"Let nothing human be alien to me"- Terence

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

AQAP's Threat

Nasser Arrabyee reports US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns saying that, in Yemen, terrorism is "a real challenge".  This is correct, if pretty damn clear.  He didn't mean it as a revelation, but as a commitment, while still talking about the need for social and economic development.

In light of this, and especially with the backdrop of the attacks on British diplomats and a French worker for an Austrian oil and gas facility, I think it is important to highlight what the real threat, and real challenge of AQAP is. (Note: as of writing, it isn't confirmed that AQAP was behind either of these, but it bears their hallmarks, as we'll discuss.  And even if they didn't do these specific attacks, they've done plenty of others like them, so the point stands.)

AQAP cannot take over Yemen- I don't think they would even want to (would you?  I mean, really). We aren't looking at a potential Taliban situation here, where atavistic militants grab the wheel of state.  And, as has been argued here and elsewhere, they aren't Yemen's biggest problem- certainly the Southern Movement and possibly the Houthi rebellion pose a greater threat to Yemen's viability as even a semi-centralized state.  This is without mentioning the huge demographic, economic and ecological catastrophes which aren't so much looming as busy breaking down the gates.

I think you can best sum up AQAP as a "threat multiplier".  They are able to both take advantage of and exacerbate existing problems.  Dependent on tourist dollars?  Attack tourists.  Hoping to spur new investment in oil and gas?  Attack oil and gas facilities.  Chaos in the south?  Move operations there, forcing the government to attack, create more IDPs, and further alienate the population from San'a.  And, if the British government is taking the lead in providing aid and assistance, make it deeply uncomfortable for them to be there.

None of this is new, nor is any of this unusual for a terrorist group.  But I think it puts AQAP in context.  They have shown themselves to be masters of the kind of asymmetric warfare that is perfectly suited for Yemen.  I can't tell you if it would work elsewhere, or who might have been better than them, but I also don't really care (I mean, I would be interested, but when talking about Yemen it doesn't matter).  They are giving a plate-spinning government a constant sense of whiplash, and their ability to move and regroup ensures constant reaction instead of action.

This poses a serious challenge- only going after AQAP makes it impossible to tackle the other, more legitimately important issues, but not going after them allows space for further disruptions.  Nothing major, perhaps, but when you are as on the edge as Yemen, nothing is really minor.

Incidentally, I'll be on al-Hurra today from 4-5 EST discussing these things, if anyone is flipping through channels and decides I'm a lot more interesting than playoff baseball.   I would politely disagree.


Nasser is also reporting that the British government "would redouble its determination to help Yemen overcome its challenges after a British diplomat was slightly injured in a terrorist attack..."   So this might backfire on AQAP, but I would have to guess they are also going to redouble their efforts. 

Also, thanks to Haroun al-Amriki: Sabanet is saying the government has apprehended the shooter of the Frenchman, and that he is a security employee at OMV, the energy firm.  So who knows?  Might not have been AQAP; could have been just a dispute or something else (which is no comfort to the victim, obviously).  Regardless, AQAP does target oil and gas facilities, so the above points are no less kosher.


  1. I tried to catch you on al-Hurra. Nobody was getting hits in that one baseball game so it was boring. But I couldn't find it anywhere.
    Is there a link to it somewhere?

  2. Sorry- the al-Hurra site is hard to negotiate. You'll just have to take Greg's word that I was eloquent and dashing.