Yemen: The Next Battlefield in the Shadow War?

yemenFor the last year, CIA operations in Yemen have been increasing.  Now, more than ever, Yemen appears to be an emerging front in the CIA’s shadow war against “al-Qaeda” and it’s Arabian Peninsular division, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

America’s shadow war against terrorism appears to be slowly revealing a new front.  A group of construction workers in the Arabian Peninsula will be hard at work on a secret CIA runway.  Its purpose? To heavily ramp up drone strikes in Yemen designed to target al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the al-Qaeda branch based in Yemen.

Drone strikes have been steadily increasing within Yemeni borders as the CIA claims an increase in AQAP activity in the country.  Proof, apparently, is Anwar al-Awlaki, prominent Islamic cleric and his purported association with several terrorist related events in the West.  Others believe that his role has been exaggerated.

While many believe Mr al-Awlaki’s role in the global al-Qaeda jihad is overestimated, there is no doubt he has preached to a who’s who of jihadi attackers. They include the US army officer responsible for the Fort Hood shootings, Major Nidal Hassan; underpants bomber Abdulmuttallab; and Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad.

Reports of the latter two suspects being more greatly influenced by FBI sting operations than by al-Awlaki brings to bear the question of whether or not the CIA is using these dubious events as improper justification to step-up operations in Yemen when there is really no legitimate reason.

The “underpants bomber” was reportedly prevented by the FBI from flying to Alaska for a job after the FBI placed him on a no-fly terrorist list – only then was the FBI sting successful in coercing him into an act of simulated terrorism.

The Time Square bomber may have been watched by the FBI as early as 2004 – 6 whole years before his equally simulated terrorist attempt.  His real estate agent reported that he was a genuine, hard-working young man years before his “radicalization”. Could this all be a ruse to justify more action in Yemen, a strategically important country in the AP region?  And couldn’t this be a risky strategy that could actually escalate anti-Western sentiment by a currently semi-docile country?

Sarah Phillips, a lecturer at Sydney University’s Centre for International Security Studies, is a leading expert on AQAP and the political situation in Yemen.  Dr. Phillips states that “There is a strong tendency among intelligence analysts and Western media commentators to see the turmoil in the Yemeni periphery as providing a likely victory for AQAP, but it is not as black and white as this. There’s many competing social forces and agendas and AQAP is one of these.”

Disturbingly, Dr Phillips says that the most likely way for AQAP to gain further traction within Yemen is if the US steps up drone strikes against them, which would almost certainly cause further civilian casualties and provide Yemeni jihadis with a propaganda boon.

Worryingly, that appears to be exactly what the US is doing. The new runway and planned campaign will be run by the CIA, which has been increasing the use of drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan. About 2000 people have been killed by US drone strikes since 2001.

”It plays into AQAP’s rhetoric that they are pious Muslims defending their countrymen who are under attack by Western imperialists,” Dr Phillips says.  ”It risks giving them some extra oxygen at a time when their tactics are being quite widely questioned within Yemen.”

The CIA seems to be deliberately kicking a metaphorical hornet’s nest, daring AQAP to retaliate. Since it has been shown that the CIA is installing permanent infrastructure in Yemen to launch drone attacks, it can be assumed that they are digging their heels in for a protracted campaign in that country.  It can also be assumed that the drone campaign is likely not the only tactic being used in Yemen.  A number of assassinations have been taking place in the country. Could the CIA or a CIA-supported group (JSOC?) be targeting or intimidating Government leaders not friendly to Western foreign policy?  And what is their strategy to get Yemeni citizens to not care about the murder of it’s leaders and their families?

On 3 June Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh was injured in an RPG attack on his presidential compound, which killed four body guards and injured the prime minister, deputy prime minister, and the governor of Sanaa.. Al-Ahram Weekly reports:

Saleh’s supporters are still calling for him to return from Saudi Arabia and finish his presidential term which would end only on 20 September 2013.  Vice President Abdu Rabu Mansor Hadi, who is acting in Saleh’s absence, said earlier this week the crisis is close to an end, after consultations with American and European officials.

On Wednesday, Saleh’s supporters organised a big funeral for the chairman of Saleh’s advisory council, Abdel-Aziz Abdel-Ghani, 72, who died Monday of injuries he sustained in the failed assassination attempt against Saleh early last June.

Meanwhile, government troops are battling with Al-Qaeda operatives in the southern province of Abyan.  Dozens of people have been killed and injured in the almost daily clashes and battles taking place in these areas. Two suicide bombings by Al-Qaeda members killed more than 14 tribesmen in the southern province of Abyan. The tribesmen in the south recently sided with the government troops to get rid of Al-Qaeda.

Knowing that the US has been accused working with suspected members of al-Qaeda in Libya to overthrow the Government of Moamar Gadaffi, it’s completely possible that al-Qaeda is performing the same task in Yemen.  Of course, as it is made clear above, the people are fed up with AQAP and are siding the the current Yemeni Government.  Some drone strikes could fix that and as the Government of Saleh and acting President Hadi continue to take marching orders from American and European officials (as stated above), a clear line can then be drawn between the “Western/CIA puppets” and the “liberating forces” of AQAP.  Assassinating those in collusion with the drone operators would no longer get a negative reaction.

