CNN reported early Wednesday that the U.S. and Yemen have reached "a new classified agreement" according to which they will "work together" and "the U.S. will remain publicly silent on its role in providing intelligence and weapons to conduct strikes." -- (CNN did not explain how this differs from the current arrangement.) -- "By all accounts, the agreement would allow the U.S. to fly cruise missiles, fighter jets, or unmanned armed drones against targets in Yemen with the consent of that government," Barbara Starr said. -- WSWS noted that the Yemeni goverment is "the dictatorial regime of Field Marshall Ali Saleh, who has been head of state for more than 30 years -- first as president of North Yemen until 1990, and then, after the post-Cold War unification, as president of the unified country." -- Last month, the United Nations Committee against Torture issued a stinging report on conditions in Yemen," Bill Van Auken said. -- "The report said that security forces and prison authorities carried out torture with impunity. A document submitted to the U.N. committee by a group of Yemeni human rights organizations listed a number of opposition activists who have been tortured to death, while describing detainees -- including children -- being beaten with cables, burned, suspended from their hands and arms, raped, and threatened with rape. -- This is the character of the regime with which, according to the Times, the Obama 'White House is seeking to nurture enduring ties.' The dispatch of Special Operations commandos and CIA operatives to Yemen will only intensify this hideous repression." -- In its analysis of the situation, the Economist Intelligence Unit warned that U.S. concerns about Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) show every sign of being "overblown": "Yemen is in a parlous state, but it is not about to be overrun by a local equivalent of the Taliban. . . . The attacks on Prince Naif and on the Northwest Airlines flight showed ingenuity, but they also exposed some of AQAP's limitations, in that they were both carried out by lone individuals with relatively small amounts of explosives. It is unrealistic to expect al-Qaida to be eliminated as a terrorist threat anytime soon, but the movement so far failed to make sustained and decisive breakthroughs in any of its major campaigns over the past decade, notably in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and in trying to build up a new franchise in North Africa. AQAP in Yemen is unlikely to break this pattern." ...
OFFICIALS: U.S., YEMEN REVIEWING TARGETS FOR POSSIBLE STRIKE
By Barbara Starr
December 29, 2009
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. and Yemen are now looking at fresh targets in Yemen for a potential retaliation strike, two senior U.S. officials told CNN Tuesday, in the aftermath of the botched Christmas Day attack on an airliner that al Qaeda in Yemen claims it organized.
The officials asked not to be not be identified because of the sensitive nature of the information. They both stressed the effort is aimed at being ready with options for the White House if President Obama orders a retaliatory strike. The effort is to see whether targets can be specifically linked to the airliner incident and its planning.
U.S. special operations forces and intelligence agencies, and their Yemeni counterparts, are working to identify potential al Qaeda targets in Yemen, one of the officials said. This is part of a new classified agreement with the Yemeni government that the two countries will work together and that the U.S. will remain publicly silent on its role in providing intelligence and weapons to conduct strikes.
Officially the U.S. has not said it conducted previous airstrikes in Yemen, but officials are privately saying the Yemeni military could not have carried out the strikes on its own.
By all accounts, the agreement would allow the U.S. to fly cruise missiles, fighter jets, or unmanned armed drones against targets in Yemen with the consent of that government.
One of the officials said Yemen has not yet consented to the type of special forces helicopter-borne air assault that would put U.S. commandos on the ground with the mission of capturing suspects for further interrogation. That is also a capability the U.S. would like the Yemenis to eventually develop, the official said.
At this point, the U.S. believes there may be a few hundred al Qaeda fighters in Yemen centered around a group of key network leaders. U.S. intelligence believes some key leaders were killed in recent airstrikes but is still working to confirm details.
U.S. military and intelligence officials describe to CNN an al Qaeda network with organized command and control that has evolved and grown over the past year. U.S. intelligence concludes there are several training camps similar to those established in other countries where one or two dozen fighters at a time train.
The U.S. and Yemenis are also looking into the possibility the Nigerian suspect in the airliner incident trained at one of the camps.
One of the camps was among the targets in each set of airstrikes earlier this month.
IN WAKE OF AIRLINE INCIDENT: DRUMBEAT FOR U.S. WAR IN YEMEN
By Bill Van Auken
World Socialist Web Site
December 29, 2009
In the wake of the abortive Christmas Day attempt by a 23-year-old Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, to detonate a bomb on a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam, there has been an escalating drumbeat for a wider U.S. military intervention in Yemen.
While U.S. officials initially said they believed that the suspect acted alone and had no formal ties to any terrorist organizations, this did not deter leading politicians of both political parties and much of the U.S. media from immediately raising the prospect of war in Yemen, where Abdulmutallab has family ties (his mother is Yemeni), and where Al Qaeda has a presence.
