News / Middle East

Yemen Unrest Complicates Anti-Terrorist Effort

Yemeni Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi (C), who is acting leader in the president's absence, heads a meeting with members of the ruling party in Sana'a, Yemen, June 6, 2011
Yemeni Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi (C), who is acting leader in the president's absence, heads a meeting with members of the ruling party in Sana'a, Yemen, June 6, 2011
Gary Thomas

Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh flew to Saudi Arabia on Saturday for treatment of wounds sustained in an attack on the presidential palace the day before. His departure sparked waves of jubilation among Yemenis, who have been agitating for him to step down. The unrest in Yemen and his departure - whether temporary or permanent - has sparked uncertainty over counter-terrorism efforts against the Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

Former U.S. ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine said Saleh’s flight to Riyadh appears to have been for legitimate medical treatment and was not part of a negotiated departure.

"I do not think he would have gone to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment unless he absolutely needed it," she said. "I think he’s smart enough to know that, having left, coming back is going to be very difficult, yes. It is a lot easier to hold on to power if you are there and it is really hard if you have to come back. But I do not think that in his mind he has abdicated."

But analysts say his departure, whether temporary or permanent, is something of a blow to U.S.-led counter-terrorism efforts.

Yemen is home to what is generally agreed to be the most potent offshoot of Osama bin Laden’s original al-Qaida - al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP. Kate Nevens, director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at the British think tank Chatham House, said Saleh skillfully parlayed fears of terrorism into aid and support.

"The U.S. administration has been pouring money into Saleh’s family, into his son Ahmed and his nephew Yahya, to run elite counter-terrorism units in Yemen," said Nevens. "This transition means that Saleh’s family lose power, the U.S. will lose their counter-terrorism allies and will have to renegotiate some kind of deal in Yemen. Whether al-Qaida in Yemen will be able to take advantage of this remains to be seen, I think."

Under Saleh’s rule, the United States has ramped up its drone attacks on suspected AQAP targets in Yemen. But, as Bodine points out, the drone attacks cannot happen without targeting help from Yemeni authorities.

"Drone attacks, which look like the ultimate unilateral action, require an enormous amount of current, accurate human intelligence," she said.  "And that has to come from the Yemenis, as much as from our guys, trying to figure out where are the bad guys so that you can hit them.  So we are dependent on this situation stabilizing in order to really gear up again our counter-terrorism efforts."

The counter-terrorism situation is further complicated by the fact that the conflict in Yemen has multiple facets and sides. There not only is the struggle between the government and the demonstrators in the streets, but the power battle between political elites as defined by the president and the tribal leaders. Nevens said that means there will be no single, clean transition of governmental power.

"I think what we are seeing is not so much a power vacuum, but we are going to be seeing a cycle of transitions - cycles of transitions," she said. "We are not looking at a situation where we are going to get a clean, decisive shift in power. We are looking at a fight between elite factions that could go on for some time, where they negotiate between themselves. We are talking the highest level of politics in Yemen, where they negotiate various power deals.

Bodine said that does not necessarily mean U.S. officials must start all over again in building new relations in Yemen.  

"We do have relations with people in the government, in civil society, in the opposition parties, well beyond Saleh," said Bodine. "It is not a cold start for us. But there is going to be a process, as much on their side as they get into their new jobs, their new functions, to decide what they want to do and what their priorities are that we are going to have to calibrate to fit."

The current temporary leader is Vice-President Abd al-Rab Mansur Hadi. But analysts say his staying power is questionable because of his long and close association with Saleh, who appointed him vice-president in 1994.  

Were Saleh to resign, the Yemeni constitution requires a new presidential election within 60 days.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
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.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs