Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

Cook examines developments in the Middle East and their resonance in Washington.

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Guest Post: AQAP and Yemen

by Steven A. Cook
November 22, 2010

Members of Yemen’s U.S-trained counter-terrorism force raid a house during field training near Sanaa

I’ve been busy so I enlisted Marisa Porges to guest post today.  Marisa is a former international affairs fellow at CFR. Before her turn at the Council, Marisa worked at DoD and Treasury on counter-terrorism issues.  Before civilian life, she was a naval aviator, flying EA-6Bs off of carrier decks.  Extremely cool.  Enjoy…

I originally intended to hijack Steven’s blog to highlight the statement Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made last week, when he noted that America’s “biggest tools, particularly with respect to Yemen, are the partnership capacity of the Yemenis themselves.” This description of Washington’s future efforts in Yemen as a partnership not just with Sana’a but with Yemenis is pivotal and worth repeating, again and again.

I’ll dig further into that story the next time Steven leaves his computer unattended. Instead, I’ll focus on the three most important Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) stories that came out over the weekend:

  • The latest issue of AQAP’s online magazine, Inspire, was publicly released on Saturday – this time, with a cover declaring that October’s attempted bombing via cargo mail had the bargain price tag of $4,200. The glossy pages and color graphics were dedicated exclusively to the incident that AQAP named ‘Operation Hemorrhage.’ The special edition included details of how the group planned the attack and showed a photo of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, which AQ operatives reportedly tucked next to one bomb as testament to their high hopes for its impact.

More important was AQAP’s description of their goals:
1. “[T]hat the packages pass through the latest security equipment.” – DONE
2. “[T]o spread of fear that would cause the West to invest billions of dollars in new security procedures.” – IN PROCESS
3. “[T]o cause maximum losses to the American economy. That is also the reason why we singled out the two U.S. air freight companies.” – LET’S    WAIT AND SEE

We’ve seen this trend coming – Al Qaeda’s new focus on smaller scale attacks not necessarily aimed at massive casualties, but intending to have  larger secondary shocks, economically and psychologically. It aligns with recent concern for Mumbai-style terrorist attacks in Western Europe.

  • On Friday, Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal reportedly told an audience at Harvard’s Kennedy School that Yemen represented a direct security threat to Saudi Arabia. In his words, “[t]he situation in Yemen . . . is making it easy for terrorists to infiltrate into Saudi Arabia and operate actively there.”

This concern is anything but new, though the public admission by senior Saudi officials is novel. Friday’s remark prompted an immediate    response by Yemeni officials who protested that Prince Turki must not have been speaking on behalf of his government.

  • At least two Arabic outlets have begun raising concerns about a deteriorating relationship between Saudi and Yemeni security services. Though it’s still unclear where this is headed, it’s a situation worth Washington’s attention. The Saudi-Yemeni relationship, which includes a deep, complicated history between Riyadh and both Sana’a and Yemeni tribal leaders, is largely a mystery to outside operators – and, in truth, to many Saudis and Yemenis. But it’s clear that Saudi influence in Yemen far outweighs that of the United States or any other Western nation. Saudi involvement is critical for combating AQAP and tackling larger issues of Yemeni state failure. A troubled relationship between the two countries is the last thing anyone needs right now.

(Photo Courtesy Reuters/Khaled Abdullah Ali Al Mahdi)

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  • Posted by C_Stewart

    To Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations”: can we assume that the AQ use of the book as a reference was less a reference to great expectations for successful explosion and carnage, as it was to the theme of the book- we have great expectations, but life falls short of those expectations, so we should make the most of what is there, and not waste our lives attempting for grandiosity? Doesn’t the latter fit more toward their objectives for the attack?

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