Media reports have subsequently cited unnamed U.S. officials as saying that Abdulmutallab has told interrogators that he had attended an Al Qaeda camp in Yemen, while a web site claiming to speak for the organization claimed credit for the failed bombing.
Whatever the truth of the Yemeni connection to the incident, it has proven highly fortuitous for the Obama administration, which -- parallel to its Afghanistan escalation -- has already launched a secret military intervention in the impoverished Arab country.
As the New York Times reported Monday, “In the midst of two unfinished major wars, the United States has quietly opened a third, largely covert front against Al Qaeda in Yemen.”
Citing unnamed U.S. intelligence and military officials, the Times reports that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has dispatched “several of its top field operatives with counterterrorism experience to the country,” while “some of the most secretive Special Operations commandos have begun training Yemeni security forces in counterterrorism tactics.”
U.S. military aid to Yemen has been raised to $70 million under the Obama administration, compared to virtually nothing in 2008.
The reports on increased activities by CIA operatives and Special Operations military commandos in Yemen follow a series of covert U.S. airstrikes. On December 17, U.S. warplanes firing cruise missiles targeted what officials in Washington claimed were Al Qaeda training camps in the provinces of Sana’a and Abyan. Officials in Yemen, however, said that the attacks claimed the lives of more than 60 civilians, 28 of them children.
A second airstrike was carried out on December 24 in the remote region of Shabwa against what U.S. officials described as a meeting of Al Qaeda operatives. Again, Yemenis in the area said that there had been no such meeting.
U.S. intelligence officials indicate that one of the intended targets of the December 24 airstrike was Anwar al Awlaki, a Muslim cleric who is a U.S. citizen born in New Mexico. While Awlaki has been linked to the U.S. Army major, Nidal Malik Hasan, who is charged in last month’s mass shooting at Fort Hood, he has himself been accused of no crime. The attempt to carry out his extra-judicial execution has provoked not a hint of criticism from any section of the media or the political establishment in the U.S.
U.S. warplanes have also reportedly been used, along with Saudi military action, against an internal rebellion in northwestern Saada province near the border with Saudi Arabia. The attacks are aimed at an armed movement known as the Houthis, named for their former commander, which was formed to defend the Zaydi Shia population. The dominant group in the country until 1962, when a Nasserite coup overthrew the ruling monarchy, the Zaydi population has faced repression and discrimination at the hands of the present government.
The Houthi fighters charge that U.S. warplanes have launched some 30 attacks on Saada since last August, when the Yemeni regime launched a military offensive dubbed “Operation Scorched Earth.”
U.S. foreign policy circles have tried to cast the war against the Houthis as a struggle against Iranian influence in the region. At the same time, the Yemeni regime has made the improbable claim that the movement is backed by Al Qaeda, which is based on Sunni fundamentalism and has engaged in terror attacks against Shia populations.
The U.S. military intervention in Yemen is being carried out in support of the dictatorial regime of Field Marshall Ali Saleh, who has been head of state for more than 30 years -- first as president of North Yemen until 1990, and then, after the post-Cold War unification, as president of the unified country.
Yemen, with 23.8 million people, is the poorest country in the Arab world. More than half of the population lives below the poverty line. More than 40 percent are unemployed and 54 percent are illiterate.
In addition to the Houthi movement in the northwest of the country, the Saleh regime confronts a separatist movement in the south. It has sought to quell these opposition movements with extreme brutality. In addition to carrying out military operations of a collective punishment character that have claimed the lives of thousands of civilians and turned tens of thousands more into refugees, it has systematically suppressed political dissent.
Last month, the United Nations Committee against Torture issued a stinging report on conditions in Yemen, citing “hostage taking, reports that family members were abducted and held to ensure that persons sought would give themselves up, as well as arbitrary detention and forced disappearances.”
“Kidnappings and extrajudicial killings,” were common, according to the report, including against minors.
“Children of seven or eight years old were imprisoned, held with adults, and frequently abused,” the report said. “Children were also sentenced to death and executed.”
The report said that security forces and prison authorities carried out torture with impunity. A document submitted to the U.N. committee by a group of Yemeni human rights organizations listed a number of opposition activists who have been tortured to death, while describing detainees -- including children -- being beaten with cables, burned, suspended from their hands and arms, raped, and threatened with rape.
This is the character of the regime with which, according to the Times, the Obama “White House is seeking to nurture enduring ties.” The dispatch of Special Operations commandos and CIA operatives to Yemen will only intensify this hideous repression.
