September 1, 2011

Popping the U.S. Propaganda Bubble Around Yemen

Two days ago we criticized the Obama administration's horrendous information warfare in Yemen. Rather than an poorly executed but active campaign, the White House and Pentagon dwell in relative silence as Yemen’s revolutionaries refuse to quit. Given U.S. military support for Saleh’s regime and Washington’s sponsorship for the unpopular Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Yemenis know exactly where the Obama administration stands.

Yet this black hole in U.S. diplomacy effectively severed all contact with the people - a strategic error in counterinsurgency - and has allowed Ali Abdullah Saleh and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to battle their narratives over the revolution’s suppressed voice.

Conversely, Washington’s propaganda assault continues to hum stateside. Having successfully blocked Yemen’s revolutionaries from America’s public debate, whether in the mainstream media or Congress, the Obama administration is under no popular pressure to correct a woeful policy. Whereas the international community is surrounding Bashar al-Assad with weapons and financial sanctions, one U.S. official just told the Long War Journal, "We continue to provide counterterrorism aid, intelligence, and logistical support to Yemeni forces.”

Which is, ironically, why AQAP’s local war might last so long.

Low public awareness has allowed the administration and Western (and Chinese) media to freely misreport on Yemen’s revolution in general, and on the southern front specifically. Here AQAP finds itself in control of multiple cities, including Abyan’s regional capital of Zinjibar, under suspicious circumstances. Back in May Saleh pulled his counter-terrorism units out of the area, deploying the U.S.-trained Republican Guard and Central Security Organization to suppress Yemen’s urban revolutionaries. Large caches of weapons were also left for AQAP. Saleh’s personal guard would later assail anti-government tribes around Sana’a, Taiz and even Zinjibar, with “misplaced” air-strikes labeled as an “accident.” State-funded “jihadists” and local militants opposed to AQAP were then added into this combustible mixture.

The Associated Press claims that AQAP is taking advantage of the revolution's security breakdown, a truism, but so has Saleh. Using the revolution as cover for instability, Yemen’s strongman has pursued his own interests without condemnation from the White House.

Building on Saleh’s past aggression and misappropriated U.S.-trained units exposed by WikiLeaks, many Yemenis suspect his usual duplicity in the south. By simulating a withdrawal from Abyan, Saleh has successfully proven his “worth” to Washington through fear and “action.” Now that rumors of his return continue to swirl, military units are in the process of “retaking” Zinjibar with U.S. assistance. Security forces reportedly captured Al-Wahda stadium, four miles east of Zinjibar, before advancing the Hosn Shaddad neighborhood, where the 25th mechanized brigade finds itself “besieged.” U.S. airstrikes helped clear the way.

One official told Xinhua News Agency, "Amid full-scale offensive, the troops seized back the main entrances of Zinjibar and began to advance into the city, while the al-Qaida militants started to withdraw towards neighboring Shaqra city, some 47 km to the east of Zinjibar.”

Western media continues to play along with this scheme, either out of ignorance or complicity. Another Yemeni official (or possibly the same) told AFP, "Units of the 201st and 119th brigades advanced towards Zinjibar on two fronts and have managed to link up with the 25th Mechanized Brigade," reported as “encircled since militants captured the city.” The commander of the 25th, Brigadier General Mohammed al-Sawmali, has openly admitted to suspicious circumstances in Abyan after government forces withdrew in May. He still can’t explain why the Defense Ministry ignored his requests for reinforcements and supplies.

Reinforcements were eventually ordered into the area at the end of July - allegedly under U.S. pressure.

Considering their ongoing cooperation, the Obama administration must be aware of Saleh’s double-games in the south. Briefing the press on al-Qaeda’s overall status, the White House’s counter-terrorism adviser worried that Yemen’s revolution had “slowed down the fight” against AQAP. John Brennan even admits that “political tumult is... leading them to be focused on their positioning for internal political purposes as opposed to doing all they can against AQAP.” Saleh’s security forces are “reluctant” to leave the capital “unguarded,” and Brennan claims that U.S. forces had to air-drop supplies to the 25th Mechanized Brigade.

“Brennan said the U.S. has since persuaded the Yemenis to send enough forces their way to free them, and he has urged the country's vice president to send more troops into the fight,” reports Fox News.

In reality Saleh's regime never focused on doing “all that they can against AQAP,” instead deploying U.S.-trained units against the northern Houthi sect and secessionist Southern Movement. This scheme has been continually approved as mutually beneficial; now the administration is exploiting the unrest caused by Saleh to justify the GCC’s initiative, which would extract his regime from prosecution while leaving his party (the General People’s Congress) in power. Although U.S. officials don’t hide ongoing support for Saleh, the administration simultaneously argues that he must sign the GCC’s proposal in order to “restore” U.S. assistance.

"I've told him that I do not believe it's in his interests, Yemen's interests or our interests ... to go back to Yemen," Brennan said on Wednesday.

No, the administration would rather see Saleh transfer power to his Vice President Abd al-Rahman Mansur al-Hadi, who possesses limited influence and would be easily manipulated by regime loyalists. The White House would rather deal with a client state than a representative democracy. Saleh’s U.S.-enabled abuses can disappear into immunity instead of spilling into a national or international court, the State Department can stay silent instead of engage in active diplomacy and Brennan can continue to scare the American people.

Calling Yemen a “tinderbox” that could erupt into civil war is more expedient than ending U.S. support for Ali Saleh’s murderous regime.

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