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January 7: Ambush in Abyan

At 10 am this morning, a group of al-Qaeda fighters shouting Allahu Akbar ambushed a convoy of military vehicles from the Central Security Forces, killing anywhere from 6 to 12 soldiers.  

News Yemen in Arabic seems to have the most early details on the attack, citing a military source that claimed 6 dead while a source in a hospital in the neighboring governorate of al-Baydha says that 12 were killed. 

Two things stood out to me in the initial spate of reports.  First, the News Yemen article says that the attack took place at 10 am on Friday morning near Lawdar, which was the site of a bloody battle between AQAP and the military back in August. 

My question is this: what are AQAP fighters doing carrying out an attack on Friday morning?  Shouldn’t they be on their way to prayers?  Or, is this something that they can carry out an attack and then head off to the mosque? 

We have, of course, seen this before.  The attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania took place on a Friday morning when some of the attackers argued true Muslims should be at the mosque.  (See Lawrence Wright’s vivid discussion of this in The Looming Tower.)  This then begs the question as to why the attackers weren’t at the mosque themselves.  Do they see carrying out attacks as more important than even Friday prayers?  

The second thing that stood out to me was the reporting in this al-Jazeera English piece on the attack, particularly the last two lines:

In the past five years, US military assistance to Yemen has totalled about $250 million.

According to US officials, military aid to Yemen for 2011 alone would reach $250 million.”

Does this strike anyone else as off – penny wise and pound foolish?

We all know that there are budget difficulties and that the US can’t keep throwing money at the problem in Yemen.  But I think that the schizophrenic nature of US aid to Yemen over the past two decades has actually end up costing the US more than if it would have maintained a steady flow of aid and support to the country.

Look at this breakdown:

1990:  After the Gulf War (and Yemen’s dithering on the UN Security Council) the US cut all aid to the country except for food aid.

2000: $400,000 in food aid from the US

2001: After September 11, the Bush administration started talking about an aid and loan forgiveness package of around $400 million – that is a jump of one thousand times over what it had been previously.

2006: $4.6 million as the US believed AQ in Yemen was defeated and that it could cut aid.

2008: $22 million in aid

2010: $300 million in aid (breakdown roughly $170 million in military aid and $130 in non-military aid – at least according to John Brennan in his recent speech at Carnegie.)

2011: $250 in military aid alone.

This roller coast ride of aid delivery, in my opinion, sends exactly the wrong message to Yemen.  The Obama administration has so far talked a good game on Yemen – but the details simply don’t match up with the rhetoric. 

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Brennan claims that military and CT responses to AQAP are nested firmly within the US’ broader foreign policy goals in Yemen.  And yet military and CT aid continues to make up the majority of aid to Yemen.  So wouldn’t it be more accurate to suggest that the US foreign policy to Yemen is nested within its CT strategy – or whatever passes for a CT strategy these days?

(Also we know that the CT and military aid is only – intended – to go the fight against AQAP, as the US gets very upset, at least publicly, when Yemen diverts aid to fight the Huthis or the Southern Movement.)

In the long run this yo-yo, reactionary aid policy will cost the US much, much more than a steady, determined policy to ensure that Yemen is a functioning state.  Aid in countries like Yemen isn’t about free handouts it is about national security. 


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