Two pieces on al Qaeda and Yemen you should read
For those interested in AQAP goings on and US strategy may I suggest reading Gregory Johnsen’s thoughts here, as submitted for Frontline’s Q&A as part of its AQAP documentary. Following on from this is an excerpt from an interesting piece by Sarah Phillips of the University of Sydney.
The war against AQAP can never be won if it is framed as the US against AQAP in Yemen.
This is much more than a framing issue, but that is where it has to start. The US has to realize when it can be a force for positive change in Yemen and when it needs to take a step back and allow local clerics and preachers the space to confront AQAP.
In Yemen, al Qaeda is not only a network of ruthless militants but an accusation that can be leveled, with varying degrees of credibility, against members of the regime who have facilitated it. In this sense, al Qaeda is more than just a terrorist organisation; it is so often evoked as a domestic political pejorative that it has become enmeshed in mythologies about how national power functions. In becoming part of the narrative that sustains the squabbles of Sana’a’s elites, al Qaeda is also viewed as a symbol of the regime’s detachment from ordinary Yemenis. That the presence of al Qaeda has brought American drone attacks, air strikes, civilian casualties and the destruction of property only sharpens the symbolic connection between the carrying on in Sana’a and the violence that is either experienced or feared by Yemen’s citizens.
While the US is being careful to emphasise that it is only conducting counter-terrorism operations in Yemen, not a broader counter-insurgency, it is wading into something much more complex than simply ‘jihadis versus the state’. The problem of al Qaeda in Yemen is deeply political, which is why fighting it with drone strikes (that can now target people on the basis of suspicious activity) or with ‘Special Operations Forces who are as comfortable drinking tea with tribal leaders as raiding a terrorist compound’ is likely to fail.