The indispensable Jeremy Scahill has a new report on Yemen at Nation magazine. The article goes in depth with U.S.-supported Yemeni security forces and reiterates criticisms of President Saleh, that he allowed al-Qaeda militants to gain ground in the country in order to show Washington how much they needed him. “Since the mujahedeen war against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s and continuing after 9/11,” Scahill writes, “Saleh has famously milked the threat of Al Qaeda and other militants to leverage counterterrorism funding and weapons from the United States and Saudi Arabia, to bolster his power within the country and to neutralize opponents.”
But the piece really focuses on what’s at the center of U.S. policy in Yemen and the Middle East generally:
The US missile strikes, the civilian casualties, an almost total lack of government services and a deepening poverty all contributed. “As these groups of militants took over the city, then AQAP came in and also tribes from areas that have been attacked in the past by the Yemeni government and by the US government,” says Iryani, the political analyst. “They came because they have a feud against the regime and against the US. There is a nucleus of AQAP, but the vast majority are people who are aggrieved by attacks on their homes that forced them to go out and fight.”
Scahill explains how U.S. airstrikes and drone attacks have killed huge numbers of civilians, and how “President Obama’s first known authorization of a missile strike on Yemen, on December 17, 2009, killed more than forty Bedouins, many of them women and children” and another “killed an important tribal leader and the deputy governor of Marib province, Jabir Shabwani, sparking mass anger at the United States and Saleh’s government.” Scahill’s Yemeni interviewees claim Saleh was feeding bad intelligence to the U.S., resulting in civilians being targeted.
The strikes “have recruited thousands.” Yemeni tribesmen, he says, share one common goal with Al Qaeda, “which is revenge against the Americans, because those who were killed are the sons of the tribesmen, and the tribesmen never, ever give up on revenge.” Even senior officials of the Saleh regime recognize the damage the strikes have caused. “People certainly resent these [US] interventions,” Qirbi, the foreign minister and a close Saleh ally, concedes.
…US policy has enraged tribal leaders who could potentially keep AQAP in check and has, over the past three years of regular bombings, taken away the motivation for many leaders to do so. Several southern leaders angrily told me stories of US and Yemeni attacks in their areas that killed civilians and livestock and destroyed or damaged scores of homes. If anything, the US airstrikes and support for Saleh-family-run counterterrorism units has increased tribal sympathy for Al Qaeda.
…Zabara is quick to clarify that he believes AQAP is a terrorist group bent on attacking the United States, but that is hardly his central concern. “The US sees Al Qaeda as terrorism, and we consider the drones terrorism,” he says.
And for one final example of the total failure of U.S. policy, Zabara, the tribesman Scahill interviews, says:
“The regime, the ministers and officials are squandering the money allocated to fight Al Qaeda, while Al Qaeda expands,” he says. The United States “funds the Political Security and the National Security [forces], which spend money traveling here and there, in Sanaa or in the US, with their family. All the tribes get is airstrikes against us.” He adds that counterterrorism “has become like an investment” for the US-backed units. “If they fight seriously, the funds will stop. They prolonged the conflict with Al Qaeda to receive more funds” from the United States.