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Thursday, 16 February 2012

Is US counter-terrorism fueling terrorism in Yemen asks Article - summary

Excellent article - we put some quotes as a summary for our readers but please click on the website if you want to read the full article (it is excellent and engaging) http://www.thenation.com/article/166265/target-yemen

The United States “should have never made counterterrorism a source of profit for the regime, because that increased terrorism,” asserts [analyst, not FM]  Iryani. “Their agenda was to keep terrorism alive, because it was their cash cow."  [Yemen Rights Monitor has been saying this all along]
As the Yemeni military began fighting the militants, General Sumali tells me, men from Yemen’s Central Security Forces fled, abandoning heavy weaponry as they retreated. 
 "Saleh himself actually handed over Zinjibar to these militants,” asserts Abdul Ghani al Iryani, a well-connected political analyst. “He ordered his police force to evacuate the city and turn it over to the militants because he wanted to send a signal to the world that, without me, Yemen will fall into the hands of the terrorists.”\
A Yemeni government official, who asked to remain anonymous because he is not authorized to speak publicly about military issues, admitted that troops from the US-trained and -supported Republican Guard did not respond when the militants entered the town
 According to the Yemeni government, they were operatives of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group Washington has identified as the single most dangerous terrorist threat facing the United States.
Eventually, in mid-January, Yahya (the person incharge of Abyan, Saleh's nephew) posted pictures of himself online, hanging out in Havana with the family of Che Guevara.
  Qahtan, the leader of Islah’s Muslim Brotherhood faction, charged that under Saleh, “The Yemeni government behaved in the war on terror as a contractor for the US,” adding that if Islah and its allies take control of the country, “we will not be contractors for the US, implementing what they want according to the money we receive. Our slogan is, ‘We are partners, not contractors.’”
 The strikes “have recruited thousands.”   Yemeni tribesmen, he says, share one common goal with Al Qaeda, “which is revenge against the Americans, because those who were killed are the sons of the tribesmen, and the tribesmen never, ever give up on revenge.
"Hamza al Murqoshi, the emir of Ansar al Sharia, in a videotaped “Message to Abyan” posted in late January. “The entire world has united against us with this treacherous government, which has demolished your homes and destroyed the infrastructure. You have joined the fight against this state and its allies, the Americans.”
[Tribal Leader Zabara says, why should we fight Al-Qaeyda- if your car gets stolen, they'll get it back for you, but there is only theft & looting, no rule of law in govt areas. He believes they want to attack America but says,] “The US sees Al Qaeda as terrorism, and we consider the drones terrorism,” he says. The US received compensation from Libya for the Lockerbie bombing, but the Yemenis have not.” Regarding Al-Qayeda he says, " “If they fight seriously, the funds will stop. They prolonged the conflict with Al Qaeda to receive more funds” from the United States. [which is why Bin Laden was located next to a military academy before he died in a very corrupt state of Pakistan, where like Yemeni, capital flight has exceeded investment]
. “I think if we had been left alone, we would have less terrorists in Yemen than we do now.”  - Irayani (the analyst, not FM)
http://www.thenation.com/slideshow/166279/us-counterterrorism-fueling-islamist-militants-yemen

quotes

General Mohammed Sumali (3 of 13)

General Mohammed Sumali from the 25th Mechanized Brigade stands with his troops near the front lines in Zinjibar. General Sumali is tasked with retaking the city from Ansar Al Sharia.

General Sumali's troops

General Sumali's troops (5 of 13)

Many of General Sumali's troops appear underfed and poorly equipped—a far cry from the US-backed counterterrorism units commanded by President Saleh's family members.
 The US-trained and -funded CTU is commanded by President Saleh's nephew, Yahya Saleh. They have been largely absent from the battle in Zinjibar.
CTU training 
 

CTU training (7 of 13)

A CTU soldier launches a rocket-propelled grenade on a training exercise near the capital city, Sana'a. Critics allege that the CTU is more concerned with defending the regime than fighting terrorism.

(Note Saleh supporters used CTU training to have snipers propel rocket propelled grenades at unarmed civilians in Sanaa, the capital)

Mullah Zabara (13 of 13)

Mullah Zabara, a tribal leader from Southern Yemen, says that American airstrikes are strengthening Al Qaeda. "You say Al Qaeda are terrorists, we say your air strikes are terrorism."

