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Yemen (1):The Nobel Peace Prize Recipient Kills Dozens of Women and Children In Yemen

December 27, 2009

Attacks on Yemen

According to an ABC News statement on Christmas “on orders from President Barack Obama, the U.S. launched [two] cruise missiles early Thursday (December 24th) against two suspected al-Qaeda sites in Yemen, administration officials told ABC News in a report broadcast on ABC World News with Charles Gibson.” In what appears to be a separate incident a US jet plan repeatedly strafed the home of Sa’ada govenor Hassan Mohammed Manna.

Given the way that the news was reported here state-side, this being a part of the war on terrorism, it was generally greeted with little interest or protest, although, according to the same ABC report, the strike represented `a major escalation of the Obama Administration’s campaign against al Qaeda’.

Then there are the `results’ of the two strikes:

  • According to press reports in the Arab World, it appeared that it was, once again – as with US drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan – indiscriminate with most of the victims civilians, overwhelmingly women and children. A local Yemeni official identified 49 civilians killed, among them 23 children and 17 women.
  • At the same time two apparent targets of the attack – al Qaeda member Qasim al Rim and Anwar al Awlaki were not killed. According to the Los Angeles Times, al Awlaki is a New Mexican born US citizen who moved to Yemen in 2002 and may have had links with the alleged Ft. Hood gunman. The attack had the mark of an Israeli-like targeted assassination.

The US strike is a part of a coordinated tripartite military offensive in Yemen being conducted by the Obama Administration, Saudi Arabia and the increasingly marginalized Sana’a government of Ali Abdallah Salih who has been the country’s leader for some 30 years. The question remains: how much deeper will the US proceed to get into Yemen’s mire militarily only complicating its already overstretched military in the region that much more?

If US Senator Joseph Lieberman has anything to say about it, Yemen will be the next major US Middle East War. In  segment of Democracy Now! (Dec 28, 2009) Lieberman, speaking on FOX news yesterday called for a US pre-emptive attack on Yemen (did he mean US invasion?) in light of the failed airline bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit a few days ago. Supposedly there was a Yemeni link.

Lieberman’s comments were revealing and substantiate what was becoming more and more likely: that US Special Forces, Green Berets and intelligence units have been operating in Yemen for some time. And then the Connecticut Senator, in a break from his main task to torpedo a viable public option for Obama’s health care package, summed up the neo-conservative vision for perpetual US military involvement in the Middle East:

 Iraq was yesterday’s war. Afghanistan is today’s war. If we don’t act preemptively, Yemen will be tomorrow’s war.”

Democracy Now! went on to cite the New York Times report that the CIA in particular sent several of its top field operatives with counterterrorism experience to Yemen a year ago and that some of the most secretive Special Operations commandos have begun training Yemeni security forces in counterterrorism tactics.

The military offensive intensified in early November was announced by the country’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. `We are about to crush terrorism…There will be no compromise or cease fire until we are finished.” 1 Those were pretty heady words for a leader whose country is out of control and who had to come begging to the Saudis and the United States for military help.

What followed was a coordinated scorched earth bombing offensive by the Sana’a government against rebel regions. In addition to the Yemeni government offensive, according to Iranian sources, Saudi Arabia also pounds the Houthis rebel areas, including according to one source with white phosphorous bombs, used against civilians in northern Yemen. Saudi Arabia, flush with US arms that it hardly knows how to use, is being groomed for a role not unsimilar to that which Iran played in the 1970s when the Shahs forces – with US permission and guidance – intervened in the Dhofar Province of Oman to crush a rebellion there.

I wonder who supplied the Saudis with white phosphorous? The same source that provided the Israelis with it to bomb Gaza?

A Message Wrapped in a Cruise Missile

When the United States lets loose with its cruise missiles, it is almost always delivering a number of `messages’:

  • It is often lost that Cruise missiles can carry both nuclear and conventional warheads, thus the nuclear threat is at the very least, implied.
  • The Cruise strike is also a way of showing support for Saudi Arabia, that the U.S. supports what has been an intensive two month Saudi bombing campaign of Yemen’s northern regions.

No doubt the events in Yemen put pressure on Saudi Arabia in a way not unlike the instability in Sudan puts pressure on Egypt, tying both countries down to deal with the overflow of instability on their southern flanks, preventing them from playing more assertive roles in other Middle East related crises like the Israeli-Palestinian crisis and Iraq.

And although the evidence of `Iranian interference’ is slim to non-existent in the Yemeni crisis (with both the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times admitting as much in their coverage of the bombing) both the Saudis and Yemeni officials, quick to divert attention from their own responsibilities in deepening the Yemen crisis, are, predictably enough, blaming Teheran.

And while al Qaeda was `featured’ as the excuse for this attack in the U.S. media, it is only a small part of the host of problems that Yemen is facing:

  1. In the north of the country, a large Shi’ite minority – said to represent a full third of the country’s 23 million – the Houthis are rebelling against long term discrimination and repeated military action against their populations. The Houthis have been engaged in opposition – including armed struggle – against the regime in Sana’s since 2004. An indication of the rebellion’s seriousness can be gleaned from the fact that there are more than 175,000 internal refugees that have fled the country’s northern regions where the resistance has been most intense.
  2. In the south, that region which was until 1990 South Yemen (the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen), there is also in turmoil, with southerners claiming legitimately to have been excluded from power and economic opportunities since reunification. Last month over a thousand southerners demonstrated in the city of Ataq in favor of separation once again. Five were killed (three protestors and two members of the security force). 2
  3. The broader background is a country in socio-economic crisis, with a 40% unemployment rate, its oil resources fast being depleted and facing among other social problem a drying up of its water table to such a degree that the country has to import water.
  4. Politically Yemen has been kept together by its president, Salih, through a complex (but also somewhat common in the Middle East) system of patronage to clan and tribal chiefs, regional leaders. As the financial base of the country becomes increasingly fragile the struggles over patronage intensify.

Missing Texture…

There was much `texture’ missing from the ABC report, raising a number of questions,  including:

  • From where were these missiles launched? Were they from ships, planes?
  • How much explosive power were the missiles carrying? Cruise missiles carry rather powerful wallops
  • Why was there no mention that Yemen has been racked by Civil War concerning its Shia Zaydi Sect in the North and a growing separatist movement in the South?
  • Why was there no mention – or virtually no mention – that the Saudi Arabia, in concert with the United States and the Yemeni government in Sana’a have been involved in a military offensive against the rebel movements – movements that have little or nothing to do with al Qaeda. The offensive against the Shia Zaydis has included Saudi aerial attacks of Yemen in seeming coordination with sorties by the Sana’a government

Beyond these points, there were other curiosities – or they would be `curiosities’ if they did not involve such extensive human damage, among them

  • the bombing got very little coverage in the USA but was, as usual, extensively reported in the Arab world.
  • the bombing of Yemen and the civilian casualties it caused, literally disappeared from the news after a Nigerian, at this point with questionable links to al Qaeda, botched a suicide bombing of a Northwestern Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit two days ago. Immediately a `Yemeni’ link (or more specifically, a link to al Qaeda in Yemen) was floated in the media here
  • But after acknowleding the US military action, the media backtracked a bit and shifted gears from a US cruise missile attack to a `US supported’ attack by the Yemeni Air Force. For people living in the Middle East, there is not much difference.

Creating Terrorists

Glen Greewald sums up the long term consequences of the US action rather well:

“…here we have yet another violent attack by the U.S. which – even under the best-case scenario–has killed more Muslim civilians than it did `al Qaeda fighters’  and failled to kill the main target of the attack. When it comes to undermining al Qaeda – both in Yemen and generally – isn’t it painfully obvious that the images of dead Muslim women and children which we constantly create–and which we again just created in Yemen — will fuel that movement better than anything else we do?”

The man’s got a point. More on Yemen in the coming weeks.

End notes;

1. Financial Times. November 9, 2009

2. Financial Times. November 25, 2009

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