"Let nothing human be alien to me"- Terence

Friday, February 4, 2011

Salih Gets His Helicopters

Reminding us that there are always smaller stories still going on during big events...

WASHINGTON, Feb. 4 (UPI) -- The U.S. military has delivered four Bell Helicopter utility aircraft to the Yemeni air force under its 1206 program.
The aircraft were upgraded Huey II helicopters. Spares and associated tools were also delivered.
Section 1206 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2006 established a new program that allows the U.S. Department of Defense to spend up to $200 million of its own appropriations to train and equip foreign militaries to undertake counter-terrorism or stability operations.

A couple of quick thoughts.

1) These are explicitly to help Salih fight AQAP, but any Yemen watcher would probably be willing to bet Salih might have additional ideas for them.   He has never shown a reluctance to use foreign military aid against the Southern Movement or the Houthis.  These might be easier to track, but Salih could very easily be willing to use them against other "enemies of stability".

Will this include protestors?  It isn't impossible, and it is hard to think of anything worse for our image if that happened.

2) It is really hard to stop things.  The article mentions that delivery happened exactly 110 days after a $27 million agreement.  Despite all the upheaval, institutional momentum carried this deal forward without a glitch, in an incredibly hectic and chaotic week in Yemen, where one could have plausibly seen a scenario where the government was toppled.  Someone who knows more about this than I do could weigh in on wether the political side of Yemen is connected to the procurement side, and if this could have been stopped in a heartbeat, but to me this is a good illustration of why policy is so hard to change.  There are a lot of different forces pushing for things, and it isn't easy to turn around- I think the cliche is reversing an aircraft carrier, something I gather is difficult.

With that in mind, it seems even more silly to criticize the administration for not breaking with Mubarak quickly enough, and makes it even more amazing that they actually did, it seems (for now).

3) So what is the wisdom of these arms deals?  Obviously, we want a stable Yemen that is capable of fighting AQAP, and this will help (there is more than helicopters in the deal).  That gets to the heart of the dilemma- you don't want to be supplying actual weapons to an unstable regime that could use those weapons in unpredictable ways, (or pumping weapons into a chaotic countrty) but without them you might not have a partner.   However, and being a dumbass on technical matters, I think the helicopters are a safer bet, as right now, according to the article, there are only six trained pilots in Yemen.  This makes it less likely that they can fall into the wrong hands, to use a really pathetic cliche.

Basically, I think the continuation of arms' deals shows that the admin is still sticking with Salih, and has planned to for a while.  But as I've been saying, they need to have a contingency plan, or all those fancy weapons will, like our hopes for Yemen, be trunkless legs of stone in the desert.

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