By Brian Downing
A slew of terrorist plans, mostly failed in the execution, have been traced to a group operating in Yemen – al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. World attention is focused on Yemen and also on the United States, as a response is expected. Proximity to oil resources, Iran’s involvement in the country, and several other factors (geopolitical and humanitarian) assure a response – thoughtful and effective or not.
Political problems that attracted al Qaeda to Afghanistan are also found in Yemen. The weakness of the government in Sana’a means little control over large parts of the country. Many tribes are indifferent to the central government; others are hostile to it and are even moving toward secession and civil war. Tribal leaders have parleyed agreements with al Qaeda leaders, much as the Taliban did with Pashtun tribes of the Afghan south and east, much as the US is trying to do there, albeit belatedly. Indeed, many similarities between Yemen and Afghanistan readily occur, and invite caution.
The movement of al Qaeda’s center to the Arabian peninsula is also being brought on by external events in Iraq and Afghanistan. American and Saudi efforts turned the Iraqi insurgents against al Qaeda, which was seen by locals as haughty and disrespectful of tribal customs in the Sunni center. Though many al Qaeda fighters have found havens in Arab enclaves of the Kurdish north, many others have left Iraq for other opportunities, to the south.
Along the Af-Pak frontier, where bin Laden and the remnants of his base ensconced themselves after 2001, al Qaeda has become a minor player in the insurgency there. It is much smaller than the Taliban, Tehrik-i Taliban, Hizb-i Islami, and perhaps even the Haqqani network. Those groups once relied on al Qaeda, but over the years they’ve developed independent funding sources and acquired their own skills in bomb making and other guerrilla techniques. Image source