War-against-terror makes progress in Yemen

Analysts agree American role must be limited to support and training.

War-against-Terror Makes Progress in Yemen (photo credit: Reuters)
War-against-Terror Makes Progress in Yemen
(photo credit: Reuters)
[Sana’a] The war against Al-Qa’ida’s terrorist franchise in Yemen, Ansar Al-Sharia, is showing significant progress under the leadership of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, according to military analysts and experts who warn that the American role must be one of support and not front-line action.
The assessment is largely predicated upon recent success by government troops in fighting the Al-Qa’ida loyalists in southern Yemen. In May, with American backing, the Yemeni army launched a comprehensive military campaign against Ansar Al-Sharia, driving them out of strongholds they had seized last year during the unrest triggered by massive, popular protests in the nation’s streets calling for an end to the 33-year-long rule of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Saeed Obaid, a Yemeni analyst with expertise in counter-terrorism and chairman of al-Jahmi Center for Studies, told The Media Line that, "The fight against terrorism has made considerable progress because unlike his predecessor, Mr. Hadi has proved to be serious about fighting terrorism and adamant about eliminating terrorists from Yemen.”
Obaid said that Hadi needs more logistical support from the US and from other western nations in order to defeat the terrorist group, adding that what Yemen’s army accomplished recently in the war against terror is substantial in light of the current state of the Yemeni military and its security forces, which suffer from disunity and conflicting loyalties.
"We can say that terrorism in Yemen has begun to come under control,” Obaid said, arguing that the army managed to re-take towns that had come under Al-Qa’ida control. “The Al-Qa’ida media sector, which used to brag about its attacks against the government and claim responsibility for them, has finally found its silence; relative calm in the south has been restored; and government officials are carrying out their duties naturally again,” he argued.
However, Obaid cautioned that the situation in southern Yemen remains dangerous and volatile given the deadly suicide attacks the terror network has managed to carry out against high-ranking military and security officials, including the commander of the Southern Military Area, Salem Qatan.
Terrorism in Yemen will not come into complete control until the army and security forces have been reorganized and united under a national leadership, Obaid opined.
A high-ranking security official speaking to The Media Line on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to brief the media, said the American counter-terrorism strategy in Yemen has its strong as well as its weak points.
He said, "American support for Yemeni army and security forces has had a major impact on the war against terror. Washington has helped build powerful security units capable of fighting and defeating Al-Qa’ida. These units will not rest until Al-Qa’ida-linked terrorists have completely been eliminated.”
He summed-up the situation by saying that, “While US-Yemeni cooperation in the war against terror is not as successful as it was supposed to be, it has, nevertheless, achieved some successes,” an assessment Obaid shared, both men citing strategic differences between the last two American administrations as an illustration.
According to the analysis, U.S strategy basically lacks an understanding of the geographical, cultural, social and traditional differences between fighting terrorism in the United States and combating it in Yemen.
For his part, Abdusalam Mohammed, chairman of the Abaad Studies and Research Center, said in a phone conversation with The Media Line that, "the American counter-terrorism strategy in Yemen is not totally effective, but no one can deny that it has had a major effect on the war against terrorism.”
According to Mohammed, even Yemen’s Counter-terrorism Unit (CTU), which is US-funded-and-trained for the sole purpose of combating terror in Yemen, has not been given a real, effective role in the battles against Ansar Al-Sharia in the southern province of Abyan, where the Al-Qa’ida-affiliate had taken over two key towns.
"So, the credit for the recent victory over militants in Abyan should be given to the regular army troops, who were neither trained by the US nor equipped with American-donated weapons,” he said.
Underscoring the existence of a dark side, analyst Hassan Al-Haifi repeated the charge that US-trained Yemeni forces took part in killing civilians in Saadah province and took action against peaceful protesters in the southern part of Yemen. He also agreed with Mohammed that the CTU forces' involvement in the war against terror has so far been limited.
Early this year, the White House gave the CIA and the Pentagon broader authority to use drone strikes against terrorists in Yemen. Although the use of drones in Yemen, which dates back to 2008 and 2009, has been effective in terms of carrying out the targeted-killings of high-ranking leaders of the terror network, the collateral damage in the form of civilian lives lost has triggered public outrage against the United States. This prompted many Yemeni and foreign analysts to warn that overall, the use of drones has a detrimental effect on the war against terrorism because the perception is that they often cause more harm than good.
Obaid said, “Drones have helped Al-Qa’ida garner more supporters and sympathizers. Al-Qa’ida is well-experienced in exploiting civilian casualties resulting from drone-attacks to its own advantage. It seeks to convince the public that the US is waging a crusade against Islam and Muslims in general.”
He gave the example of the assassination of the American-born radical cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki that was carried out with a missile fired from a drone, suggesting that the incident, presented to the American people as a key success in the war against Al-Qa’ida terror in Yemen, actually made the public hate both the local government and its US backers. And in the process, it earned the terrorist faction more supporters and newfound popularity.
Mohammed cited as positive the reduced use of drones by the Hadi administration -- crediting it to “the American keenness not to provoke public rage against the US” – as a major factor in the assessment common among analysts and officials that the war on terror needs to be carried out by the local army. “The American role should never go beyond funding and training Yemeni troops,” they agreed.
For more stories from The Media Line go to www.themedialine.org