x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

US warned against strike in Yemen

An independent political analyst warns the United States that military involvement in Yemen will only create another Afghanistan.

SANA'A // Any direct US strike against al Qa'eda militants in Yemen will further push the state towards failure and boost al Qa'eda's presence, a tribal leader and political analysts say. "It is very serious and unacceptable that the Americans get involved in striking al Qa'eda militants because this is against the sovereignty of the country, would cause resentment and increase sympathy with al Qa'eda as in such strikes a lot of innocent civilians are hit," said Sheikh Arfaj bin Hadhban, a chief of the Dahm tribe in al Jawf province, north-east of the capital Sana'a.

Abdulbari Taher, an independent political analyst and highly-regarded Yemeni writer and commentator, said: "The US military involvement will do nothing but create another Pakistan or Afghanistan. It will speed up the failure of the state and the collapse of the system. It will bring another catastrophe to the region." "The Yemeni government should realise that the six waves of fighting against al Houthi rebels in the north have strengthened them and boosted their coalitions with tribesmen. The same will happen if the government launches a military action in tribal regions with direct involvement of the US.

"It will heighten terrorism and push tribes to fight along with al Qa'eda under different pretexts. Yemen tribes are heavily armed and al Qa'eda has established good contact with some of these tribes." Yesterday, the US and British governments announced they would pour millions of additional dollars into funding antiterrorism work in Yemen. Much of the extra funding, which will include training but will not involve putting western troops on the ground, will go towards boosting the counterterrorism abilities of the police, rather than the military.

Also yesterday, the United States and the United Kingdom announced they were closing their embassies in Sana'a, citing threats by al Qa'eda. Barack Obama, the US president, said on Saturday that al Qa'eda's branch in Yemen was behind the attempt to blow up a US-bound airliner on Christmas Day. Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab, 23, a Nigerian charged with trying to detonate an explosive on a Northwest Airlines flight carrying 278 passengers and 11 crew from Amsterdam to Detroit, has told US investigators that he received training and instructions from al Qa'eda operatives in Yemen.

Mr Abdulmuttalab was in Yemen from August 4 to December 7 last year and studied at the Sana'a Institute for the Arabic Language. The al Qa'eda group in Yemen said last week that it had trained Mr Abdulmuttalab and claimed responsibility for the attempted bombing of the plane as retaliation for the government's attacks. Abu Bakr al Qirbi, Yemen's foreign minister, said on Saturday intelligence officers were conducting investigations in Yemen over the attempted bombing. "Once the result is revealed, it will be handed to the US investigators," Mr al Qirbi said, confirming that the Yemeni military launched air strikes on known al Qa'eda's camps last month.

"Al Qa'eda is a serious threat to Yemen's security. We have used force and carried out strikes because its militants set up training camps and attempted to make Yemen a stronghold for their activities," Mr al Qirbi said. However, he added that the threat emanating from Yemen "to the US is exaggerated". "It is not greater than Afghanistan and Pakistan ? It is difficult to know how many militants are there in Yemen; there could be 100, 200 or 300 ? it is important to prevent al Qa'eda from recruiting," he said.

The foreign minister said that while attacks against al Qa'eda militants in December in Abyan and Shabwa "were carried out by Yemeni planes and with the US firepower", no US cruise missiles were involved, as had been reported. The government said over 60 militants were killed in the attacks but local sources said the Abyan attack on December 17 killed about 60 civilians, mostly women and children. Mr Al Qirbi said his country needed international help to expand its antiterrorism forces.

"Yemen needs a lot of support in terms of training and strengthening capacities of the antiterrorism forces and coastguard. We need equipment and logistics to reach out to remote areas," he said. However, both Sheikh Arfaj bin Hadhban and Mr Taher said the government should work more closely with tribal chiefs and tribesmen to fight terrorism in the country, without relying on outside help. "Fighting terrorism or cracking down on the insurgency is the task of the government, which can take the help of tribal chieftains," Sheikh bin Hadhban said. "There is no need for any foreign country to do this task. We do not want to repeat the experience of Afghanistan and Pakistan ... Such involvement will drive the country into a dark tunnel and be of grave consequences on the political and economic aspects and the future at large."

Mr Taher added that "in order to address the al Qa'eda threat, which is present everywhere, the rebellion in the north and unrest in the south should be addressed first because the government cannot confront al Qa'eda along with other problems. "Again, military action will not eliminate terrorism. Yemen does not need the Saudi military support or the US intervention, but some pressure from the international community over reforms," he said.

Mr al Qirbi said the international community needed to consider the roots of radicalisation in a country in which 42 per cent of the people live on less than US$2 (Dh7.34) per day and unemployment is 35 per cent. "Some of the reasons for terrorism are economic at their root and development in Yemen needs support ? [Our] strategy has failed because of the slowdown in development resulting from a slow response of donors," Mr al Qirbi said.

A donors' conference in London in 2006 pledged $5.5 billion to help Yemen. Almost half of the pledges - $2.5bn - came from Gulf states but, so far, just over $400 million has been disbursed. malqadhi@thenational.ae