What is behind US officials’ overstatement of Al-Qaeda’s threat in Yemen?
They claimed that Al-Qaeda in Yemen is posing the most alarming threat, its capabilities are constantly improving and its moves have become quicker and more violent.
Also, they tried to throw doubt over the Yemeni government’s capacity to contain that threat on account of the reduction of its financial resources affected by its declining oil exports, the insurgency in Sa’ada and the secessionist movement prevailing in some of the southern governorates.
Now, the question is whether Al-Qaeda’s threat in Yemen has really reached such an alarming level, or there is some exaggeration and fear-mongering? And if the latter is the case, what are the aims and ends behind that?
In fact, there is no one definite answer to this question. But, the author of this article holds that there are three possibilities. First, instead of only providing counselling, training and equipment for the Yemeni forces, the US administration intends to become involved directly in countering Al-Qaeda in Yemen.
To realise this end, the American officials’ statements were issued to spread panic among the public in the USA and amplify their fears of the threat posed by Al-Qaeda in Yemen until the American citizens are psychologically prepared to accept and support the notion of direct US involvement in Yemen.
However, there are certain objective considerations that can diminish the credibility of this attitude. Washington has realised Al-Qaeda’s threat since last year, to be precise, since the botched attempt to blow up the US passenger plane over Detroit on December 25, 2009. Had Washington had any intentions to become directly involved in Yemen, it would have seized the opportunity at the time.
Furthermore, such involvement would be in direct contradiction to US President Barak Obama’s foreign policies which are aimed at reducing the US interference in other countries’ affairs and leaving the counterterrorism missions to the concerned states.
A case in point of this policy is reflected through the US troop withdrawal from Iraq and Washington’s trend toward tasking the Afghan government with maintaining security and fighting Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.
The second possibility is that the statements by the American officials were issued in a bid to put pressure on Yemen to compel it to adopt stricter policies concerning handling AQAP, especially after some Al-Qaeda’s leaders successively surrendered themselves to the Yemeni security authorities such as Jumaan Sufyian, Al-Qaeda’s leader in Al-Jawf, and Huzam Mujally, Al-Qaeda’s leader in Arhab.
As a result of this, the US often had reservations about Yemen’s policy towards Al-Qaeda’s operatives and interpreted it as a relaxation of the government policies to counter terrorism.
However, such an interpretation does not stand to reason. In other words, this is not the first time Al-Qaeda’s leaders and operatives have surrendered themselves to the Yemeni government; it has happened many times in the past. Also, it is very difficult to accuse the government of not being strict, especially at this moment when the number of casualties among the Yemeni government’s forces has reached tens of lives as a result of the constant and open confrontations with Al-Qaeda operatives.
If more carefully examined, the signs existing at the moment can help us come up with a somewhat different interpretation. Within the last three weeks some American media pointed to a disparity among the viewpoints of US counterterrorism authorities, particularly between the viewpoint of the US State Department on one hand and that of the Department of Defense and the CIA on the other.
The officials in the Department of Defense and the CIA consider it significant and necessary to raise the amount of support for Yemeni forces to about USD 1.2 billion to enable the Yemeni forces combat terrorism more effectively.
On their part, the officials in the US State Department are opposed to this trend on the pretext that the Yemeni government may use the weapons and equipment given to it in order to quell the opposition in Sa’ada and the southern governorates, which would compound strained relationships and increase tensions in the country to an alarming level.
On the basis of all this, we can conclude that issuing the statements and overstating the threat posed by Al-Qaeda in Yemen may be an attempt on the part of the officials in the Department of Defense and the US intelligence agencies to strengthen their point of view before the US administration and urge it to allocate sufficient funds for supporting and enhancing the capabilities of the Yemeni forces.
Aish Awaws is Strategic Studies Program Manager at the Sheba Strategic Studies Center in the capital Sana’a.