January 7, 2011

Mixing Chaos with Chaos in Yemen

Looks like Sana’a will be putting its new counter-terror units to immediate use.

150 miles southeast of Yemen’s capital, near Lowder district in Abyan province, fighters of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) staged two ambushes on Yemeni security personnel. 12 soldiers were gunned down escorting a convoy of water tankers, with the commander of Ground Troops Brigade 111, Muhsen Juzailan, sustaining injuries.

Meanwhile a second group of fighters ambushed the army's brigade commander in Lowder after detonating an IED. He escaped; one of his bodyguard did not.

The chaos is likely to be followed by more of the same. Yemen’s government doesn’t mess around retaliating, and another attack of such magnitude will surely be viewed as unacceptable. Even bad militaries have a sense of pride, but AQAP has intensely personalized the war by targeting a list of 55 officers. AQAP recently attacked Ahmed Al-Mesary, the governor of Abyan, killing eight troops and officers along with his brother.

This strategy is as much political subversion as it is a blatant display of strength. Yet it also brings swift and vengeful retaliation. Already in pursuit of the assailants, Sana'a could be moved to launch a new counter-operation in Abyan, considered ground-zero in the fight against AQAP. The province is one of four chosen as bases against the group, complete with U.S.-trained and equipped “elite” counter-terror units.

Possibly (eventually) U.S. Special Forces or CIA.

Whether they make a positive difference in Yemen is another question, one that slips deeper into the negative. Clearly AQAP is still rising. Sailing with WikiLeaks at its back, AQAP has brazenly ambushed Yemeni officers with success, proving its military strength and amplifying its cause through Inspire magazine. AQAP also feeds off U.S. attention, which Washington is too happy to give.

And poverty runs rampant in the four targeted provinces.

The West and Arab states have worked together to craft an economic package for Yemen, a vital aspect of COIN, though its effectiveness remains to be seen and results are likely to come slow. Unfortunately Yemen’s brewing political storm over April’s parliamentary election - if the ruling General People’s Congress (GPC) and Yemen’s opposition collide - will provide all the nourishment AQAP needs to thrive.

The goal is to break Yemen’s unstable cycle, not prolong it.

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