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

Multimedia US Defense Secretary: Iraqi Forces Lack 'Will to Fight'

Ash Carter criticizes Iraq's reaction to Islamic State; National Security Advisor Susan Rice echoed Carter's concerns in an interview on CBS More

Boko Haram Surrounds Havens With Land Mines

Chad and Cameroon say huge numbers of land mines planted by Boko Haram fighters along Cameroon's border with Nigeria are a danger to people, livestock and soldiers More

Women Activists for Peace Cross Korean DMZ

Governments of Koreas give international delegation of women peace activists permission to pass through heavily fortified boarder, but some critics say symbolic crossing only benefits Pyongyang 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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs