Foreign Policy Blogs

Yemen, And More Yemen

Jamestown has two new pieces on Yemen out today, one by one of America's foremost experts on terrorism, and another by the sharpest young Yemeni scholar out there.

The latter, by Gregory Johnsen, analyzes al-Qaeda's new strategy in their attacks.

Over the past six months, al-Qaeda in Yemen's strategy has become increasingly clear. It aims to strike at both Yemen and Western countries‚ particularly the United States‚ by attacking them at their most vital and vulnerable points: oil and tourism. For Yemen the danger is clear. Oil revenues account for roughly 75 percent of the nation's budget, while tourism remains one of the few legitimate areas of growth for an economy that is headed for failure. But this strategy is also calculated to hurt the West by targeting Western citizens and striking at oil production in the Arabian Peninsula. No longer is there a clear distinction, at least for al-Qaeda in Yemen, between attacking what is often referred to as the near enemy or the far enemy; instead it has devised an approach to simultaneously attack both. This strategy‚ which is more overarching than it is detailed‚ also allows for fighters to remain in Yemen instead of traveling to Iraq or Afghanistan, which is effectively decentralizing the front.

Johnsen's thesis is dead-on, and his reccomendations are sharp.   I may be baised, as Gregory is a good friend and frequent collaborator, but I wouldn't be friends with a dummy. 

The other article is by Michael “Anonymous” Scheuer.   Scheuer's article, while swimming with quotes, is a little off- or, if not off, then somewhat behind the times.  Consider:

Attacks by al-Qaeda in Yemen are likely to continue at a level that does not lead to an all-out confrontation with Salih's regime. In all likelihood, al-Qaeda intends to cause just enough sporadic damage to persuade Salih's regime that it is best to curtail its efforts to destroy al-Qaeda and to allow the group to operate relatively freely in and from Yemen as long as no major attacks are staged in the country. Indeed, such a modus vivendi may be in the works as San'a officials have experimented with putting imprisoned Islamists through a reeducation process that shows them the error of their ways and then releases them on the promise of good behavior (al-Sharq al-Awsat, May 21, 2006).

This was the strategy of the government, and the strategy of Al-Qaeda old Yemeni guard.  The new generation is far, far less willing to compromise with the government.  Scheuer's article is helpful as background, but it needs to be augmented with more recent developments. 
The Yemen Post has an interesting interview with a leader of Al-Qaeda in Yemen, Rashad Mohammaed Saeed Ismael.   It is somewhat illuminating at times, as his irritation at the new guard sometimes bubbles to the surface, but it is also chock-full of nonsense like this:

YP: What is the source of strength in Al-Qaeda?

RI: The movement drives much of its force from its deep-rooted principles.

YP: From where does Al-Qaeda's financial support come?

RI: Al-Qaeda has a complicated web that has no end or beginning. 


While we are here, it is worth reading Robert Worth's New York Times article on Yemen.  It is old, but I will link to it from the Yemen Post.  I thought it was excellent.



Brian O'Neill

Brian O'Neill is a freelance writer currently based out of Chicago. He has lived in Egypt and in Yemen, and worked as a writer and editor for the Yemen Observer publishing company. He currently is an analyst with the Jamestown Foundation.