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

    Russia Sees Brexit Impact Widespread but Temporary

    Officials, citizens react to Britain’s vote to exit European Union with mix of pleasure, understanding and concern

    Obama Encourages Entrepreneurs to Seek Global Interconnection

    President tells entrepreneurs at global summit at Stanford University to find mentors, push ahead with new ideas on day after Britain voters decide to exit EU

    Video Some US Gun Owners Support Gun Control

    Defying the stereotype, Dave Makings says he'd give up his assault rifle for a comprehensive program to reduce gun violence

    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.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Unchartered Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Unchartered Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora