x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Isolate al Qaeda as it exploits rifts in Yemeni politics

Al Qa'eda in the Arabian Peninsula seems to be trying to appropriate an army.

Al Qa'eda in the Arabian Peninsula seems to be trying to appropriate an army. The group's hate-mongering magazine Inspire last week announced the "creation" of the Aden-Abyan army, a claim that was as dubious as the propaganda outlet itself. The so-called army actually dates back to the 1990s and the civil war. AQAP is not creating anything, merely trying to capitalise on Yemen's existing divisions.

The irony is that many southern separatists will not trust al Qa'eda because it is widely believed to be allied with the government in Sana'a. President Ali Abdullah Saleh has a proven track record of supporting extremist groups against his enemies, be it the Houthis in the north or the secessionists in the south.

Even as the United States is spending $150 million on military assistance and providing elite training to federal forces, there is very little indication that Mr Saleh is on the same page. "The Americans are pushing hard and the government is resisting hard," said Yasser al Awadi, a senior politician allied with Mr Saleh.

Washington has good reason to be concerned. Two plots carried out within its borders - the Fort Hood shooting and the failed Christmas day airline bomb plot - have been linked to militants in Yemen. There are several US citizens, including the editor of Inspire, who are believed to be using the country as a base to foment terrorism.

But arming Mr Saleh's regime and assassinations by drone attacks are not working. The United States is matching its military assistance with development aid, but it would be better off building schools than running bombing campaigns. AQAP's membership is only an estimated 300 militants; the threat is the support it has found among Yemen's disaffected groups, the Aden-Abyan army among them.

Al Qa'eda has laid claim not just to Yemen, but the entirety of the Arabian Peninsula - Saudi Arabia is the target of this recent propaganda blitz as much as Yemen. GCC members of the Friends of Yemen Group, including the UAE, have more at stake than anyone. The Gulf countries also have many more tools at their disposal.

There are ties of kinship, culture and religion that bind Yemen to the rest of the Gulf. There is no need to deal exclusively with Mr Saleh's regime or engage in the regional arms race. Development aid that reaches the south will do far more for regional security. And in areas where Sana'a does not have full control, it will provide an incentive to push al Qa'eda into the cold.