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Why should we be concerned about Yemen?

NATO Review talks to Marisa PORGES, former counter-terrorism advisor to the US governement about the threats posed by, to, and in Yemen.

 Subtitles: On / Off

It’s become a perfect storm

for a variety of reasons:

the large population,

growing at an unprecedented rate

to the point of the population

is expected to double

within a matter of 20 years or so to

the massive unemployment problem:

over 40% unemployment

and 75% or so underemployment.

As this has been developing,

assistance to the country and

attention to some of their problems,

both domestically

from their internal focus

and from neighbouring countries

and the international community,

has wavered.

I think, a few years ago

there might have been a way

to get it off the path that it is on now.

Unfortunately this was not prioritised

and so it fell through the cracks.

And it has gotten to the point

where it’s going towards state failure.

While there are some similarities,

it’s a tenuous connection.

The history is very different,

the political roots are very different,

and the way we’re going to have to

engage the country is different too.

And yet there is as much

reason to be concerned for al Qaida

in the Arabic Peninsula as we may

have been concerned for al Qaida,

as we would call al Qaida Central

in Afghanistan, from a decade ago.

They have established themselves as

the new al Qaida brand in the region

and expanded

their strategic focus beyond Yemen

and neighbouring Saudi-Arabia,

and the rhetoric and the propaganda

and the way they are trying to expand

their relevance beyond just Yemen.

The strategic focus has been shifting,

but so too has their recruitment,

their propaganda,

their media campaigns.

Even this summer coming out

with an online magazine

that is written in English

to target non-Arabic speaking,

non-Yemen based potential recruits.

And so I think, this sophistication

and their ability to gain support

both from Yemeni based tribes

and non-Yemeni based individuals

is something that we need

to focus attention on.

There are conflicting reports

about the organisation within al Qaida

in the Arabian Peninsula

and the power struggles,

even before recent reports,

but predating their emergence

as the new regional power,

a conflict between

an older generation of al Qaida

and the newer generation

led by Nasser al-Wuhayshi.

It’s still a bit unclear,

there have been reports

that they have a division of labour,

a very organised structure,

and it’s made them able to withstand

recent attacks and arrests.

Reports indicate that

from an operational perspective,

al Qaida Central

in the FATA region of Pakistan,

has been at least

operationally marginalised.

From a strategic, ideological

perspective they're still relevant

for the messaging of al Qaida

and for recruiting and propaganda,

but from an operational,

targeting perspective,

to some degree we’ve seen success,

I guess you could say,

of Western efforts,

and they’ve been marginalised.

That’s not as true with al Qaida

in the Arabian Peninsula.

So from a tactical perspective

and from where may

the next threat come from,

I do think the focus is shifting

to Yemen, and rightly so.

We’re hoping to find

one discrete answer and…

the problems have gotten

to the point in Yemen

where that’s not possible anymore.

If we take a purely security

focused approach,

and if it’s an overtly

security focused approach,

I mean US led counterterrorism

operations, boots on the ground,

there’s the significant chance

of having a major backlash,

and in fact increasing al Qaida’s

recruiting potential there

and supporting their recruitment

cause and such.

Currently there are in the order of

300,000 internally displaced persons.

In addition, almost 200,000

African refugees in the south,

according to the summer report

from the UN,

170,000 of whom are Somalis.

So now you have flows

from the south,

internally displaced persons

in the north from the rebellion,

and a socio-economic

and government situation,

in which the Yemenis are not able

to handle this problem themselves.

The Saudis are concerned

about the movement of persons

across their borders

and place great efforts,

time and money

to building fences and dealing with

immigrants, smugglers and criminals.

I think the last data I saw, was in

2008 over 65,000 illegal immigrants

and smugglers, mostly Yemeni,

were arrested crossing the border

in just a few months time.

And this concern is only increasing.

That will likely be

the first source of conflict.

We’ve seen reports come out

of crimes being committed

and murders being committed

based on the cause of shortage

and fights breaking out

over wells and the use of aquifers.

Sana’a is expected to be the first

capital to run out of water.

And there is, as of yet, no effective

strategy from the Government,

in terms of how to manage water

resources and address the problem.

The oil problem is affecting

the Government’s budget

and the Government’s ability

to pay off tribes, fulfil bribes,

maintain and fund

both the war in the north,

the secessionist movement in the

south and the fight against al Qaida.

But the water issue is something

that is affecting people

and many citizens on a daily basis.

The Government has

and has had an uphill battle,

corruption

and patronage and history of

even co-opting al Qaida

and gentlemen’s agreements

between the Government

and al Qaida.

There has

to be political reforms taken on.

At the moment, both the security

situation and the economic situation

and description of the country makes

it not very high on any tourist’s list.

I do think that is going to take years

to overcome unfortunately,

despite the fact that there have been

some efforts by GCC countries

to build hotels and destination resorts

in very early stages,

but in some areas of the country,

I think, unfortunately,

it will remain

an undiscovered destination

until the security situation improves.

