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Guest Thinkers

A Quick Article

Although there are clearly more important things going on in Yemen today, and like everyone else we here are also riveted by what is happening in Iran, I am going to take some time to dissect a profoundly wierd article posted by the Gulf Research Center.

Written by Nicole Stracke, the thesis (and title) is that al-Qaeda in Yemen is “Still a Manageable Threat.” Beginning by listing the “three rebellions” that are plauging Yemen, Stracke goes on to say:

However, while the al-Houthi conflict is particularly worrisome, al-Qaeda’s threat to the stability of the state is apparently limited. Even though al-Qaeda has conducted a number of operations over the past year and is continuing its public statements threatening to carry out attacks against government and foreign targets in Yemen, it is safe to say that threats from terrorist activities in Yemen could still be rated ‘manageable and containable’.

Already, I am skeptical. The security services might be able to dodge some blame for the initial attack on the Koreans, but a direct attack on what should have been a protected convoy of envoys is unacceptable, and shows a deep lack of management or containment. Still, there are reasons.

Publicly announced in 2007, al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch, now going by the name of ‘al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’ appears to be no more than an incoherent structure, lacking control over its members, localized in its activities, and operating mostly in independent small cells. Despite the fact that the organization is operating in different governorates throughout the country the size of its membership remains modest; it is estimated at between 100-150 active members in total.

OK. I am not really sure that it is incoherent, or lacking control of its members. It seems to be a pretty well-run organization to me, given its ability to coordinate attacks, as well as the impressive reach and sophistication of its propoganda wing. Also, many terrorist organizations (any militant organizations) do operate in small cells- it is safer that way (they have less to reveal if kidnapped). And, even stipulating that there are “only” 150 members, this discounts the fact that a terrorist group isn’t the same as an army, that al-Qaeda isn’t trying to literally take over the country, and that it only takes a few people to wreak enormous physical, psychological and economic damage on a country. Especailly if they are part of an organization with the leadership of al-Wuhayshi. But not everyone thinks he is a talented leader.

Even though Nasir al-Wuhayshi has been the declared leader of the Yemeni group since 2007, there have been indications that neither his leadership is unanimously recognized nor his strategy accepted among all members of the organization. It is believed that al-Wuhayshi, in contrast to other al-Qaeda members, prefers at this stage a more passive tactic; focusing mainly on recruitment and planning. In addition, al-Wuhayshi’s lack of leadership skills is evident in his failure to prevent other members from confronting security personnel and government officials, and from targeting tourism, foreign embassies and oil installations.

OK. First of all, I don’t consider “recruitment and planning” to be passive leadership. I am not looking for the man to strap a bomb to his chest. Recruiting and planning is what a leader does, it is “active” leadership. And the last sentence completely blew my mind. I honestly don’t know what, beside “confronting security personnel and government officials” and “targeting tourism, foreign embassies and oil installations” a terrorist oranization is supposed to do. These seem like things that al-Wuhayshi would encourage, not try to stifle. I am also unsure where there is any evidence that backs up these wildly counter-intuitive assertions.

There is a lot more here, equally egregious, but I think Greg wants to discuss some of it as well.

I would also like to remind our vast readership that authors specifically called out are invited to email us with a rebuttal, which will be posted as its own entry.


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