News / Middle East

Limited US Options in Yemen Raise Saudi Role

Saudi Arabia becoming increasingly logical partner in fighting Yemen-based al-Qaida in Arabian Peninsula group

Authorities in Yemen concede U.S. drones are operating in the country, but say they are only for intelligence gathering, not attacks. [file photo]
Authorities in Yemen concede U.S. drones are operating in the country, but say they are only for intelligence gathering, not attacks. [file photo]

The United States has been pursuing counterterrorist measures in Yemen for years, but extremists continue to find a safe haven in the impoverished Arab nation.  Their recent attempt to send bombs through air cargo packages was foiled reportedly with Saudi help, raising hope that Yemen's neighbor to the north may be one of Washington's best partners in tackling local terrorists.

Members of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula could hardly ask for a better home base.  Yemen's government exerts little control beyond the major cities, while in the countryside, shifting tribal allegiances and lack of infrastructure make it extremely difficult for outsiders to know what is going on.

Those are the kind of conditions the United States is trying to extricate itself from in Afghanistan, and most military experts recoil at the idea of sending American troops into a similar ground war in Yemen.  

The White House this week is reported to be considering drone attacks against the local al-Qaida affiliate.   Witnesses to air strikes in the Yemeni hinterlands say unmanned aircraft have already been used.   

Authorities in Yemen concede U.S. drones are operating in the country, but say they are only for intelligence gathering, not attacks. Whatever the source of air strikes, anger over civilian casualties has helped create a backlash.

Princeton University Yemen specialist Greg Johnsen has advised the U.S. and British governments on Yemeni issues. "As far as purely military options go, there are not a great deal the U.S. has, which will yield the type of results that the Obama administration would like to see in the quick amount of time that U.S. politics typically demands," Johnsen said.

Alleviating the poverty that helps terrorists thrive would take even longer, although the United States and others have been trying.    

Enter Saudi Arabia, geographically, ethnically, and linguistically suited to infiltrating local al-Qaida cells.   Saudi leaders are also motivated, with the prince driving the kingdom's anti-terrorism program engaged in a show-down with al-Qaida that Greg Johnsen compares to one from the American Wild West.  

"This is an organization that went after a Saudi Prince, [assistant Interior Minister]  Mohammed bin Naif, came very, very close to assassinating him in August 2009.  And in fact, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula views Mohammed bin Naif as its enemy," Johnsen says, "really as its number-one enemy, sort of Pat Garrett to al-Qaida's Billy the Kid."

Add to that Saudi Arabia's vast wealth and close U.S. ties, the two just signed a $60-billion military deal, and it becomes an increasingly logical partner in fighting the Yemen-based group.    

The importance of such ties was raised this week by Britain's former foreign minister, David Miliband.  Speaking in Abu Dhabi, Miliband said the air cargo incident was a "stark demonstration of the vital need for real-time cooperation."

But as Johnsen notes, there are limits to the Saudi efforts. "Saudi Arabia is certainly very active in combatting al-Qaida.  They have a number of different strategies in place in which they are hoping to limit and roll back, eradicate the organization.  Not all of them have been successful at this time," he said.

Part of the problem is the complicated relations between the two governments, made worse by the drubbing Saudi forces took at the hands of Yemen's Houthi rebels along the border last year.    

Yemen Post
newspaper editor Hakim al-Masmari sees Saudi contempt for its southern neighbor in the way Riyadh handled the air-cargo bomb incident.   

"Why did not Saudi Arabia inform Yemen directly and then inform Washington at the same time?  But Yemen, being the last country to know about it, that shows there are negative feelings toward Yemen," al-Masmari says, "and the intention of Saudi Arabia was not to fight terror, but to damage Yemen's reputation."

Princeton University's Johnsen believes the United States and others should bear in mind that power structures in Yemen and Saudi Arabia are neither transparent nor monolithic, a situation that can easily lead to such mixed messages.

"This is a very complicated, very murky picture and it is not only murky on the Yemeni side, where you have different tribal sheikhs who are receiving salaries, stipends from individuals within Saudi Arabia, but it is also murky on the Saudi side," Johnsen states, "where you have a number of different princes who are jostling for position within the bureaucracy in Saudi Arabia."

Even with these drawbacks, the United States is expected to strengthen its ties with Saudi Arabia against what they both see as a growing threat coming out of Yemen.

You May Like

Arrested Football Officials Come Mainly From the Americas

US Justice Department alleges defendants participated in 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through corruption of international soccer More

Video Kenyans Lament Al-Shabab's Recruitment of Youths

VOA travels to Isiolo, where residents share their fears, struggles to get loved ones back from Somalia-based militant group More

This US Epidemic Keeps Getting Worse

One in 4 Americans suffers from this condition More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensionsi
X
May 26, 2015 11:11 PM
When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

VOA Blogs