News / Middle East

US Faces Dilemma with Anti-Terror Ally Yemen

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, left, shakes hands with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton following her arrival for a visit to Yemen January 11, 2011.
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, left, shakes hands with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton following her arrival for a visit to Yemen January 11, 2011.
Elizabeth Arrott

The killing of extremist cleric Anwar al Awlaki in a U.S. drone attack in Yemen last week highlights the close ties between Washington and Sana'a. President Ali Abdullah Saleh has cast his leadership as critical to U.S. counter-terrorist efforts, and warned of chaos should his numerous opponents force him from power. But the U.S. may still have potential allies in Yemen if Saleh were to leave the scene.

President Saleh has never been the perfect partner in counter-terrorism. Too many extremists were released or "escaped" from Yemeni prisons for America's taste.  But for years he has said he is the last line of defense against the threat of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. And the U.S. responded with military and economic help that, intentionally or not, gave Saleh far more strength than his opponents believe he deserved.

Disappointment with U.S.

Many of the anti-government protests rocking Yemen this year do not have anti-Americanism as their root. But according to Hakkim al Masmari, an editor and columnist in Sana'a, demonstrators watched the U.S. reaction to other popular uprisings across the region and frustration set in.   

"The pro-democracy students are very ashamed at what the U.S. is doing. They feel that the U.S. is not playing it fair. They feel that the U.S. is not acting democratic and the U.S. is now supporting a dictator at a time when its called for democracy."

Washington has said it supports reform, and backs a Gulf Cooperation Council proposal that would see a peaceful transition of power in Yemen. How forcefully U.S. officials press for that change, especially in the wake of the cooperation that led to al Awlaki's death, is unclear. But Stephen Steinbeiser, with the American Center for Yemen Studies in Sana'a, says the potential for a partnership remains.

"The pro-democracy students identify themselves as being kind of the closest allies in Yemen that the U.S. currently has. They dismiss the current regime as being undemocratic, and they point to others as simply not adhering to U.S. democratic ideals.  But they are untested. And so it would really take some time to organize some political strengths and identify some strong leaders and only then begin to really articulate a policy that the U.S. would be interested in working with."

Engaging others within the opposition

The U.S. has been working with other groups in Yemen. Editor Masmari says the outreach of American diplomats toward tribal leaders has led to very strong connections, in particular with the al-Ahmar family, which heads a powerful tribal federation and is among the most potent of the anti-Saleh forces. Despite a warrior-like image reinforced by fierce street battles in the capital, analyst Steinbeiser says the clan's true interests may be more pragmatic.  

"The al-Ahmar family is a family of commerce. They're a business family, so I think they're more outward looking than a lot of people in Yemen might otherwise be. They have a number of concerns here in Yemen, including major telephone and cellular telephone networks. And I think that they could get on quite well with U.S. policy if it's conducted on the level of kind of business, commercial exchange."

Steinbeiser says that in terms of more complicated issues, he would be surprised if the al-Ahmar clan has formulated many specific policies.

A lack of future policy planning is perhaps understandable among others in the widely divergent array of anti-Saleh forces, focused now almost exclusively on removing the president from power.

But Steinbeiser feels at least in the short run, such groups as the al-Ahmar family, military defectors and the traditional opposition - those engaged in the current negotiations over the transfer of power - are likely to continue the current government's largely pro-U.S. policy. He says that may extend even to many Islamist groups, not the extremists, but those who want a religion-based government.

"My impression overall is that all of the groups realize the imperative of trying to keep Yemen as peaceful and stable as possible right now. Even before this political impasse occurred, Yemen was facing surmounting problems that would pressure a more established, richer nation.  And to have this kind of political wedge thrown into the works right now is very, very dangerous, and potentially very disruptive to any course of progress in Yemen for any of the groups mentioned."

While U.S. support of Saleh has bred resentment, the same military and financial aid he has enjoyed could well become building blocks for any future alliances, at least in the short term.

Watch this explainer of the situation in Yemen by Davin Hutchins in Washington, D.C, and Tom Finn in Sana'a:

Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. More

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

Dropout rate at an all-time high in South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during 3-year civil war More

Tennessee Songbirds Fly Coop Long Before Tornadoes Arrive

Researchers say birds apparently alerted to danger by sounds at frequencies below range of human hearing 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.
US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportionali
X
Aru Pande
December 19, 2014 1:45 AM
The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportional

The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid