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In Yemen, Our Intervention Has Given al-Qaeda the Upper Hand
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They have done it again. The US, Britain and regional allies led by Saudi Arabia have come together to intervene in another country with calamitous results. Instead of achieving their aims, they have produced chaos, ruining the lives of millions of people and creating ideal conditions for salafi-jihadi movements like al-Qaeda and Islamic State.

The latest self-inflicted failure in the “war on terror” is in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia and a coalition of Sunni states intervened on one side in a civil war in March 2015. Their aim was to defeat the Houthis – labelled somewhat inaccurately as Shia and pro-Iranian – who had seized most of the country in alliance with the former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who retained the loyalty of much of the Yemeni army. Yemeni politics is exceptionally complicated and often violent, but violence has traditionally been followed by compromise between warring parties.

The Saudi intervention, supported in practice by the US and Britain, has made a bad situation far worse. A year-long campaign of air strikes was supposed to re-impose the rule of former president Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, whose dysfunctional and unelected government had fled to Saudi Arabia. Relentless bombing had some success and the forces fighting in President Hadi’s name advanced north, but were unable to retake the capital Sanaa. Over the last week there has been a shaky truce.

The real winners in this war are al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) which has taken advantage of the collapse of central government to create its own mini-state. This now stretches for 340 miles – longer than the distance from London to Edinburgh – along the south coast of Yemen. AQAP, which the CIA once described as the most dangerous protagonist of “global jihad” in the world, today has an organised administration with its own tax revenues.

Unnoticed by the outside world, AQAP has been swiftly expanding its own statelet in Yemen in 2015/16, just as Isis did in western Iraq and eastern in Syria in 2013/14. Early last year, President Obama contemptuously described Isis as being like a junior basketball team that would never play in the big leagues. Likewise in Yemen, the American and British governments misjudged the degree to which AQAP would benefit from Operation Decisive Storm, the ill-chosen Saudi name for its military intervention that has proved predictably indecisive.

The Saudi intervention turned a crisis into a catastrophe. Some 6,427 people are known to have been killed in the fighting, but these are only the figures for casualties known to the health authorities. Since the UN says that 14.1 million Yemenis, 54 per cent of the population, have no access to health care, this is likely to be an underestimate. Even before the war, Yemen was the poorest Arab nation and its people are now starving or malnourished. OXFAM estimates that 82 per cent of Yemen’s 21 million population are in need of humanitarian assistance.

The disaster is not only humanitarian, but political, and does not only affect Yemen. As in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan, foreign intervention energises and internationalises local difference as factions become the proxies of outside powers.

Yemen has always had Shia and Sunni, but it is only recently that sectarian hatred has begun to get anywhere near the level of Syria and Iraq. Saudi Arabia portrays the Houthis as pawns of Iran, though there is little evidence for this, so Yemen is drawn into the regional confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

A point seldom given sufficient weight is that AQAP is expanding so fast, not because of its own strength, but because its opponents are so weak. The Saudi and Gulf financed media often refer to pro-President Hadi forces as taking territory, but in reality the government-in-exile remains in Saudi Arabia. It recaptured the port city of Aden last summer, but its few officials who are there dare not leave their heavily-defended compound except by helicopter. Even where Saudi-backed fighters advance, they leave anarchy behind them, conditions in which the arrival of disciplined AQAP forces may be welcomed by local people.

I have been struck, ever since the US and British invasion of Iraq in 2003, by the extent to which their whole strategy depends on wishful thinking about the strength and popularity of their local ally who usually, on the contrary, is feared and hated. I seldom spoke to Afghans who truly supported the Taliban, but I was always impressed by the number who detested the Afghan government. Yet when one UN official stated publicly that the foreign powers fighting the Taliban, supposedly in support of the government, had “no local partner”, he was promptly fired.

There was the same lethal pretence by Western powers in Libya and Syria that the rebels they backed represented the mass of the population and were capable of taking over from existing regimes. In reality, the weakening or destruction of central government created a power vacuum promptly filled by extreme jihadi groups.

The dire consequences of the Saudi intervention and the rise of AQAP has been largely ignored by Western governments and media. Contrary to their grim-faced declarations about combating terrorism, the US and UK have opened the door to an al-Qaeda mini-state.

This will have an impact far beyond the Middle East because what makes the atrocities orchestrated by Isis in Paris and Brussels so difficult to stop is that they are organised and funded by a real administrative apparatus controlling its own territory. If one terrorist cell, local leader or bomb expert is eliminated, they can be replaced.

As has happened repeatedly since 9/11, the US and countries like Britain fail to combat terrorism because they give priority to retaining their alliance with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies, even when their policies – as in Yemen – wreck a whole country and enable al Qaeda and Isis to use the chaos to establish safe havens.

Patrick Cockburn’s ‘Chaos and Caliphate: Jihadis and the West in the Struggle for the Middle East’ (OR Books) is published this month

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Al Qaeda, Yemen 
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  1. They have done it again. The US, Britain and regional allies led by Saudi Arabia have come together to intervene in another country with calamitous results. They have achieved their aims. They have produced chaos, ruining the lives of millions of people and creating ideal conditions for salafi-jihadi movements like al-Qaeda and Islamic State.

    This is the last time I fix it for you.

    • Replies: @No Second Israel
  2. @WorkingClass

    He either a dummy or plays it dumb. In the past I thought he plays it dumb. Practically every single person here is correcting him that what is happening has been designed by US-Israel-Britain and their criminal allies in the region like Saudis, the Kurds, Turkey and Qatar and their trained terrorists.

    {The real winners in this war are al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) which has taken advantage of the collapse of central government to create its own mini-state. }

    This is the favarable outcome for your masters, CIA-Mossad-MI6, they want it this way to re-draw the map of the region for the interest of the criminal zionist tribe, ‘the greater Israel’, and ‘world government’ a zionist project.