As the Times article makes clear, the more that Washington aids in this repression, the more intense and lethal the repression must become. “The problem is that the involvement of the United States creates sympathy for Al Qaeda,” a Yemeni state official told the newspaper. “The cooperation is necessary -- but there is no doubt that it has an effect for the common man. He sympathizes with Al Qaeda.”
Similarly, the Associated Press quoted Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen expert at Princeton University, as saying that the increased US military intervention in the country was “probably counterproductive.” The bombing raids and the resulting video and photographs of women and children slaughtered by US missiles, he said, provided “a recruiting field day for Al Qaeda.”
Such concerns appear to carry little weight in Washington or the U.S. media, as the Obama administration continues to build up for a third U.S. war in the oil-rich regions stretching from the Middle East to Central Asia.
The Northwest Airlines incident has provoked calls for more direct military action from both Democratic and Republican politicians.
Senator Joseph Lieberman, the so-called “independent Democrat” who heads the Senate Homeland Security Committee, called Sunday for a “preemptive” military intervention in Yemen.
“Somebody in our government said to me in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, Iraq was yesterday’s war,” Lieberman said in a Fox News interview. “Afghanistan is today’s war. If we don’t act preemptively, Yemen will be tomorrow’s war. That’s the danger we face.”
Appearing on the same program, Senator Arlen Specter, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, agreed, saying that a military attack on Yemen is “something we should consider.”
“Yemen is the new FATA, or it will be,” said Representative Jane Harman, a California Democrat who chairs the House Homeland Security subcommittee on intelligence. She was referring to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan, where the CIA and U.S. military have been conducting increasingly frequent missile attacks as well as ground incursions by Special Operations troops.
The U.S. media, as in every other drive toward war, has fallen into line. The Washington Post published a front-page article Monday headlined, “Al-Qaeda Group in Yemen Gaining Prominence.”
While acknowledging that the claim that Al Qaeda organized the failed plane bombing had yet to be proven, the Post article continued, “If the claim is true, it represents . . . the emergence of a major new threat to the United States, the Middle East and the Horn of Africa.”
Characteristically, the cable news outlets were even more blunt and bellicose. “So are we missing the boat here?” CNN anchor Kyra Philips asked a counterterrorism “expert” Monday afternoon. “We’re at war in Afghanistan; we’re at war in Iraq. Should we be at war in Yemen?”
If the U.S. is preparing for yet another war, this time in Yemen, it is not to eradicate terrorism or protect the American people. The claim that such methods can accomplish these purported goals can be used to justify U.S. military intervention virtually anywhere, from Pakistan, to Somalia, to Indonesia, to the Philippines, and the entire Middle East.
The real aim of U.S. imperialism is to impose its hegemonic control over the world’s strategic energy supplies and the pipelines and shipping routes that deliver them to the world’s major powers. Yemen commands the Bab-el-Mandeb strait connecting the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea and providing access to the Suez Canal, a vital chokepoint through which tankers carry some three million barrels of oil every day.
The Obama administration was swept into office on the slogan of “change,” thanks in large measure to the American people’s hostility to the two wars launched under the presidency of George W. Bush. Now, rather than ending these wars, the Obama White House is continuing the occupation of Iraq, sending at least 30,000 additional U.S. troops into Afghanistan and initiating yet another American military intervention in Yemen.
These military actions will spell increasing death and destruction for the peoples of these countries, a growing number of dead and wounded among the U.S. military, and the increasing likelihood of a far wider and potentially global conflict.
The growing threat of a U.S. war in Yemen demonstrates the impossibility of opposing American militarism within the framework of the capitalist two-party system. This struggle requires the independent political mobilization of the working class against the Obama administration on the basis of a socialist program to put an end to the profit system, which is the driving force of imperialist war.
YEMEN POLITICS: BLOWBACK
The Economist Intelligence Unit
December 29, 2009
A statement from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claiming responsibility for an attempt by a Nigerian passenger to blow up an airliner over U.S. soil on December 25th shows that Yemen has once more become a battleground between the U.S. and the Islamist terrorist movement. AQAP has benefited from the erosion of central state authority to build up its forces in Yemen, but its ability to strike telling blows against the West from this base still appears to be limited.
The AQAP statement described the attack on the Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit as being in retaliation for U.S. air raids on the group's bases in Yemen on December 17th. It said that AQAP had supplied the Nigerian, Omar Farouq Abdel-Mutallab, with explosives, but that the bomb had failed to detonate owing to a technical malfunction. Mr. Abdel-Mutallab had in fact been tackled by another passenger as he tried to set off the explosives that were concealed in his underpants. Mr. Abdel-Mutallab is said to have acknowledged that he had recently spent time in Yemen. However, it is not yet clear whether his operation had been planned for some time, or whether, as AQAP claims, it had been put into effect as a speedy riposte to the December 17th attacks.
