Posts Tagged ‘Al Qaeda in Somalia in Yemen’

Yemen: Al Qaeda’s New Haven

December 29, 2009

Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi recently told the BBC that his government needs more international assistance to combat Al Qaeda elements in his country.  He said that Yemen has the will to take on the militants but needs additional financial and military support from Western nations.  His comments came in the wake of an attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian man who was living in Yemen until earlier this month, to blow up a civilian airliner that was traveling from Amsterdam to Detroit.

Yemen is very unstable and its weak government is engaged in two civil wars.  This chaotic environment is ideal for terrorists who seek a safe haven from which to plan and launch attacks.  Somalia, which lies directly across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen, has similar problems, and both countries have reportedly become destinations for Al Qaeda members who leave Pakistan for security reasons.  US policymakers and military leaders, including Gen. David Patrareus, the head of Central Command, are concerned about the threat posed by militants in that part of the world, and American special operations forces have reportedly carried out raids against suspected terrorists from nearby bases and offshore platforms.

The US has sought to improve the counterinsurgency capabilities of countries that are fighting Islamic extremists, including Afghanistan , Pakistan and Iraq, but those attempts have been on a large scale relative to most American efforts to help foreign governments with internal defense.  Given manpower and budget contstraints, the US will have to rely on Special Forces and other small units to train soldiers in partner nations.  For the same reasons, it is unlikely that the US will engage in more nation-building in lawless states where militants thrive, but providing a small number of trainers and a few billion dollars to bolster the security forces in countries of concern would be a fairly minor expense when viewed in the context of America’s overall defense budget, and it is a strategy that the Obama administration will likely pursue.

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Terrorist Havens in Somalia and Yemen

June 12, 2009

According to American officials, dozens of Al Qaeda operatives and some of the group’s leaders are leaving Pakistan and moving to Somalia and Yemen.  Members of the Obama administration, the military and the intelligence community have credited the increased level of drone attacks against Al Qaeda bases in the tribal areas of Pakistan as the reason for the exodus.

Although the displacement of some terrorists from Pakistan, a politically fragile country with nuclear weapons, is a positive development, the militants relocation to the Horn of Africa is troubling.  Somalia and Yemen are failed states and Al Qaeda could easily find safe haven there from whence they can plan and launch attacks against Americans and other civilians.  Al Qaeda militants in all three nations are reportedly communicating with one another electronically, which could facilitate terrorist operations but also enable American forces to more easily locate the plotters.

The terrorist threat in Somalia and Yemen is a matter of grave concern.  Although a major US troop deployment to either country to combat the militants is infeasible given the ongoing military commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq, the American military could start launching airstrikes against Al Qaeda bases in those countries and send special operations personnel to train local security forces and carry out ground attacks.  Given the weakness of the governments in the Horn of Africa, it will be difficult to root out Al Qaeda from that area but eliminating some of the fighters would at least be a partial victory.

The increased presence of international terrorists in Somalia and Yemen highlights the need to prevent countries from becoming failed states and help strengthen those that already fall into that category.  Such a task will not be easy, and problems of corruption, internal conflicts and a lack of economic resources could make it almost impossible in some nations without a major international effort that would be politically untenable.  But preventing nuclear states like Pakistan and other places of major strategic interest from descending into chaos is imperative and should remain a major tenet of US foreign policy.