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Guest Thinkers

Sunday Morning Round-up

Now that I have returned to the Princeton and given all the news that has been coming out of Yemen – or perhaps more accurately, been coming out about Yemen – I thought it would be helpful to link to a few recent articles that I consider important.

First up are a pair of articles by Michelle Shephard – one of Waq al-waq’s favorite reporters – the first is for the Toronto Star and includes this great quote by former US Ambassador to Yemen, Barbara Bodine:

If we go in and make this our war … it is suddenly going to become a war against us and we will lose it,” she said.”

Shephard’s next article with The New Republic is also a good read. Both of these articles detail how important the February 2006 prison break was to al-Qaeda – I have long argued that this was the beginning of the “second phase of the war against al-Qaeda in Yemen.” (Full disclosure: I am quoted in both articles, but I like to think this isn’t the only reason I like the articles – there is a reason I enjoy Shephard’s reporting on Yemen, she does an excellent job attempting to understand the story, and has worked hard and done the journalistic groundwork to be able to write with skill and knowledge about AQAP as opposed to many journalists that seem a bit confused.)

Next up is this op-ed from Ali Soufan on Yemen
– this has excellent information on the early history of al-Qaeda in Yemen, but very little on the new group of al-Qaeda. Although there are overlaps these are distinct groups, and one should be careful not to conflate each generation of al-Qaeda with the other.

Christopher Boucek has this piece in the Washington Post – I would quibble and disagree with his suggestion that the US should focus aid on the Coast Guard. Within Yemen, the Coast Guard is already seen as being much too close to the US – what the US needs to do is to expand its contacts within the military (particularly those agencies headed by individuals from Sanhan) not deepen its contacts with the Coast Guard, which will be counterproductive: it will make the Coast Guard physically stronger, but weaken its influence in the Yemeni military and intelligence organizations, where it is already weak.

Sudarsan Raghavan from the Post also has this piece on US missteps in Yemen. I would disagree with Raghavan’s characterization that Yemeni officials were “stunned” by the November 2002 drone strike that killed Abu ‘Ali al-Harithi, particularly since Yemen co-operated with and agreed to the strike.

I would also disagree with Chris’ quote here:

“When you look back and see how little attention Yemen was getting several years ago, it’s shocking,” said Christopher Boucek, a Yemen analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “None of these problems with Yemen’s stability are new, and we’ve known what was coming down the road.

The problem is not that Yemen was getting little attention – the problem is that Yemen only got attention when al-Qaeda was viewed as a threat in Yemen. The country received a great deal of attention in 2001, 2002 and 2003 but very little after that particularly in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007. It was only in 2008 and 2009 when al-Qaeda was once again viewed as a threat by the US that aid to Yemen was increased once again. The lessons for the Yemeni government are clear.

There is also this article from the Guardian’s Hugh MacLeod and Nasser Arrabyee, which follows much of Waq al-waq has already laid out.

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