------------
The article:

Gen. Mohammed al-Sumali sits in the passenger seat of his armored Toyota Land Cruiser as it whizzes down the deserted highway connecting the Yemeni port city of Aden to Abyan province, where Islamist militants have overrun the provincial capital of Zinjibar. Sumali, a heavy-set man with glasses and a mustache, is the commander of the 25th Mechanized Brigade of the Yemeni armed forces and the man charged with cleansing Zinjibar of the militants. Sumali’s task carries international significance: retaking Zinjibar is seen by many as a final test of the flailing regime of Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, the unpopular ruler who has deftly exploited the US government’s perception of him as an ally in the fight against terrorism to maintain his grip on power

General Sumali gives his account of what happened on May 27, 2011 
On that day, several hundred militants laid siege to Zinjibar, thirty miles northeast of the important southern city of Aden, killing several soldiers, driving out local officials and taking control within two days

   “We were surprised in late May with the flow of a large number of terrorist militants into Zinjibar.” He adds that the militants “raided and attacked some security sites. They were able to seize these institutions. We were surprised when the governor, his deputies and other local officials fled to Aden.” As the Yemeni military began fighting the militants, General Sumali tells me, men from Yemen’s Central Security Forces fled, abandoning heavy weaponry as they retreated. The CSF, whose counterterrorism unit is armed, trained and funded by the United States, is commanded by President Saleh’s nephew Yahya. (A media outlet associated with the militants reported that they seized “heavy artillery pieces, modern antiaircraft weapons, a number of tanks and armored transports in addition to large quantities of different kinds of ammunition.”)

 Saleh himself actually handed over Zinjibar to these militants,” asserts Abdul Ghani al Iryani, a well-connected political analyst. “He ordered his police force to evacuate the city and turn it over to the militants because he wanted to send a signal to the world that, without me, Yemen will fall into the hands of the terrorists.” That theory, while unproven, is not baseless. Since the mujahedeen war against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s and continuing after 9/11, Saleh has famously milked the threat of Al Qaeda and other militants to leverage counterterrorism funding and weapons from the United States and Saudi Arabia, to bolster his power within the country and to neutralize opponents.
 
 
 A Yemeni government official, who asked to remain anonymous because he is not authorized to speak publicly about military issues, admitted that troops from the US-trained and -supported Republican Guard did not respond when the militants entered the town.Those forces are commanded by Saleh’s son, Ahmed Ali. Neither did those forces loyal to one of the most powerful military figures in the country, Gen. Ali Mohsen, commander of the 1st Armored Division, move in. Two months before Zinjibar was seized, Mohsen had defected from the Saleh regime and was supporting his overthrow.

 Moreover, just who exactly these militants were who overtook Zinjibar is a matter of some dispute. According to the Yemeni government, they were operatives of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group Washington has identified as the single most dangerous terrorist threat facing the United States. But the militants who took the city did not claim to be from AQAP. Instead, they announced themselves as a new group, Ansar al Sharia, or Supporters of Sharia. Senior Yemeni officials told me that Ansar al Sharia is simply a front for Al Qaeda. They point out that the first known public reference to the group was made a month before the attack on Zinjibar by AQAP’s top cleric, Adil al-Abab. “The name Ansar al Sharia is what we use to introduce ourselves in areas where we work to tell people about our work and goals, and that we are on the path of Allah,” he said, adding that the new name was intended to put the focus on the message of the group so as to avoid being bogged down with the baggage of the Al Qaeda brand. Whether Ansar al Sharia had more independent origins or it’s merely a product of AQAP’s crude rebranding campaign, as Abab claims, the group’s significance would soon extend well beyond Al Qaeda’s historically limited spheres of influence in Yemen while simultaneously popularizing some of AQAP’s core tenets

