January 1, 2010

Yemen 2010: Converging Forces

So UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown wants to convene a global summit to counter radicalization in Yemen.

First reaction: why was he, not President Obama, the one to blow the horn? Is Yemen a greater threat to the UK than America? Only Secretary Hillary Clinton is expected to attend, though Obama is likely to concede his presence is necessary before January 28th.

Second reaction: what will the breakdown be? 75% military, 25% other? Full spectrum counterinsurgency would deploy a 25% political, military, economic, and social proportion. So far all we know is that General David Petraeus, head of CENTCOM, told reporters, "We have, it's well known, about $70 million in security assistance last year. That will more than double this coming year.”

Humanitarian aid should quadruple at the minimum, from $30 million to over $100 million. Western officials must make the social dimensions of counterinsurgency the primary focus, not pay lip service as is often the case.

Third reaction: Brown and Obama better hurry because Yemen isn’t the only one with backup. Sheikh Mukhtar Robow Abu Mansour, a senior al-Shabab official, announced in a video that hundreds of new fighters are being trained for Yemen in camps north of Mogadishu.

"Today you see what is happening in Yemen, the enemy of Allah is destroying your Muslim brothers... We call upon all Muslims to give a hand to our brothers in Yemen and we, al Shabaab, are ready to send them reinforcements, and Inshallah (God willing) we shall win over America,” said Robow, to chants of "Allahu Akbar” by rows of fighters. “These young fighters successfully completed several months of tough training and they are now ready to join their brothers in the holy war against the enemy of Allah worldwide.”

While al-Shabab is unlikely to sneak large numbers of fighters across the Gulf of Aden in the coming months, there’s no reason to doubt an attempt to reinforce al-Qaeda. Dozens of Somalis ending up in Yemen in the last thing America wants because now Somalia must be brought into imminent discussions.

As the Yemen conference is meant to correspond with an Afghanistan conference on the same day, why leave out Somalia? Yemen was left out of Afghanistan and look what’s happening; leave Somalia out of Yemen and Afghanistan and you’ll get the same result. But urgent military action in so many states, when counterinsurgency can barely be initiated in one, is unrealistic.

This leaves air-strikes and military operations as the most convenient response, which in turn attracts local resentment and transnational jihadists, who in turn use their travels to expand their networks. The cycle of violence is set to expand, not contract, under the West’s current strategy unless it sees drastic changes.

Besides an emphasis on political and economic reform and less value towards military might, Yemen may have one other opportunity to de-escalate the situation - and the West should approve. If Obama can negotiate with the Taliban to expel al-Qaeda, so too should Yemen should be allowed to.

"If Saudi aggression stops and there is a real will toward security and stability... then we do not attack anyone that does not attack us," the Houthi rebels said in a statement today. “We reiterate ... our support for dialogue and a language of understanding to resolve all differences."

The rebels had posted an audio recording on the Internet from their leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, who was thought to be killed in a US air-strike last week. Houthi condemned the lack of global outrage over recent civilian casualties, saying, “Our fighters have the necessary experience (of war)... but we are concerned about our innocent civilians... our women and children.”

Yemen's national security chief Ali Mohammad al-Ansi cast doubt on the message, posting the Defense Ministry website, "indications suggest is dead,” but this isn’t the point. Whoever is speaking, if they are sincere, should have their offer seriously considered. The way to expel al-Qaeda isn’t overt military action, but helping local actors do so themselves.

Naturally complications will arise, like if Houthi is dead or his impostor is bluffing or stalling. al-Qaeda may dig into the region during a ceasefire instead of being expelled. However, a combination of political negotiations and economic reform will create more stability than any US missile and deter al-Shabab more effectively.

America should try resolving a foreign crises for once rather than amplify it out of political and military self-interest. Yemen is fixing to blow in 2010, but not enough to distract the American public from Afghanistan.

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