Christopher Boucek: Yemen is a near-perfect haven for terrorists from South Asia

A resurgent al-Qa'ida has emerged in Yemen with the clear intention and capacity to mount operations

Share
Related Topics

This week, Yemen has catapulted to the top of the international security agenda. Two recent counter-terrorism operations in Yemen directed against al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), followed by the group's claim of responsibility for last week's botched attack on a US airliner, have focused global attention on what some are beginning to refer to as the next Af/Pak.

The past year has seen the emergence of a resurgent al-Qa'ida organisation in Yemen, with the clear intention and capacity to mount operations regionally and internationally. Still, assertions that "Yemen is tomorrow's war" are unhelpful and inappropriate.

Al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula is now a clear priority for American national security officials. Over past months, Yemen has gained prominence as people began to recognise that the rapidly deteriorating security and stability situation presents a near-perfect environment for al-Qa'ida to operate in.

Yemen is facing a host of challenges, including a civil war in the north, a secessionist movement in the south, looming economic crisis, resource depletion, and rampant unemployment and corruption. The central government does not have the capacity or authority to exert full control throughout the country. As Sana'a's control slowly recedes, it is in the emerging under-governed spaces that it is feared extremists and terrorists will seek new safe havens.

Over the past six months there have been several press accounts of al-Qa'ida operatives fleeing Pakistan and heading to Yemen and Somalia. According to intelligence sources quoted in media reports, as counter-terrorism operations degrade al-Qa'ida capacity in Pakistan's tribal areas, terrorists have sought out new sanctuaries in Yemen's under-governed spaces.

Yemen is increasingly discussed in Washington as a counter-terrorism priority second only to Afghanistan and Pakistan – and with good reason. But while the resources that the United States has devoted to Yemen have sharply increased, they pale in comparison to the billions of dollars spent on Pakistan.

In spite of the parallels, Yemen will not replace South Asia as the central front in the war on terror. The American and allied military presence in neighbouring Afghanistan, the vast American commitment to the region, the Pakistani nuclear arsenal, and the presumed presence of senior al-Qa'ida leaders including Osama bin Laden will all continue to make Pakistan a greater priority for US national security.

Nevertheless, Yemen is a critical state of concern. Western and regional interests have been targeted there, and eliminating the AQAP leadership that uses it as a base will be a priority. Killing or capturing al-Qa'ida operatives is only a fraction of a coherent counter-terrorism strategy. An integrated approach will require long-term attention that targets the sources of instability.

In this sense, Yemen and Pakistan represent similar challenges for the international community. They will both require sustained and intensive attention, capacity building, and support.

Christopher Boucek is an associate in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: I'd end the war on drugs

Patrick Hennessey
 

General Election 2015: Politics is the messy art of compromise, unpopular as it may be

David Blunkett
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power