Insurgency in Yemen: the new challenge to American counterterrorism strategy

Critical Threats Project

Article Highlights

  • Insurgency in #Yemen: The New Challenge to American Counterterrorism Strategy by @KatieZimmerman

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  • US programs aimed to help Yemen build counterterrorism forces will not suffice in the face of growing #AQAP threat

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  • Yemen’s military capabilities enhanced by American assistance programs weren't designed to counter an insurgency

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American strategy against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen relies on local Yemeni forces to defeat terrorists and the militias that support them. The challenge has historically been finding and eliminating AQAP leaders, since the group has held relatively isolated safe havens until recently. The advent of the Arab Spring and the subsequent contraction of the Yemeni state, however, allowed AQAP and a nascent insurgent arm, Ansar al Sharia, to expand their sanctuary in Yemen dramatically. They have even threatened Aden, Yemen’s second city, advanced toward Sana’a, and fought Yemen’s military to a draw. American assistance programs aimed at helping Yemen build and maintain counter-terrorism forces will not suffice in the face of a real and growing al Qaeda-affiliated insurgency.

Yemen’s military capabilities enhanced through American security assistance programs were not designed to counter an insurgency. In the wake of the Yemeni government’s crackdown on protests in 2011, in fact, the U.S. government suspended many forms of support even within that counter-terrorism assistance program that might have been used to suppress demonstrators. But defeating the insurgency will require regular Yemeni troops, not just elite counter-terrorism units. These regular troops do not have advanced training, nor are they well equipped. Ongoing political challenges in Sana’a, security challenges elsewhere in the country, and the steady collapse of Yemen’s economy and infrastructure will all compete for the attention of the government in Sana’a and hinder the prosecution of the counter-insurgency campaign in the south. If the assumption that Yemeni forces will be successful proves to be false, then America’s counter-terrorism strategy in Yemen fails. Amidst the many challenges facing American policy in Yemen today, we must now add the requirement to design a dramatically different approach to helping Yemenis fight the Islamist threat that also threatens the United States.

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About the Author

 

Katherine
Zimmerman

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