Yemen's cities yesterday celebrating the success of the Libyan rebels, chanting slogans such as "Oh Saleh, you will follow Qaddafi".

Sit-ins by protesters, which began about six months ago calling for the removal of Mr Saleh, continue in 15 of Yemen's 21 provinces.

Yemen's opposition said that the revolution in Libya inspired them to continue their protests until the regime is ousted. "The opposition is now regrouping and putting an end to all differences within them before week's end," said Ali Jaradi, senior Islah party official.

He said that the opposition Joint Meeting Parties plans to rework its newly formed national council in an effort to appeal to all political factions.

The council was formed last week to give the international community an option to lead the country should Mr Saleh's government fall. However, at least 35 of the 143 members have withdrawn over political differences.

Mr Saleh, receiving medical treatment in Saudi Arabia after an attack on his Sanaa compound in June, faces continued pressure to sign a power transition deal brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council. But, in a recent speech from Saudi Arabia, Mr Saleh set more conditions for his resignation.

Source: The National