We pass the first front line on the outskirts of Zinjibar, “Tiger 1,” and drive a half-mile to “Tiger 2.” Sumali reluctantly agrees to let us get out. “We will only stay for two minutes,” he says. “It’s dangerous here.” The general is soon besieged by his men. They look thin and haggard, many with long beards and tattered uniforms or no uniforms at all. Some of them plead with Sumali to write them notes authorizing additional combat pay. One of the soldiers tells him, “I was with you when you were ambushed. I helped fight off the attack.” Sumali scribbles on a piece of paper and hands it to the soldier. The scene continues until Sumali gets back into the Toyota. As we drive away, he speaks from his armored vehicle through a loudspeaker at his men. “Keep fighting. Do not give up!”
Sumali tells me he cannot “confirm or deny” that Ansar al Sharia is actually AQAP. “What is important for me, as a soldier, is that they have taken up arms against us. Anyone who is attacking our institutions and military camps and killing our soldiers, we will fight them regardless of if they are Al Qaeda affiliates or Ansar al Sharia,” he says. “We don’t care what they call themselves. And I can’t confirm whether Ansar al Sharia is affiliated with Al Qaeda or if they are an independent group.”
There is no question that AQAP took advantage of the moment, shrewdly recognizing that its message of a Sharia-based system of law and order would be welcomed by many in Abyan who viewed the Saleh regime as a US puppet. The US missile strikes, the civilian casualties, an almost total lack of government services and a deepening poverty all contributed. “As these groups of militants took over the city, then AQAP came in and also tribes from areas that have been attacked in the past by the Yemeni government and by the US government,” says Iryani, the political analyst. “They came because they have a feud against the regime and against the US. There is a nucleus of AQAP, but the vast majority are people who are aggrieved by attacks on their homes that forced them to go out and fight.” According to statistics published by the US Agency for International Development, “insecurity displaced more than 40,000 Zinjibaris in 2011.”
Unlike the militant movement Al Shabab in Somalia, AQAP has never taken control of significant swaths of territory in Yemen. But Ansar al Sharia pledged to do just that, declaring an Islamic Emirate in Abyan. Once Ansar al Sharia and its allies solidified their grip on Zinjibar, they implemented an agenda aimed at winning hearts and minds. “Ansar al Sharia has been much more proactive in attempting to provide services in areas in Yemen where the government has virtually disappeared,” says Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen scholar at Princeton University. “It has claimed that it is following the Taliban model in attempting to provide services and Islamic government where the central government in Yemen has left a vacuum.”
Ansar al Sharia repaired roads, restored electricity, distributed food and began security patrols inside the city and its surroundings. It also established Sharia courts where disputes could be resolved. “Al Qaeda and Ansar al Sharia brought security to the people in areas that were famous for insecurity, famous for thefts, for roadblocks,” says Abdul Rezzaq al Jamal, an independent Yemeni journalist who regularly interviews Al Qaeda leaders and has spent extensive time in Zinjibar. “The people I met in Zinjibar were grateful to Al Qaeda and Ansar al Sharia for maintaining security.
 While the militants in Abyan may be bringing law and order, this is, at times, enforced with horrifying tactics such as limb amputations against accused thieves and public floggings of suspected drug users. In one incident in the Ansar al Sharia–held town of Jaar, residents said they were summoned to a gruesome event where militants used a sword to chop off the hands of two young men accused of stealing electric cables. The amputated limbs were then paraded around the town as a warning to would-be thieves. One of the young men, a 15-year-old, reportedly died soon after from massive blood loss. 
The taking of Zinjibar could be an indication that AQAP is effectively exploiting the growing power vacuum in Yemen. But what could be more dangerous is that support for AQAP’s agenda is indigenously spreading and merging with the mounting rage of powerful tribes at US counterterrorism policy and Washington’s years of support for the Saleh regime.
By late 2011, the United States had largely withdrawn its military assets from Yemen, including Special Operations forces, leaving much of the coordination for Yemen ops to the US forces stationed in the East African nation of Djibouti, where the United States has a large military base. The US-backed Yemeni Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) and Republican Guard forces no longer operated under the tutelage and direction of their US sponsors. CTU commanders told me in January that they don’t even have ammunition for their US-supplied M4 assault rifles. As battles raged at the premier front line in Abyan in late December/early January, Yahya Saleh, the US-backed head of the CTU, was nowhere to be found in Yemen. When I visited a CTU training base outside Sanaa, his men claimed not to know where he was. Senior Yemeni officials also said they had no idea where he was—other than that he was out of the country. They said they did not know when he would return. Eventually, in mid-January, Yahya posted pictures of himself online, hanging out in Havana with the family of Che Guevara.
 Rather than fighting AQAP, these US-backed units—created and funded with the explicit intent to be used only for counterterrorism operations—redeployed to Sanaa to protect the collapsing regime from its own people. The US-supported units exist “mostly for the defense of the regime,” says Iryani. “In the fighting in Abyan, the counterterrorism forces have not been deployed in any effective way. They are still here in the palace [in Sanaa], protecting the palace. That’s how it is.” President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, acknowledged late last year that the “political tumult” has caused the US-trained units “to be focused on their positioning for internal political purposes as opposed to doing all they can against AQAP.”

