Then, days later, Yemen’s Defense Minister, General Mohammed Nasser Ahmed, survived an assassination attempt by a suicide bomber who attacked his convoy in the southern Yemen town of Tawahi. It was the second such assassination attempt on Ahmed, the last coming in August when another convoy he was riding in hit a roadside bomb.
Of course, Saleh’s quest to hold onto power is fairly understandable in that dictator and son combos, such as in Libya and Egypt, tend to face exile, imprisonment or death once they relinquish power. That view was best expressed by Tawakul Karaman, head of Yemen’s human rights group, Women Journalists Without Chains, who said anti-government protesters won’t be satisfied until “we arrest him (Saleh) and bring him to court.”
Yet, despite his troubles, Saleh still enjoys some strong reeds of support among the Persian Gulf nations of the GCC as well as from the United States, all of whom fear Saleh’s abrupt removal will hasten Yemen’s spiral into another Somalia.
Those fears include Yemen’s location astride the Gulf of Aden, a location in which three million barrels of oil sail past on tankers every day. Already shipping in the Gulf of Aden has been the target of 188 Somali pirate attacks in the past year. Now, disaffected and impoverished Yemenis may be looking to join the Somali pirate activity or go into business for themselves. According to one Gulf military analyst, there are already signs of collusion among “Yemeni coastal actors and the (Somali) pirates.”
For the United States, Yemen’s collapse will only serve to cement AQAP’s status as what CIA Director David Petraeus has called “the most dangerous regional node in the global jihad.” The danger posed by AQAP to America has already twice been on display when the terror group attempted to send bombs to hit targets in Detroit (2009) and Chicago (2010).
Of course, the United States isn’t waiting around to see if Saleh survives to go after AQAP. With four drone airstrips in the Horn of Africa, the United States has already been targeting AQAP and al Shabab insurgents with missile strikes and special operations forces.
As White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said earlier in September, “We reserve the right to take unilateral action [against al Qaeda] if or when other governments are unwilling or unable to take the necessary actions themselves.”
Moreover, some in Washington see Ali Abdullah Saleh as more of an impediment to fighting AQAP, given his propensity to use American counter-terrorism aid to crush internal dissent instead of terrorists.
However, while Saleh’s reliability as an ally may be in serious question, he’s at least a known quantity. As Saleh himself has said countless times, his immediate departure could lead to unparalleled chaos in Yemen. While Saleh’s assessment may rightfully be viewed as self-serving, as events continue to indicate, it’s a scenario that looks more likely by the day.
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