Update, March 3, 11

The attempted bombing on Christmas day of the Detroit bound airplane has focused sudden attention on the land of Jemen. Like the role Afghanistan has played in the initial burst of ‘war on terror’ narratives, Westerners are generally less interested in the country of Jemen as in it’s place in the continuing unrolling of the ‘war on terror’. These poor Muslim countries in the prevailing narrative and fear and insecurity are not geographic countries but characters in the stories of fear and trepidation, who will be or are exposed to blind Western military violence.

But a few basic orientations may help:

  • North Yemen became independent of the Ottoman Empire in 1918. The British, who had set up a protectorate area around the southern port of Aden in the 19th century, withdrew in 1967 from what became South Yemen. Three years later, the southern government adopted a Marxist orientation. The massive exodus of hundreds of thousands of Yemenis from the south to the north contributed to two decades of hostility between the states. The two countries were formally unified as the Republic of Yemen in 1990. A southern secessionist movement in 1994 was quickly subdued. from the CIA’s World Factbook
  • bordered on the north by Saudi Arabia, on the west by the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden to the south and to the east Oman. Sitting on sitting on the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden Jemen is important strategically, with regards to oil routes from the Gulf to Europe a piracy. Jeme is located across from Somalia on the Gulf of Aden.
  • a Jemen without a central government could unleash forces which could threaten the stability of Saudi Arabia.
  • Economy largely based on oil which will run dry around 2015 and water will become scarce within 2020.
  • Government is fighting, the Houthi,  a group who belong to a branch of Shia Islam in the north and a secessionist rebellion in the south.
  • U.S. conducted one of the first strikes in Jemen, killing  a leader of Al_Qaeda in Jemen. This action was undertaken with the Jemen government’s knowledge. Subsequent cooperative actions culminated in the elimination of Al Qaeda from around Nov. 2003 to Feb. 2006, whereupon some 20 Al Qaeda members escaped from jail and rebuilt the Al Qaeda presence in the country. The organization has built itself up based on past mistakes, such that it can not be ‘decapitated’. It is believed to be an autonomous organization rather than a subsidiary of some central Al Qaeda.

Jeremy Scahill fills out the picture on the US involvement in Jemen, from a LSW post:

Information here is based on a Nation article, “The Dangerous US Game in Yemen” by Jeremy Scahill.

The country’s U.S. backed president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has led the country since the north which he led was unified with the south where a Marxist government had ruled from Aden in the 79s. Known as The Boss, Saleh is a survivor having to contend with a rebellion in the north and a secessionist movement in the south as well as a U.S. bewitched by visions of Al Qaeda after 9/11.

Saleh has allowed the U.S. to conduct military operations on Jemen territory in pursuit of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). These military operations, which Saleh has claimed were conducted by Jemeni operatives, have cause a significant number of civilian deaths and created a strong backlash from the Jemeni population.

According to Retired US Army Col .Lang, a veteran Special Forces officer, Saleh is like a “captain on a Klingon battle cruiser”, in a dog eat dog country where “they’re just waiting.”

“According to Lang, Saleh proved a master of playing tribes against one another. “There’s a precarious balance all the time between the authority of the government and the authority of these massive tribal groups,” he says. “The tribes will dictate the future of Yemen, not AQAP.””

Many Jemeni were recruited into the jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s conducted by the U.S. backed mujahedeen. Saleh game them safe haven when they returned home. Saleh saw Al Qaeda as allies in his struggles against the secessionists in the south and against the Houthi rebels in the north.

The Houthi, who see Saleh as a puppet of the US and the Saudis, belong to the Zaidi sect of Shiite Islam. They allege that Saleh, who is a Zaidi, has allowed radical Sunnis (Wahhabi) to bomb them on several occasions.

Saleh has used jihadis to fight the Houthli since the 90s and in turn allowed to operate freely and to travel on Jemeni documents. Consequently, Al Qaeda found fertile ground for training camps and recruitment throughout the 90s.

Al Qaeda recruiting was substantially assisted by an attack of the US Cole, then positioned in the harbor of Aden.

Following 9/11 Bush put Jemen on a list of potential early targets. Saleh travelled immediately to Washington where he received a $ 400 million aid package from the World Bank and the IMF. The deal included expanded special military training which allowed US Special Forces to deploy discretely in Jemen, permitting Saleh to save face domestically.

Also the deal permitted the US to create a “counter terrorism camp” in Jemen run by the CIA and Special Forces and the Marines and which was backed up by Camp Lemonier in the nearby African country, Djibouti, a secretive base that would soon serve as command center for covert US action.

Along with the military trainers, members of the clandestine military intelligence unit, JSOC, Joint Special Operations Command, were inserted into Jemen.

The rest of the article is chock full of counter terror operations in which many civilians are killed by an assortment of Hellfire missiles, unmanned flying vehicles, various supposed and real Al Qaeda operatives are enlisted in the narrative, American and otherwise born, Wolfowitz outing a political assassination of an Al Qaeda operative who was linked to a supposed terrorist group in Buffalo. And on and on.

Many interesting details here. Obama has not only followed but expanded and solidified the Bush justification for expanding covert wars. Scahill writes:

“During the 2008 presidential campaign, John McCain and other Republicans attempted to portray Barack Obama as too caught up in the niceties of civil liberties and international law to deal with the threat of global terrorism. But in fact, from the first days of his administration, the president was hyper-focused on escalating the covert war against Al Qaeda and expanding it far beyond Bush-era levels, particularly in Yemen.

In April 2009 Gen. David Petraeus, then head of Centcom, approved a plan developed with the US Embassy in Sana, the CIA and other intelligence agencies to expand US military action in Yemen. The plan not only involved special-ops training for Yemeni forces but unilateral US strikes against AQAP. Though Petraeus paid lip service to the cooperation between the United States and Yemen, he was clear that the United States would strike whenever it pleased. In fact, he issued a seven-page secret order authorizing small teams of US special-ops forces to conduct clandestine operations off the stated battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. It was marked “LIMDIS,” short for “limited distribution.” The directive, known as a Joint Unconventional Warfare Task Force (JUWTF) Execute Order, served as a permission slip of sorts for special-ops teams. “Unlike covert actions undertaken by the C.I.A., such clandestine activity does not require the president’s approval or regular reports to Congress,” reported Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times, who was allowed to read the order.”

What emerges in this article is a picture in which the US and Jemen are playing military footsy with each other, engaging in military actions in which people are killed and whose justification is the war on terror that Scahill elsewhere calls the war on the world.

Tit for tat teror counter-terror actions that almost seem to be designed to give support to the ‘enemy’ in order to continue with the charade of terror counter-terror dance. One might hope that the popular uprisings presently taking place in Jemen make removed Saleh from office and disrupt the military agreements made with the US. But Scahill notes that this possibility is being accounted for in Washington

Scahill concludes the article with this:

“It was the Bush administration that declared the world a battlefield where any country would be fair game for targeted killings. But it was President Obama, with Yemen as the laboratory, who put a bipartisan stamp on this paradigm—which will almost certainly endure well beyond his time in office. “The global war on terror has acquired a life of its own,” says Colonel Lang. “It’s a self-licking ice cream cone. And the fact that this counterterrorism/counterinsurgency industry evolved into this kind of thing, involving all these people—the foundations and the journalists and the book writers and the generals and the guys doing the shooting—all of that together has a great, tremendous amount of inertia that tends to keep it going in the same direction.” He adds, “It continues to roll. It will take a conscious decision on the part of civilian policy-makers, somebody like the president, for example, to decide that, ‘OK, boys, the show’s over.’” But Obama, he says, is far from deciding the show’s over. “It seems that this is going to go on for a long time.”

No hope in sight. One might have hoped that a more intelligent rational man than Bush would attempt to pry the US out such outlaw Neanderthal actions that only serve to replenish the ‘enemy’ with new recruits but Obama is not that man.