Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Failed Plane Bombing - War in Yemen

The growing clamour from the usual suspects in the US to insert itself somehow into the Yemen as a result of the failed attack on the Delta plane over Detroit is very reminiscent of previous cries by the same cast of characters to invade Iraq and bomb Iran. Before succumbing to the mendacious arguments put forward by some of the dumbest members of the legislative community (I'm talking about you Hoekstra), a little bit of fact checking is in order.

First - Republicans (again I'm talking to you Hoekstra, and you Bachmann, and you Boehner)voted against appropriating the necessary funds for airport security which included explosive detection devises. And shame on you BBC, CNN et al for not reporting that and on the Obama administration for not shoving it in their collective faces. Oh. It was the Bush administration that released (presumably for lack of evidence) two Yemenis who were the alleged plotters behind this attempted bombing. So Cheney - STFU.

Second - The BBC revealed today that the CIA knew about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old (wealthy brat) Nigerian and failed to talk to anyone about it - thereby allowing his visa for the US to continue. No comment.
Third - Joe Lieberman (R-CT) said on Fox News Sunday that the US should launch a pre-emtive war against Yemen - quoting an anonymous administration source. Does this sound familiar? Yemen, Senator, has not attacked the US and, in fact, is cooperating with a key US ally in the region - Saudi Arabia - to disrupt and destroy what is known as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Who does he want the US to pre-emtively attack?

The call for the US to significantly increase its presence in the conflict, which is partly a civil war, all as a result of a failed attack by a lone, pathetic rich kid from Nigeria, of whom the US was warned by his father, is bordering on the insane. However, it may be too late as CNN reported today that although there has been no deal on a US Special Forces helicopter-borne assault that puts boots on the ground, that the US would like the Yeminis to develop that capacity.

That Yemen is a mess, politically and economically is clear. It has been fighting an indigenous al Houthi insurgency in the north for years and a growing secessionist movement in the south. The al Houthi are the proxy now for Iran in its regional competition with Saudi Arabia and are not connected with al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) whose stated goal has been the overthrow of the Saudi government. The Saudi's can and have crushed al Houthi incursions on Saudi territory and have even launched effective airstrikes against their mountain strongholds in Yemen.

AQAP is the combination of the now destroyed Saudi al Qaeda group and its Yemeni counterpart. The group has been singularly ineffective in doing anything and has now lost its leadership as a result of a succession of air/ground attacks. AQAP is hardly the type of threat requiring any more attention from the US than is already being given. Politically, however, the US administration may not have a choice as the media and Republicans press for "action" and pre-emptive war.

The Lieberman crowd need to dial down the hysterics. Yemen is a fragile state posing absolutely no threat to the US or anyone else. The government can only push the jihadists so far without running into trouble with the various tribes in the area and it's own security units (sound familiar?) The government has to fight an al-Houthi insurgency and a secessionist movement in the south. Disintegration is a word that comes to mind. But, the prospect of another failed state in the region (Somalia is the other) does not appear to concern the neo-con element that is palpably tingling with anticipation for another war. Yemen is on the edge of the failed state slope and insertion of more US forces would push it over that edge.

The reality, Senator Lieberman, is that this matter is much more complex than you are leading people who watch Fox to believe. Furthermore, the US does not need to escalate any more than it already has, to wit:

December 17: Mohammed Saleh Mohammed Ali al-Kazemi, a senior leader of AQAP, and dozens of other AQAP militants, were killed in an air strike in the southern province of Abyan. The U.S. Navy carried out the strike. The strike was accompanied by coordinated ground raids by Yemeni forces to prevent escape. The use of US naval assets is already a dramatic escalation by the US.

December 24: A Yemeni assault on AQAP was backed by US air assets resulting in 30 killed, including the cleric Anwar al-Aulaqi, Nasser al-Wuhayshi (al-Qaeda's regional leader) and his deputy, Said Ali al-Shihri. The cleric, by the way, had contact with three of the 9/11 hijackers and also exchanged e-mails with Maj. Nidal M. Hasan, killed 13 fellow soldiers at Fort Hood.

The bomber was trained and supplied in Yemen by AQAP. That much he has admitted. So what? His mentor in Yemen is probably dead. What is it about AQAP that has the media blasting headlines and demands for a pre-emptive war against the country that is, after all, fighting AQAP? For the US to go after AQAP any more than it currently is doing risks a full scale meltdown of the current government. That is an unpleasant prospect. US policy should be to coordinate and support, as it is doing, the Saudi and Yemeni government efforts, not make this a US war.

AQAP began in Saudi Arabia with the express purpose of destabilizing the regime. It was destroyed and kicked south. Now it is isolated, surrounded, under assault and incapable of producing any serious threat to anyone as it is gradually worn down and its leadership killed. The desire for a grand fireworks display to assuage Lieberman's and Hoekstra's delusions of manhood is both foolish and counterproductive.

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