On Saturday General James Mattis became the latest of many U.S. officials to land in Sana’a. With Defense Secretary Robert Gates monitoring from Oman and Yemen Ambassador Gerald M. Feierstein coordinating the next “Group of Friends” meeting with Prime Minister Ali Mujawar, Mattis payed his own visit to “better understand the Yemeni viewpoint on local and regional issues as well as various security issues.”
The chief of U.S Central Command (CENTCOM), highly recommended by Gates to replace his prized Petraeus, couldn’t have picked a better time to observe the chaos bedeviling Yemen’s environment.
Mattis awoke on Sunday to the clamor of threats, protests, riots, and kidnappings. First the Sana’a Specialized Penal Appeal Court upheld a ruling on seven AQAP agents, leading one to exclaim, “our message to Obama is that we swear to Allah, ‘we will not let you and Arab leaders’ rule.” Elsewhere a southern court sentenced Faris Abdullah Saleh to death for an Aden bombing that preceded the Gulf Cup, sparking protests in towns near Aden, the region's main port.
As elements within the Southern Movement had vowed to disrupt the games, Saleh's attack was promptly laid upon the group. Now officials have linked the Southern Movement to separate kidnappings, six soldiers and two officers in total, one of which was traveling by taxi towards Aden.
Although local residents witnessed secessionist gunmen patrolling their neighborhoods, Yemen’s situation has exploded because of government duplicity in the region. The Southern Movement initially credited Saturday’s abduction for releasing political prisoners arrested before the Gulf Cup, but issued no confirmation on Sunday’s kidnappings. The government did release Hassan Baoum, head of the Southern Movement’s supreme council, on Saturday, along with his son and four others.
"My father presented no threat to the tournament,” another of his sons, Fadi Baoum, explained of his father’s arrest in early November. “We engage in purely peaceful political activity.”
The secessionists fear this type of scenario daily, from the top of their political leadership to gunmen marked as al-Qeada, to average Yemenis harassed for their political affiliation. Perhaps the secessionists are responding with their own terror tactics, but they have a legitimate reason to fear orchestrated government suppression.
They just need to look north.
Forced to land amid an information vortex generated by WikiLeaks, Mattis arrived in radioactive conditions for U.S. activity. Although his predecessor is receiving most of the credit for double-dealing with Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Petraeus speaks to Washington’s wider oblivion in the turbulent country. According to one cable dated May 2009, Prince Mohammed bin Naif, Saudi Arabia’s deputy interior minister, told U.S. diplomats that Yemen was a “dangerous failed state and a growing threat to Saudi Arabia” that required “action now.”
Though his “advice” can be attributed to Saudi Arabia’s personal interests inside Yemen, Prince Mohammed also warned that many Yemenis have greater sympathy for al-Qaeda than Afghans. Naturally Washington pushed on with escalation.
Worse still, Prince Mohammed reportedly told Richard Holbrooke, special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, that Saleh was “losing control” and becoming over-reliant on his son and younger officials “who lack connections with the tribes that form the backbone of Yemeni society.” A prevalent concern, the main focus of current U.S. and British operations is building Yemen’s counter-terrorism units - commanded by Saleh's son and nephew.
The White House and Pentagon are running through red lights to escalate their war in Yemen. WikiLeaks verified another common fear - U.S training and equipment being diverted to Saleh’s political enemies - by revealing Petraeus’s skepticism of helicopter allocations. Petraeus nevertheless extracted Saleh’s demands from Congress earlier this year, and another leak demonstrates just how coordinated the White House, Congress, and Pentagon are in ignoring Yemen’s political crisis.
Previous U.S. Ambassador Stephen Seche noted in December 2009 that the “Republic of Yemen government,” or ROYG, was reallocating counter-terrorism units to the northern front-lines against the Houthis.
"The ROYG, desperate to defeat the Houthis at any cost, has largely ignored USG concerns regarding deployment of the CTU to Sa'ada,'' Seche wrote. "The CTU has been unable to go after genuine terrorist targets like al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) while it has been tied down in Sa'ada... While U.S. concerns over diversion of troops and equipment have been acknowledged, they have clearly not resulted in a significant change of ROYG focus from the Houthis to AQAP."
The White House and Pentagon have since expanded U.S. military aid to Yemen, all the while issuing “concerns” over Saleh’s government. No wonder the Houthis chant “death to America," or that secessionists believe the same scam is perpetrated on them.
In related events, at least 12 Houthi tribesmen were killed and 15 wounded during skirmishes with the Al-Qamshah tribe in Sa'ada Province. While AQAP recently targeted the Houthis with spectacular suicide bombings and accused them of being "Iranian stooges,” Houthi information bureau Dhaif Allah Al-Shami blamed U.S. and Israeli intelligence agents for provoking the clashes. The Houthis regularly incorporate anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli slogans into their propaganda.
Mattis has plenty to study on his flight out. For a grand finale, Yemen’s ruling General People's Congress (GPC) amended the country’s election law so that state judges compose the high electoral commission instead of party delegates. Opposition leaders decried the vote as a coup of the February 2009 agreement, which postponed elections to 2011 and promised a decentralization of power that has yet to be implemented.
Labeling the move “a conspiracy,” the opposition warned that Saleh had "put an end to the national dialogue.”
This is the current environment in Yemen - the next land that America wishes to fold into its endless war against al-Qaeda.