  • Abdul Hakim Achel, son of Mohamed Hussein Achel, member of the State Council on the Reform Party, was killed today, September 12, by an armed gunmen on a motorbike today in the city of Soufan.  Ali Hussein Osman Achel, Mohamed’s brother is in Parliament.  Late last month, Abu Bakr Muhammad Osman Achel, cousin of  these two brothers and possible employee of a Government “Directorate”, was also killed by unknown gunmen.
  • Deputy director of the protection department at the political security office in Yemen’s business capital Aden, Lt. Col. Ahmed Abd Rabu was killed on Sunday night, September 11, in the district of Khour Maksar when gunmen intercepted him on a blocked road and opened fire at his car killing him and injuring an associate.
  • On Sunday, September 11, Yemen’s Department of Defense announced the assassination of Brigadier General Mujahid Hussain Algahala in the capital city of Sana’a at his home in the neighborhood Msik in the capital.
  • Battalion Commander in the Yemeni Armored Brigade 31, Colonel Naji Mubarak Aazh Njamn, survived an assassination attempt when a bomb exploded on Sunday afternoon, September 11. The explosive device was planted in front of his Aden house in the city of Brega, also resulting in damage to his car.
  • General Mujahid al-Quhali was reported killed by dissident militants in his home located in Musaik zone in Sana’a on Sunday, September 11.

These assassinations all took place in a very short period of time (source). There are more that preceded these, but the above murders seem to be primarily comprised of Military Officials. Were these men were all targeted for the aforementioned reasons?

As usual, it’s never that simple.

Saleh’s cousin and brother in law, Brigadier General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, defected from Saleh’s inner circle in March of 2011, starting what some refer to as a ‘revolution’ in the making.  Before defecting, al-Ahmar was a powerful ally and close relative of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. For over 30 years, General Mohsen has been privy to the President’s decisions and political maneuvering.  In a recent interview with al-Hayat, Mohsen al-Ahmar said:

The General and other military high ranking officers have very recently accused the government of staging al-Qaeda attacks in order to retain [or justify] the west’s political [and military] support. In a public conference Mohsen declared that President Saleh had himself strong ties with the terrorist group, adding that some of its members were actually part of his inner circle. Everyone knows that some of these terrorist groups are present among his private guards. Just after Saleh spoke of al-Qaeda seizing control of provinces, the regime handed over Abyan to terrorist gunmen

Mohsen also alleged that Tarek and Ammar Saleh, the President’s nephews were responsible for enticing terrorism. “It serves their purposes” said the defected General.

The government vehemently denied the allegations, saying that President Saleh was a strong ally of the Americans in regards to the fight against terror in the region, adding that the General’s accusations were preposterous.

I fear that the regime might hand over control over other provinces to terrorist groups,” he said.

President Saleh may not be lying when he claims to be a “strong ally of the Americans”, especially if AQAP in Yemen is just a covert guerrilla force used to execute their political objectives and manipulate public opinion and state policy, both at home and abroad.  Could those “high ranking military officers” be any of those assassinated in recent days?

It’s very possible that it takes a much deeper understanding of the situation in Yemen to grasp what exactly is going on and who’s really killing who. But usually, when assassinations start popping off in large numbers and the CIA is around, the answers to the questions are usually the same.

UPDATE

In a surprise move early (6AM Yemen Time) this morning, September 13, President Saleh has authorized Vice President/Acting President Hadi, to sign a UN proposal phasing the two leaders out of power after more than 30 years in control of Yemen.  The deal gives them immunity from prosecution for any crimes committed and will supposedly begin the process of a new Presidential election. As reported:

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has authorised his deputy to negotiate a power transfer with the opposition, finally agreeing to put an end to a months-long political crisis.

State news agency SABA said Monday that Mr Saleh, who has been absent from the country for more than three months, “has given the vice president Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi the necessary constitutional authority to negotiate” the power transfer mechanism with the opposition.

The presidential decree authorises Mr Hadi to sign on Mr Saleh’s behalf the so-called Gulf Initiative, which was proposed by the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council and calls for a power transfer.

Mr Hadi can “agree on a time-frame… and sign” the agreement, according to the decree.

Mr Saleh, who has ruled Yemen since 1978 and has been recovering in Saudi Arabia from a June 3 attack on his presidential compound, also authorised Mr Hadi to begin preparations for early presidential elections to be carried out under regional and international supervision.

Saleh is obviously in poor and changing health and it is clear he is being implicated by General al-Ahmar of being in collusion with AQAP.  What better time to use his “get out of jail free” card?  The accusations now die with the accusers and the story that AQAP and the Yemeni Government are working together is officially dead. But will anything change?  Not likely. Mr. Hadi, as stated above, will be preparing for “Presidential Elections” under regional and international supervision.  As before, the Yemeni Government continues to show that they are not in control of their own fate and must consult their US and European overlords before ANY decisions are made.  The fact that the election will be supervised by Western interests could mean that nothing will change and another proxy-puppet will be placed at the head of the country to act at the behest of the United States and it’s interests.

drone-moonWhere Yemen goes from here is uncertain. To the public, it may seem like Yemen is getting a fresh start since there are few witnesses left to say otherwise.  The “revolution” was successful – the Saleh regime is no more – and the people are probably hopeful that new leadership will bring the country into a new era.   However, the CIA base is still under construction, the Yemeni military is still shelling General Mohsen al-Ahmar’s positions, AQAP is still present and creating problems and Western “humanitarian” intervention cannot be ruled out as the UN finally begins it’s delayed Media/PR campaign (similar to the one that touched off the Libyan conflict) claiming the current Yemeni Government is killing civilians at peaceful demonstrations.

One thing is certain – Yemen is poised to be an ongoing theater in the shadow war on terror.  Who will control Yemen’s future, however – the Yemeni Government, the US Government, AQAP or a tribal/sectarian group – is completely unknown … and certainly subject to change.

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