Some aspects of these raids on AQAP also remain unclear. ABC News quoted U.S. administration officials as saying that the president, Barack Obama, had given the order for the launch of cruise missiles against the purported al-Qaida bases, one to the north of the capital, Sanaa, and the other in Abyan, in southern Yemen. Reports from Yemen said that the attacks had been carried out by Yemeni air force jets. The government said that several AQAP militants were killed; some reports indicated that there had also been heavy civilian casualties as a result of the Abyan raid. Seven days later, the government reported another strike on an AQAP base in the north of the country, claiming that a number of prominent figures in the group, including its leader, Nasser al-Wahishi, had been killed.
There is little doubt that the U.S. has become increasingly concerned about the activities in AQAP in recent months. Mr. Obama referred explicitly to Yemen in a speech on December 6th in which he said that the U.S. needed to use military force to destroy al-Qaida networks worldwide. A few weeks before this speech, the Yemeni press reported that the U.S. and the Yemeni governments had signed a military co-operation pact. At the time, the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa refused to confirm any such agreement, admitting only that counter-terrorism talks had taken place. Subsequent events suggest strongly that the two sides had agreed on a joint offensive against AQAP.
Al-Qaida's fortunes in Yemen have fluctuated over the past decade. Its high point was in 2000 when the group launched an attack on the USS Cole in Aden harbour, killing 17 American sailors. However, after the September 11th 2001 attacks on the U.S., the Yemeni authorities cracked down heavily on al-Qaida, and several of its leaders were killed by missiles launched from U.S. drones. Thereafter, the Saudi branch of AQAP took the lead, carrying out a series of bloody attacks in Saudi Arabia between 2003 and 2005. The Saudi authorities gained the upper hand in a major counter-terrorist campaign led by the deputy interior minister, Prince Mohammed bin Naif bin Abdel-Aziz al-Saud, and AQAP decided at the start of 2009 to merge its Yemeni and Saudi branches and to relaunch itself in Yemen.
The group has benefited from the Yemeni government's preoccupation with an armed rebellion of Zaydi Shias in the northern Saada province and with the emergence of a secessionist movement in the south. Saudi Arabia's concerns about AQAP were brought into sharp focus in August when a member of the group attempted to assassinate Prince Naif, in bizarre circumstances. The Saudi official had agreed to meet personally with the AQAP member, Abdullah bin Hassan bin Talaa al-Asiri, who said that he had a message to deliver from the family of Said al-Shehri, a Saudi AQAP leader now in Yemen. A bomb reported to have been placed in Mr Asiri's rectum was detonated in Prince Naif's office when he made telephone contact with Mr Asiri's colleagues in Yemen. Mr Asiri was blown to pieces, but Prince Naif was only lightly injured. The concealment of a bomb in Mr. Asiri's private parts as a means to evade security screening has some similarities with the method of Mr. Abdel-Mutallab's bomb attempt.
Saudi Arabia has now taken a direct role in the operation against the Saada rebels. According to the Saudi authorities this has merely entailed clearing rebels out of Saudi territory in the border area. However, the operation appears to be of much bigger scope than this, amounting in effect to a major intervention designed to relieve pressure on the Yemeni forces and to allow them to devote more resources to fighting AQAP. The Saudi government has acknowledged the death of 73 of its forces so far in the fighting, with a further 26 soldiers missing.
There has been little indication so far of any AQAP involvement in the Saada conflict -- there is a strong anti-Shia streak in al-Qaida's ideology. However, there have been reports of AQAP members appearing side by side with leaders of the southern secessionist movement, which is likely to be of major concern for the US.
The Yemeni government has said that there is no question of the country's mountainous hinterland becoming another Tora Bora -- the region of Afghanistan where Osama bin Laden is thought to have taken refuge after the US invasion in 2001. That claim has some merit. Yemen is in a parlous state, but it is not about to be overrun by a local equivalent of the Taliban. There is a risk that anti-Western sentiment will increase if the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are perceived as being responsible for causing heavy civilian casualties in their respective campaigns against AQAP and the Houthi rebels in Saada. However, that will not necessarily translate into the creation of a base for effective international terrorist operations. The attacks on Prince Naif and on the Northwest Airlines flight showed ingenuity, but they also exposed some of AQAP's limitations, in that they were both carried out by lone individuals with relatively small amounts of explosives. It is unrealistic to expect al-Qaida to be eliminated as a terrorist threat anytime soon, but the movement so far failed to make sustained and decisive breakthroughs in any of its major campaigns over the past decade, notably in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and in trying to build up a new franchise in North Africa. AQAP in Yemen is unlikely to break this pattern.