    Why do you spread misinformation.
    Do you remember what General Wesley Clark said? Seven countries in 5 years?

    And what is the purpose of the following misinformation here? Are you telling us you still has not understood what is going on after 15 years?

    {As has happened repeatedly since 9/11, the US and countries like Britain fail to combat terrorism because they give priority to retaining their alliance with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies, even when their policies – as in Yemen – wreck a whole country and enable al Qaeda and Isis to use the chaos to establish safe havens.}

    All these designs are to achieve their geopolitical interest. Your explanation is very weird.

    YOU CANNOT FOOL ANYONE EXCEPT YOURSELF.

  3. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    If we look at this overall result of the war in Yemen, we see that al Quaeda is gaining and consolidating territory.
    One could be forgiven for thinking that this result, far from being an unfortunate accident, was really the point all along.
    That the western forces are allied with these vile jihadis.
    Likewise, the flood of jihadis into Europe being also a desired result. Maybe some nasty people in power believe that Islam is unstoppable, and wish to jump on the bandwaggon, but keep us pesants in the dark. Being unbelievably conceited, they probably think they can control this primitive religion.
    There is also associated confusion as to who is fighting who in Syria – the USA seems to be supporting Daesh, and fighting Daesh, at the same time.
    Am I just paranoid, or is this really happening?

  4. KA [AKA "tomar"] says:

    It is time to recognize the simple fact that the war on Afghanistan in 2001 was also illegal.
    US imperialism’s die-hard apologist sometimes blames the allies for seducing America to wars and sometimes forcing America to wars . Both are wrong assumptions based on the overt and the covert US propaganda .

    It is sheer stupidity to claim that America would not be fighting in Yemen,Syria,and Somalia if and only if Saudis did not ask for it

    Plans were afoot before 2006 Lebanon war to dismember Syria and the US government was fully active in getting that done .
    Somalia had no reason to be attacked by US in 2006 It had nothing to do with terrorism against US That war continues to day.

    Yemen has been under attack from drones Those attacks led to what illegal mass killings lead to – disruption of society,weakening of the institutional authority and rise of fanaticism or rebellion .

    What have been the roles of Saudis and Why?

    A corrupt illegal enterprise can’t survive without the approval of its sponsor and supporters .In return the illegal enterprise will do the bindings of the sponsor as it has done in Iraq Iran Central America and Afghanistan and now doing in Syria . That was the hallmark of the relationships between America and its “our bitch” all over the globe . UK perfected that art in India,Africa and sowed the foundations in Gulf countries plus Saudi Arab ( even the name Sauidi to the new country was given by a British official ). Like all “our bitch”, this one is also replaceable .
    Noregia, Saddam, and S Vietnamese president , Congo leader and Japanese PM knew it very well.

  5. Thank you for the informative column. Are our fruitless often criminal interventions done on purpose or is it because the USA has so many incompetent employees?
    In 2002 I followed Buchanan and lots of other good minds opposed to invading Iraq. I read all about PNAC and neocons, neocon Zionists, and Evangelical Zionists. From 2003 to 2011 I must have worked around ten thousand US soldiers and perhaps a handful had heard of PNAC and any Zionist role.
    To this day I see 75 year old Army retirees constantly emailing each other about Obama’s plan to have Muslims take over America but never a word about Zionists or PNAC and these retirees are too sure of themselves and too lazy to even look up anything.
    Mr. Cockburn , I like your use of the term “wishful thinking”. There are doctors who study hard, keep up, and learn from mistakes, but there is also another big crowd of doctors that employ wishful thinking such as “oh , that can’t happen to her…I can go home and get some sleep…”. Of course, wishful thinking almost always causes a patient to get much sicker or even crash. Such is what seems to go on in the USA when incompetent, lazy people are put in posts of importance.
    I have little to no confidence that the people at top positions in the USA can protect us from more 9-11s (if the NSA, CIA, FBI had done the basics of their jobs, 9-11-2001 would not have occurred).
    We must have many bright, caring, energetic people employed in many civil service jobs such as the CIA but I guess they do not get a say in things. Instead we have the likes of the PNAC gang and all the others that followed them.
    Chuck Hagel must have felt excluded. At least he knew when to walk away. As for the military it seems like most Admirals and Generals are typical gutless careerists.

  6. Shafiq says:

    On this issue, Trump is right and Sanders wrong. The best course would be to let Assad retake the country with Russian and Iranian help, not to involve the Saudis. Assad is no saint, but he’s far better than his likely successors. Time to give up on the regime-change fantasy.

  7. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    For another column can you assess whether a truce between the Saudi-backed government in Aden and the Houthis could be strong enough to take back all territory from Al-Qaeda.

    If not then ia a US invasion necessary before Al-Qaeda attacks US targets?

    • Replies: @Anonymous
  8. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:
    @Anonymous

    Not ANOTHER “US invasion”.

    We have seen ineptitude of biblical proportions with lies, propaganda, false flag operations, immense destruction, use of illegal weapons, more ineptitude, wishful thinking, contractors being dropped in to contract, private armies being dropped in to privateer, things suspiciously going the way of neocon wettest of wet dreams, containers of weapons being dropped, more destruction, more ineptitude, interests close to the administration stuffing their bellies and sphincters with dollars (in the worst case, by driving empty oil barrels around the desert), a 5 trillion dollar hole opening up for what was supposed to be a “cakewalk”, “a self-paying war”, and “not more than 80 billion USD anyway”, false flag gas attacks and dreams of regime change in Syria, everything getting destabilized..

    YEAH, let’s have an INVASION. I mean, there is still a bit of way up shit creek…

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