It’s become a perfect storm

for a variety of reasons:

the large population,

growing at an unprecedented rate

to the point of the population

is expected to double

within a matter of 20 years or so to

the massive unemployment problem:

over 40% unemployment

and 75% or so underemployment.

As this has been developing,

assistance to the country and

attention to some of their problems,

both domestically

from their internal focus

and from neighbouring countries

and the international community,

has wavered.

I think, a few years ago

there might have been a way

to get it off the path that it is on now.

Unfortunately this was not prioritised

and so it fell through the cracks.

And it has gotten to the point

where it’s going towards state failure.

While there are some similarities,

it’s a tenuous connection.

The history is very different,

the political roots are very different,

and the way we’re going to have to

engage the country is different too.

And yet there is as much

reason to be concerned for al Qaida

in the Arabic Peninsula as we may

have been concerned for al Qaida,

as we would call al Qaida Central

in Afghanistan, from a decade ago.

They have established themselves as

the new al Qaida brand in the region

and expanded

their strategic focus beyond Yemen

and neighbouring Saudi-Arabia,

and the rhetoric and the propaganda

and the way they are trying to expand

their relevance beyond just Yemen.

The strategic focus has been shifting,

but so too has their recruitment,

their propaganda,

their media campaigns.

Even this summer coming out

with an online magazine

that is written in English

to target non-Arabic speaking,

non-Yemen based potential recruits.

And so I think, this sophistication

and their ability to gain support

both from Yemeni based tribes

and non-Yemeni based individuals

is something that we need

to focus attention on.

There are conflicting reports

about the organisation within al Qaida

in the Arabian Peninsula

and the power struggles,

even before recent reports,

but predating their emergence

as the new regional power,

a conflict between

an older generation of al Qaida

and the newer generation

led by Nasser al-Wuhayshi.

It’s still a bit unclear,

there have been reports

that they have a division of labour,

a very organised structure,

and it’s made them able to withstand

recent attacks and arrests.

Reports indicate that

from an operational perspective,

al Qaida Central

in the FATA region of Pakistan,

has been at least

operationally marginalised.

From a strategic, ideological

perspective they're still relevant

for the messaging of al Qaida

and for recruiting and propaganda,

but from an operational,

targeting perspective,

to some degree we’ve seen success,

I guess you could say,

of Western efforts,

and they’ve been marginalised.

That’s not as true with al Qaida

in the Arabian Peninsula.

So from a tactical perspective

and from where may

the next threat come from,

I do think the focus is shifting

to Yemen, and rightly so.

We’re hoping to find

one discrete answer and…

the problems have gotten

to the point in Yemen

where that’s not possible anymore.

If we take a purely security

focused approach,

and if it’s an overtly

security focused approach,

I mean US led counterterrorism

operations, boots on the ground,

there’s the significant chance

of having a major backlash,

and in fact increasing al Qaida’s

recruiting potential there

and supporting their recruitment

cause and such.

Currently there are in the order of

300,000 internally displaced persons.

In addition, almost 200,000

African refugees in the south,

according to the summer report

from the UN,

170,000 of whom are Somalis.

So now you have flows

from the south,

internally displaced persons

in the north from the rebellion,

and a socio-economic

and government situation,

in which the Yemenis are not able

to handle this problem themselves.

The Saudis are concerned

about the movement of persons

across their borders

and place great efforts,

time and money

to building fences and dealing with

immigrants, smugglers and criminals.

I think the last data I saw, was in

2008 over 65,000 illegal immigrants

and smugglers, mostly Yemeni,

were arrested crossing the border

in just a few months time.

And this concern is only increasing.

That will likely be

the first source of conflict.

We’ve seen reports come out

of crimes being committed

and murders being committed

based on the cause of shortage

and fights breaking out

over wells and the use of aquifers.

Sana’a is expected to be the first

capital to run out of water.

And there is, as of yet, no effective

strategy from the Government,

in terms of how to manage water

resources and address the problem.

The oil problem is affecting

the Government’s budget

and the Government’s ability

to pay off tribes, fulfil bribes,

maintain and fund

both the war in the north,

the secessionist movement in the

south and the fight against al Qaida.

But the water issue is something

that is affecting people

and many citizens on a daily basis.

The Government has

and has had an uphill battle,

corruption

and patronage and history of

even co-opting al Qaida

and gentlemen’s agreements

between the Government

and al Qaida.

There has

to be political reforms taken on.

At the moment, both the security

situation and the economic situation

and description of the country makes

it not very high on any tourist’s list.

I do think that is going to take years

to overcome unfortunately,

despite the fact that there have been

some efforts by GCC countries

to build hotels and destination resorts

in very early stages,

but in some areas of the country,

I think, unfortunately,

it will remain

an undiscovered destination

until the security situation improves.

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