April 9, 2016

Al Qaeda Is Turning Yemen's Ungoverned Spaces Into Private Fiefdoms

 Instead of striking Al-Qaeda or ISIS, the brilliant strategists behind the US/UK/Saudi military campaign in Yemen have opted to strike markets, schools, and hospitals.

An excerpt from, "How Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen has made al Qaeda stronger – and richer" By Yara Bayoumy, Noah Browning and Mohammed Ghobari, Reuters, April 8, 2016:
Once driven to near irrelevance by the rise of Islamic State abroad and security crackdowns at home, al Qaeda in Yemen now openly rules a mini-state with a war chest swollen by an estimated $100 million in looted bank deposits and revenue from running the country’s third largest port.

If Islamic State’s capital is the Syrian city of Raqqa, then al Qaeda’s is Mukalla, a southeastern Yemeni port city of 500,000 people. Al Qaeda fighters there have abolished taxes for local residents, operate speedboats manned by RPG-wielding fighters who impose fees on ship traffic, and make propaganda videos in which they boast about paving local roads and stocking hospitals.

The economic empire was described by more than a dozen diplomats, Yemeni security officials, tribal leaders and residents of Mukalla. Its emergence is the most striking unintended consequence of the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen. The campaign, backed by the United States, has helped Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to become stronger than at any time since it first emerged almost 20 years ago.
An excerpt from, "A False Foundation? AQAP, Tribes, and Ungoverned Spaces in Yemen" By Gabriel Koehler-Derrick, Combating Terrorism Center, October 3, 2011: 
The reported deaths of Anwar al-`Awlaqi and Samir Khan on September 30, 2011, while a tactical victory for U.S. counterterrorism efforts, are unlikely to impact AQAP’s operations in Yemen or its desire to attack the interests of the United States. While justifiably the focus of counterterrorism experts concerned with homeland security, al- `Awlaqi and Khan were far less relevant players in explaining the resiliency of al-Qa`ida in the Arabian Peninsula. In fact, too often the attention and focus on AQAP’s English- speaking members came at the expense of a deeper understanding of the group’s local strategy and operations, the central focus of this report. While it is too soon to tell whether either al-`Awlaqi or Khan will be replaced by other English speaking propagandists, policymakers will need to carefully consider the repercussions of their deaths from a broader strategic perspective, one that looks beyond imminent threats against the U.S. homeland and includes AQAP’s operations in Yemen.

This study specifically focuses on events and actors in Yemen’s eastern governorates, often described as Yemen’s most tribal and an epicenter of AQAP activity. This discussion of the tribes of Marib and al-Jawf is the result of tw elve months of research conducted in Yemen by the author, including fieldwork in the governorate of Marib. His network of contacts and dozens of interviews with tribal leaders and tribesmen suggest that although tribes have long been cited as a primary resiliency mechanism for AQAP, the group enjoys no formal alliance with tribes in either Marib or al-Jawf. Likewise, there is ample evidence to suggest that, contrary to popular analysis, the group’s strength and durability does not stem from Yemen’s tribes. 
To date, al-Qa`ida in the Arabian Peninsula has largely avoided serious mistakes thanks to the guidance of a small group of Yemeni leaders. From its inception—then under the banner al-Qa`ida in the Land of Yemen (AQLY), AQAP has endured for nearly five years by maintaining rigid organizational discipline; crafting a consistent and highly nuanced discourse; and avoiding military or outreach efforts likely to spark a public backlash. AQAP’s unusually capable strategic decision making reveals that the group’s greatest asset is also its most glaring vulnerability. The most direct way to reduce the group’s viability in Yemen, while simultaneously limiting its capacity to attack the United States at home, lies in removing those Yemeni leaders responsible for the group’s operational coherence: Nasir `Abd al-Kareem `Abdullah al-W ahayshi, Qasim Yahya Mahdi al-Raymi, Muhammad Sa`id Ali Hasan al-’Umda and `Adil bin `Abdullah bin Thabit al-`Abab.

This suggestion appears counterintuitive, especially given the importance often attributed to al-Qa`ida in the Arabian Peninsula’s high-profile foreign members. The jihadist ideologue Anwar al-`Awlaqi, the propagandist Samir Khan, the bomb maker Ibrahim `Asiri and numerous Saudis who joined the group in 2008 and 2009 have attracted considerable attention from U.S. media and policymakers. Yet the addition of these prominent foreigners reflects AQAP’s successes far more than it accounts for them. Killing Samir Khan, Anwar al-`Awlaqi or Ibrahim `Asiri might reduce the threat to the United States in the short term but will do little to address the resilience and strength of AQAP, which has long excelled at attracting foreign talent. From its first attack in 2006, the group has proven itself adept at fitting local grievances into a global narrative that justifies taking action against U.S. interests both inside and outside Yemen. Newer members from abroad may certainly extend the group’s reach, but they hardly strengthen AQAP’s durability inside Yemen.

Analysis of AQAP’s history and center of gravity suggests that a refocus on the group’s local capabilities is especially appropriate as Yemen faces mounting instability. If local dynamics are not sufficiently weighed in this crucial period, the United States runs the risk of miscalculating the efficacy of military action, inflaming anti-American sentiment and potentially giving AQAP the opportunity to overcome the triple bind that has curtailed the organization to date. Rather than poverty, political repression or even civil war, only U.S. military intervention in Yemen has the potential to unite the otherwise competing local, regional and global agendas that constitute AQAP’s central challenges.
An excerpt from, "‘Arc of Instability’ across Africa, If Left Unchecked, Could Turn Continent into Launch Pad for Larger-Scale Terrorist Attacks, Security Council Told" United Nations, May 13, 2013:
An “arc of instability” was stretching across Africa’s Sahara and Sahel region, and if left unchecked, it could transform the continent into a breeding ground for extremists and a launch pad for larger-scale terrorist attacks around the world, delegates in the Security Council stressed today during a high-level debate on combating that growing scourge across the region.

In a presidential statement, the Council expressed its deep concern with the increasing violence perpetrated by armed groups, whose numbers were growing in several regions and subregions of Africa, where porous borders, illegal arms trafficking and difficult socioeconomic situations had made it difficult to effectively combat terrorism.