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Al-Qaeda Victory in Yemen

27/09/2010

At face value, Yemeni government forces appeared to drive away militants from the town of Hawta—formerly an extremist stronghold—after a five-day battle on 24 September 2010.

Nothing could be further from the truth. For those five days, security forces failed to enter the town once—instead perforating the town with tank and artillery fire until tribal leaders mediated a truce and allowed the members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to head for the hills.


Yemeni Counter-terrorism Squad in Training (Khaled Fazaa/AFP/Getty Images)

The militants—reportedly numbered at 120—most likely came from al-Qaeda ranks that have already fled from home to Iraq to Saudi Arabia and on to Yemen (and may have even trained in Somalia according to unsubstantiated reports). Moving another few miles is hardly a defeat.

In fact, holding off security forces backed by U.S. money for five days, forcing the military to indiscriminately kill local civilians, and liaising effectively with the local tribe are shows of strength.

A few military incursions can never undermine AQAP. While the 32-year-serving survivalist Yemeni President should be targeting radicalisation’s drivers and facilitators, he appears to be attempting to appease US security concerns with few and shallow military operations.

Of course, this is easier said than done. President Saleh faces the world’s gravest water crisis, urbanisation and poverty the Middle East has never witnessed, northern and southern rebel movements that ebb and surge but do not die, government reach that stops at Sana’a’s edge, and tribes who appear to revere their veteran jihadists from Chechnya and the first Afghan war as well as incoming young fighters proven on the Iraqi battlefields.

What do think…are these security incursions government victories? What are Yemen’s underlying radicalisation drivers?