- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 4, 2002

SAN'A, YEMEN Vigilant Yemeni snipers wearing light-green camouflage and polished black army boots and carrying machine guns block the gates to the U.S. Embassy.
The massive concrete and iron diplomatic compound is officially closed for a U.S. government "security review." But inside, there's a bustle of activity. Members of a U.S. Marine contingent lift weights and jump rope to stay fit; others oil and shine their M-16s. Green Berets and CIA operatives plan their next moves.
Today this bunkered embassy is just one frontier outpost in a new phase of America's war on terrorism.
From Afghanistan to former Soviet Georgia and the Philippines, U.S. forces are training local armies to take on Islamic insurgencies. But recent successes and failures here in Yemen exemplify the challenges of collaborating in key terrorist hot spots around the world.
The fallout in Yemen after the Nov. 3 Hellfire missile strike, in which six al Qaeda members were killed in a missile launched from a CIA-operated unmanned drone, is a case in point. The Yemeni government and U.S. targets there have faced subsequent reprisal attacks.
The U.S. contingent is trying to train backward local "special forces" to perform difficult "hit-and-snatch" operations against suspected al Qaeda cells operating in the desert areas. On top of the military challenges are domestic and international political obstacles.
In this case, the local forces are led by the president's inexperienced son. The forces botched one attempt to capture the key al Qaeda leader Qaed Senyan al-Harithi who later was killed in the U.S. strike.
A larger challenge: The United States has to be careful not to make the ruling regime look as if it is cooperating too much with America, because that could create domestic unrest that might topple the government.
Two weeks ago, Yemeni officials acknowledged they had cooperated in the Nov. 3 Hellfire missile attack. Yemeni officials won't comment on additional reports that the top al Qaeda suspect arrested Nov. 21, Abdul Rahim Al-Nashiri, was picked up at an airport in Yemen and quietly turned over to the United States.
"Yemen has to contend with U.S. pressure to eliminate the considerable al Qaeda presence in its territory," said Bernard Haykel, a Yemen specialist at New York University. "But it also has to deal with a population that is broadly sympathetic to Osama bin Laden's political aims."
Last week, former Yemeni Prime Minister Abdelkerim al-Iriyani confirmed during a U.S. visit that al Qaeda members killed in the Hellfire missile attack were guilty of participating in the attack on the USS Cole, which killed 17 Americans, and were planning "sabotage operations against oil and economically strategic facilities" in Yemen.
It is this kind of activity, in which the terrorists turn on the host government, trying to drive a wedge between the people and the government, that has Yemen most worried. That, analysts say, is what has pushed Yemeni officials to cooperate more fully with the United States.
In August, two al Qaeda members blew themselves up in an attempt to kill Yemeni officials. After that, Yemen agreed to allow U.S. military and CIA teams in the country to train Yemen's special forces.
"Al Qaeda has clearly declared war on the Yemeni government, and on President [Ali Abdallah] Saleh himself," said Mr. Haykel. "It became very clear what the president had to do he had to align himself with the U.S."
Mr. Haykel said, however, that the result likely will lead to more terrorist attacks against the oil industry in Yemen, the country's main source of income.
"Al Qaeda has done this by attacking the French oil tanker [in October]," he said. "They will strike where it harms the most at the shipping and oil industry."
The United States started with about 100 Special Forces soldiers in Yemen. About two dozen remain. In nearby Djibouti are another 800 Special Forces, plus the CIA unit that operates the Predator drones used in the recent missile attack.
Training the Yemeni forces has not been easy. Although nearly every male older than 13 owns an AK-47, Yemen isn't known for its military prowess. Ahmed Saleh, the special forces leader and son of President Saleh, apparently has been groomed by his father to be a national leader, with mixed results.
Ahmed was first made a member of parliament, where he was ineffective, then sent to a military academy in Jordan, where he flunked out, said a former U.S. government official with broad experience in the region.
But Ahmed had met Jordan's King Abdullah II and was impressed with the capabilities of the Jordanian special forces. When he returned home, the former U.S. official said, Ahmed asked his father to give him his own special-forces unit. His father gave him the unit, but no money or equipment.
"Everybody called it the hollow brigade," said the former official.
After U.S. troops spent some time and money training the Yemeni unit, they sent it on a mission to capture al-Harithi, who was being sheltered in the Marib region. But al-Harithi and his followers were able to fend off the Yemeni forces, and killed 18 of them in the process.
A Western diplomat says that happened because of the way the Yemeni special forces handled the operation including the use of a jet that broke the sound barrier over the village just as the operation began. Al-Harithi and his comrades escaped.
When the CIA and U.S. Special Forces received intelligence last month on where al-Harithi was located, they decided to do the job themselves, said the Western diplomat.
That incident and the fact that the United States publicized its success put Yemen's government and the two dozen or so U.S. soldiers remaining in Yemen at heightened risk of reprisals.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide