As I read the news today of an alleged US drone crashing and members of AQAP making off with the wreckage, I was reminded of the part in Lawrence Wright's book - The Looming Tower - when President Clinton fires some 66 cruise missiles at training camps in Afghanistan only to have bin Laden collect and sell the unexploded missiles to China for $10 million.
Anyone who doesn't think AQAP is technologically savvy enough to put the wreckage to use is kidding themselves. The group has already smuggled three bombs (that we know about) past sensors and detectors in airports and palaces. Plus, there is the recruiting factor from this. Parading "made in the USA" parts or US Government wreckage around Yemen is a sure-fire way to stoke already high anti-American sentiments. (Remember the "made in the USA" tear gas cannisters from Egypt?"
The crash took place in Abyan, parts of which are an al-Qaeda stronghold, and comes just a couple of days after locals spotted aircraft in an area where Anwar al-Awlaki (Ar.) is believed to be hiding.
In other news, outside experts continue to weigh-in on why Yemen is not Tunisia or Egypt - I seem to remember hearing this somewhere before.
Today it is J. Dana Stuster, writing in the Atlantic Online. Despite adding a decade to Salih's life (an error that was later modified) - Salih is actually 68, not 78 or 69 as various versions of the article have it - the piece makes a strong, broad point. But there are just too little errors that detract from the overall strength.
I don't think Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar ever stated publicly that he didn't want Ahmad to be president - that was public perception based on journalistic stories and qat rumors. It doesn't make it false, but Ali Muhsin, who has always been a bit camera shy, has never come right out and said it. Plus, I have a hard time imagining Ali Muhsin putting himself forward as a candidate. A king-maker maybe, but not a king.
Hamid al-Ahmar (different family same tribal confederation) doesn't head Hashid, that is his older brother Sadiq. There has never been any evidence suggesting that al-Zindani recruited for the USS Cole, when one drills down on this rumor there isn't much there. Plus it is pretty clear that al-Zindani is not a member of AQAP. And the foolish insistence of the US government of keeping him on the "specially designated global terrorist" list doesn't do much expect prevent him from publicly speaking out against AQAP at a time when the US needs as many clerics with as large as following as possible to be speaking out against AQAP.
Also, Stuster makes what I consider the error of looking at Yemeni politics through the prism of political parties - look at the party affiliation of Shaykh Abdullah al-Ahmar's sons over the past decade to see why this is a mistake. And I believe the Huthis and many in the Southern movement would like to work through the system if only they saw the system benefiting them. It is only when it doesn't that they take up arms. Husayn al-Huthi's speeches from when he returned from Sudan in 2002 make this clear.
Still, Stuster's overall point that the next president of Yemen, whoever and whenever that may be, could look back on this time with envy may very well be correct.
Update: Yemen's Ministry of Defense is now saying that reports of a US spy plane crashing in Abyan and AQAP making off with the wreckage are rumors. Umm, well possibly, but the two times I remember - once in Soqotra and once on the coast in the south - that local reports had US spy equipment crashing, both turned out to be true. And, in each instance, the Yemeni government denied it. So let's just say, I'm not yet convinced by the ministry's denial.