Saleh allowed the United States to regularly strike against AQAP in Yemen, and US Special Operations forces built up the specialized units, run by Saleh’s family members, that were widely seen as US surrogates. Saleh’s government actively conspired with US officials to cover up the US role in Yemen, at times publicly taking credit for US bombings. Even as demonstrations grew against the Saleh regime, US officials praised his government’s cooperation. “I can say today the counterterrorism cooperation with Yemen is better than it’s been during my whole tenure,” Brennan declared in September.
But US counterterrorism policy is extremely unpopular in Yemen. Whether a new government would continue the same type of counterterrorism relationship Saleh had with Washington is very much in question. In a series of interviews, Mohammed Qahtan and other leaders of the main opposition group, the Islah Party, sharply criticized US airstrikes in Yemen and the targeted killing of terrorism suspects, saying that they should have been put on trial in Yemen. Qahtan, the leader of Islah’s Muslim Brotherhood faction, charged that under Saleh, “The Yemeni government behaved in the war on terror as a contractor for the US,” adding that if Islah and its allies take control of the country, “we will not be contractors for the US, implementing what they want according to the money we receive. Our slogan is, ‘We are partners, not contractors.’”
   By last summer, the Obama administration had begun construction on a secret air base on the Arabian peninsula, closer than its base in Djibouti, that could serve as a launching pad for expanded drone strikes in Yemen
n late January the United States carried out a series of airstrikes in Abyan, and, according to Sumali, US forces conducted at least two other strikes around Zinjibar that “targeted Al Qaeda leaders who are on the US terrorist black list,” though he adds, “I did not coordinate directly in these attacks.” According to Sumali, US helicopters have—on several occasions—flown in supplies for the 25th Mechanized. The Americans have also provided real-time intelligence, obtained by drones, to Yemeni forces in Abyan. “It has been an active partnership. The Americans help primarily with logistics and intelligence,” Sumali says. “Then we pound the positions with artillery or airstrikes.”
 Some of the unilateral strikes have killed their intended targets, such as the CIA attack on Awlaki. But others have killed civilians—at times, a lot of civilians. And many of these have been in Abyan and its neighboring province of Shebwa, both of which have recently seen a substantial rise of AQAP activity. President Obama’s first known authorization of a missile strike on Yemen, on December 17, 2009, killed more than forty Bedouins, many of them women and children, in the remote village of al Majala in Abyan. Another US strike, in May 2010, killed an important tribal leader and the deputy governor of Marib province, Jabir Shabwani, sparking mass anger at the United States and Saleh’s government. “I think these airstrikes were based on false intelligence from the regime, because that is the nature of the contractor,” Qahtan charges. “The contractor wants to create more work in return for earning more money.”
 The strikes “have recruited thousands.”     
  Yemeni tribesmen, he says, share one common goal with Al Qaeda, “which is revenge against the Americans, because those who were killed are the sons of the tribesmen, and the tribesmen never, ever give up on revenge. 


The United States may see AQAP as a membership organization with a finite number of members who can be taken out through a drone- and Tomahawk missile–fueled war of attrition, but there are varying shades of support and involvement among broader segments of Yemeni society. While there are certainly some foreign operatives in AQAP, the majority of those described as “militants” are Yemenis who belong to powerful tribes. “In recent months, Ansar al Sharia appears to have attracted a number of new members,” says Johnsen, the Yemen scholar at Princeton. “The group has essentially attempted to flatten itself out in Yemen in order to appeal to as many people as possible, which means that it takes the popular parts of AQAP’s platform, while downplaying the more controversial sections.”

