Look Who's Talking Exclusive: Middle East and Terrorism Experts Comment on the Situation in Yemen


I have asked recognized experts on Middle East and terrorism to comment on the current situation in Yemen, which I covered last week, and to share their views regarding the U.S. policy in that country and the nations surrounding it.

Dr. Ariel Cohen Cohen, a Senior Research Fellow at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC:

"Yemen is in many respects a pre-modern society, a Hobbesian space, in which tribes are warring with one another. The writ of the central government barely goes beyond the capital, San’a. Partially, it is the result of the country’s difficult unification in the 1990s – before it, there were a Soviet satellite South Yemen and pro-Saudi Northern Yemen. The central government is fighting a counter-insurgency against Shiite, Iran-supported rebels as well as having an on-again, off-again fight against Al Qaeda. As the Saudis in Iraq, sometimes the government would use the Al Qaeda radicals against the Shi’ites, and sometimes would use its own military and special forces to restrain Al Qaeda. Moreover, Salafi Islamists have infiltrated elements of the government security apparatus, making U.S. coordination with the Saleh regime complicated, albeit necessary. Yemen is also a home to prominent Internet-based “warriors of the pen” who are at the forefront of Al Qaeda recruitment activities worldwide.   If the U.S. and Saudi-supported counterinsurgency in Yemen fails, threats may also arise to shipping around the Horn of Africa, already threatened by Somali pirates. And the Saudi regime next door may come under threat. Thus, Yemen is likely to remain an important battlefield in the global war against Al Qaeda and its subsidiaries in the years to come."

Dr. Mark Katz, Professor of Government and Politics at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.  Dr. Katz recently published an insightful analysis of the political conundrum that has gripped Yemen.  Contrary to the speculations being floated in the western media these days, Dr. Katz believes that:

"A union between the Shiite Al Houthis in the north and the secessionists in the south (who are mainly Sunni) is not likely to happen since they have little more in common than their dislike of the Saleh regime.  The Houthis don't want the South to secede.  And the southerners don't want to be ruled by the Houthis."

In addition these assessments, I would like to have the following questions answered:

1) One of the  masterminds behind the December 25 attempt by a Nigerian man to blow up a plane in Detroit is Sayeed Ali al-Shehri, is a Saudi terrorist who had been repatriated from Guantanamo to Saudi Arabia by the Bush Administration in 2007.  The Saudi authorities reportedly organized a short rehabilitative program for him, after which he escaped to Yemen, where he is now one of the leaders of the local cell of Al-Qaeda.  His involvement in the latest terrorist attempt on the U.S. soil makes people question the effectiveness of existing policies (both U.S. and those of its allies) concerning the repatriation of terrorists and the closure of the Guantanamo detention facility.  What steps do you think the Obama Administration should take to ensure that current Gitmo detainees are not enabled to commit terrorist acts again?       2) The Yemeni President Saleh has launched a vast attack on Al-Qaeda in his country, with support and training from the United States. Yemen is a country plagued by many social, sectarian and political problems that may delay the success of the anti-Al-Qaeda offensive.  What would be your advice to President Saleh and President Obama for ensuring that the military operation against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula reaches its goal?    3) Yemen has been on the radar of the U.S. intelligence agencies as a safe heaven for Islamic radicals for some time, yet the full-blown military operation did not start there until last month.  Currently, as part of this operation, the indirect American assistance to the Yemeni government appears to be limited to military equipment and training for the Yemeni army.  Do you anticipate that there might be a need for a direct U.S. army involvement in Yemen in the near future? Why or why not?    

Al-Qaeda, Ali Abdullah Saleh, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Yemen