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I was going to leave this alone, as I am worried about turning Waq al-waq into a place that only critiques the media and has nothing positive to offer, but after re-reading it and realizing that it contradicts a lot of what I have said about the beginnings of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula I felt as though I had to post something.

The article is from Gary Thomas at the Voice of America and it seems to suggest that al-Qaeda in Yemen and its successor al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is flourishing because the US has cracked down on al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia has cracked down on al-Qaeda inside the kingdom. This is exactly the opposite of what I said at an event at Carnegie earlier this year.

In fact both Gary Thomas and I use exactly the same imagery: “Whack-a-mole.”

Here is Thomas:

Counter-terrorism officers liken battling a group like al-Qaida to the children’s game Whack-a-Mole. The object of the game is to knock out the animal when it pops up out of a hole. But each time you whack it, it disappears back into the hole only to pop up again out of a different hole.

So, say officials, if you whack al-Qaida in a place like Pakistan or turn up the heat in Saudi Arabia, it pops up elsewhere.
And it seems to be popping up in the Middle Eastern nation of Yemen, says Michael Leiter, director of the National Counter-terrorism Center.

And here is me:

“In recent weeks, I think there’s been great and growing concern that as al-Qaeda forces face
increasing pressure in Pakistan and Afghanistan, they’re looking to regroup in places like Yemen. There’s, I believe, both theological and circumstantial evidence to support this fear. But the premise that U.S. pressure in one part of the world is directly responsible for the organizations reappearing somewhere else, like some sort of Whac-A-Mole game, is simply not true, at least when it comes to Yemen’s re-emergence as an al-Qaeda safe haven.

Al-Qaeda has certainly regrouped and reorganized itself in Yemen, but this is not due to U.S.
successes elsewhere. Instead, in my opinion, it’s a direct result of U.S. and Yemeni failures.”

I do believe that the pressure Muhammad bin Nayif has been able to put on al-Qaeda in recent years in Saudi Arabia has led Saudis, who are eager to fight, to travel to Yemen among other places. But I don’t believe that the pressure caused al-Qaeda to regroup in Yemen, this sort of narrative misses a great deal of history. The Saudis coming to Yemen were getting plugged into an existing al-Qaeda chapter, they were not starting a new one.

Al-Qaeda in Yemen’s resurgence has its roots in the February 2006 prison break of 23 al-Qaeda suspects. Their ability to build a strong infrastructure is, in my view, a result of the time they spent together in secret study circles in prison as well as the close bonds they formed in the radicalization factories that are Yemen’s security prisons. Particularly through the close contact that comes from living 15-20 people per two-room cell and by building each other back up after sessions with interrogators.

The resurgence of al-Qaeda in Yemen is a story about the failures of the US and Yemeni governments not one of US successes.


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