 “I wish to send a message to my brothers and the honorable people of Abyan,” declared Abu Hamza al Murqoshi, the emir of Ansar al Sharia, in a videotaped “Message to Abyan” posted in late January. “The entire world has united against us with this treacherous government, which has demolished your homes and destroyed the infrastructure. You have joined the fight against this state and its allies, the Americans.”
But US policy has enraged tribal leaders who could potentially keep AQAP in check and has, over the past three years of regular bombings, taken away the motivation for many leaders to do so. Several southern leaders angrily told me stories of US and Yemeni attacks in their areas that killed civilians and livestock and destroyed or damaged scores of homes. If anything, the US airstrikes and support for Saleh-family-run counterterrorism units has increased tribal sympathy for Al Qaeda. “Why should we fight them? Why?” asks Sheik Ali Abdullah Abdulsalam, a southern tribal sheik from Shebwa who adopted the nom du guerre Mullah Zabara, he says, out of admiration for Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. “If my government built schools, hospitals and roads and met basic needs, I would be loyal to my government and protect it. So far, we don’t have basic services such as electricity, water pumps. Why should we fight Al Qaeda?” He says that AQAP controls large swaths of Shebwa, conceding that the group does “provide security and prevent looting. If your car is stolen, they will get it back for you.” In areas “controlled by the government, there is looting and robbery. You can see the difference.” Zabara adds, “If we don’t pay more attention, Al Qaeda could seize and control more areas.”
 Zabara is quick to clarify that he believes AQAP is a terrorist group bent on attacking the United States, but that is hardly his central concern. “The US sees Al Qaeda as terrorism, and we consider the drones terrorism,” he says. “The drones are flying day and night, frightening women and children, disturbing sleeping people. This is terrorism.”
  He and other tribal leaders asked the Yemeni and US governments for assistance in removing them, he says. “We did not get any response, so we use our guns to explode them.” He also says the US government should pay money to the families of civilians killed in the missile strikes of the past three years. “We demand compensation from the US for killing Yemeni citizens, just like the Lockerbie case,” he declares. “The world is one village. The US received compensation from Libya for the Lockerbie bombing, but the Yemenis have not.”
 “Once I got stopped by AQAP guys at one of their checkpoints, and they saw I had a bottle of Johnnie Walker,” he recalls as he guzzles his second Heineken in ten minutes and lights a cigarette. “They asked me, ‘Why do you have that?’ I told them, ‘to drink it.’” He laughs heartily. “I told them to bother another guy and drove off.” The message of the story is clear: the Al Qaeda guys don’t want trouble with tribal leaders. “I am not afraid of Al Qaeda; I go to their sites and meet them. We are all known tribesmen, and they have to meet us to solve their disputes.” Plus, he adds: “I have 30,000 fighters in my own tribe. Al Qaeda can’t attack me.”
Zabara has served as a mediator with AQAP for the Yemeni government and was instrumental in securing the release in November of three French aid workers held hostage by the militant group for six months. He said he intervened after an AQAP agent called him. “A person phoned me and told me that they would kill the French in revenge for the death of al-Awlaki,” Zabara recalls. “I traveled to where they were and told them, ‘If you kill the French, we will fight you using our daggers.’” Eventually, Zabara—along with an undisclosed sum of money—was able to persuade AQAP to release the hostages. He whips out his cellphone and shows me several pictures he took of the hostages as they were being freed.
o.’ We have nothing against them. In the past, it was unthinkable to run into them. They were hiding in the mountains and caves, but now they are walking in the streets and going to restaurants.” Why is that? I ask. “The regime, the ministers and officials are squandering the money allocated to fight Al Qaeda, while Al Qaeda expands,” he says. The United States “funds the Political Security and the National Security [forces], which spend money traveling here and there, in Sanaa or in the US, with their family. All the tribes get is airstrikes against us.” He adds that counterterrorism “has become like an investment” for the US-backed units. “If they fight seriously, the funds will stop. They prolonged the conflict with Al Qaeda to receive more funds” from the United States. 
 That, in a nutshell, is how many Yemenis see the US role in their country. The United States “should have never made counterterrorism a source of profit for the regime, because that increased terrorism,” asserts Iryani. “Their agenda was to keep terrorism alive, because it was their cash cow." 
: Did US counterterrorism policy strengthen the very threat it sought to eliminate? “It was a major fiasco,” Iryani says of the past decade of US counterterrorism policy in Yemen. “I think if we had been left alone, we would have less terrorists in Yemen than we do now.”

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