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

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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Yvette Cooper campaigning in London at the launch of Labour’s women’s manifesto  

I want the Labour Party to lead a revolution in family support

Yvette Cooper
Liz Kendall  

Labour leadership contest: 'Moderniser' is just a vague and overused label

Steve Richards
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine