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Afrah Nasser

Instability in Yemen threatens global security

Ending the war and strengthening political and economic institutions are key to fighting terrorism [Getty]

Date of publication: 26 May, 2016

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Comment: Fighting terrorism in Yemen is in the interests of the international community, and requires tacking the root of the problem by establishing long-term stability, writes Afrah Nasser

When the director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Vincent R. Stewart testified a few months ago before the US Committee on Armed Services, as part o the DIA's assessment of the global security environment, he made no mistake in mentioning Yemen four times.

The implication was that the country has become a foothold for highly adaptive, transnational terrorist networks. He explained that in 2015 the Islamic State group remained entrenched in Iraq and Syria and expanded globally, establishing official branches across several countries including Yemen.

Lieutenant Stewart added, "Al-Qaeda also remains a serious threat to US interests worldwide. It retains affiliates in Yemen, Somalia, North Africa, Syria and South Asia."

As much as his statement is significant in understanding the current state of international terrorism jeopardising global security, it failed to address the instability and war in Yemen, as it did the civil war in Syria. Terrorism in Yemen should not be discussed without revisiting the roots of the problem: the factors behind Yemen's chronic destabilisation over the past years.

The longstanding instability and destabilisation of my country - exacerbated by the ongoing Saudi-led coalition airstrike attacks and the civil war - converge to form a ripe environment in which terrorist groups continue thrive and pose a threat to the global security.

Yemen has been linked in some form or other to many of the terrorist attacks to have taken place on the global stage of late. This is not to say that Yemen itself should be associated with terrorism, rather it should throw the spotlight on the need to address the circumstances that have led the country to such a situation. The longer the necessity for stability in Yemen is ignored, the greater the threat to global security.

Yemen has been linked in some form or other to many of the terrorist attacks to have taken place on the global stage of late

Yemen has long since been wrongly regarded as the land of terrorism, but this does not take into account the context of the country's serious economic, political and internal security problems. Yemen is more accurately a land of poverty, internal armed conflicts, corruption, a crumbling economy, divided governance and unprecedented devastation, in light of the ongoing conflict.

This mix presents the perfect conditions for terrorist groups to thrive and recruit the starving, jobless and desperate youth.

Samir Moqbel, one of Guantanamo's Yemeni former detainees, spoke of this in a letter published in April 2013 by The New York Times. Explaining the draw of Al-Qaeda, he says that "when I was at home in Yemen, in 2000, a childhood friend told me that in Afghanistan I could do better than the $50 a month I earned in a factory, and support my family. I'd never really traveled, and knew nothing about Afghanistan, but I gave it a try."

Terrorist organisations have mastered the art of taking advantage of the chaos in Yemen, and have demonstrated that Yemen is the ideal place for plotting terrorist activity. From the al-Qaeda bombing in 2000 of the USS Cole in Yemen, to the high-ranking al-Qaeda member American-Yemeni, Anwar al-Awlaki and the recent terrorist attacks in Europe, Yemen has been grabbing the headlines.

This mix presents the perfect conditions for terrorist groups to thrive and recruit the starving, jobless and desperate youth

Recently, the brothers behind Paris attack had received weapons training in Yemen, and the armed men who attacked the French magazine Charlie Hebdo in France and those who plotted attacks in Belgium had been trained in Yemen's Hadramout.

This was confirmed by Yemen's governor of Hadramout, Major General Ahmad Bin Bourek in an interview with Gulf News. Lastly, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's notorious online publication, "Inspire" magazine is based in Yemen.

Following the 9/11 attacks on the US and the beginning of the Global War On Terrorism, Yemen has come under the global spotlight. As part of US counter-terrorism operations, drone strike campaigns have been operating in Yemen since 2002, with the blessing of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and current president, Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

The latest briefing from the US department of defense announced its recent counter terrorism strikes in Yemen. In addition, earlier this month the US pentagon admitted deploying US troops in Yemen

While drone strikes are recognised as a modern tool of assassination, they have failed to eliminate the problem. In fact, drones have been proven to not only kill more noncombatant civilians than AQAP militants, but also to be counter-productive, leading to growing anti-American sentiment.

While drone strikes are recognised as a modern tool of assassination, they have failed to eliminate the problem.

The US has failed to eradicate the problem, and to rethink its foreign policy towards Yemen. In fact, in light of the ongoing war, Yemenis are seeing US and UK-made weapons, including cluster bombs, being used by the coalition forces. This is undoubtedly serving to further anti-western sentiment among Yemenis.

Fighting terrorism in Yemen is in the interests of the international community, and the terrorist attacks in Europe which were plotted in Yemen confirm that.

However, addresing terrorism in Yemen must tackle the root of the problem with the aim of stabilising the country in the long-term. Ending the war, empowering locals who fight terrorism, strengthening local governance and strengthening political and economic institutions are just a few strategies that combat terrorism, leading the stabilisation of Yemen and as a result improved global security.


This article was first published in Swedish for the Swedish Institute of International Affairs on utrikesmagasinet.se


Afrah Nasser is a Yemeni award-winning journalist and blogger, focusing on human rights violations, based in Sweden since May 2011. She's the co-founder of the Yemeni Salon in Sweden. Twitter handle: @Afrahnasser.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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