29 December 2009

America's next war — any bets on Yemen?

It seems the United States needs a new war at least once a decade. Currently they are winding one down and winding another one up. So who is the next lucky country to experience occupation by the empire?

The smart money seems to be on Iran. The U.S. is mightily peeved about the poss-ibility of Iran developing nuclear weapons and, always important, Iran is perceived as a threat by Israel. But the smart money may be shifting its bets — to Yemen, a country where in fact the Americans are already militarily involved.

President Obama has taken a close interest in combating al Qaeda in Yemen, issuing a statement in September that proclaimed Yemen's security to be "vital" to the U.S. national security interest. Only Pakistan receives more American dollars for counterterrorism training and support than Yemen. This fall, U.S. and Yemeni government forces jointly attacked al Qaeda training camps in the Arhab district, northeast of the capital. Senator Joe Lieberman has called for immediate, extended "pre-emptive" military action to counter the terrorist threat, and the U.S. Congress has already designated Yemen a "front state" in the war on terror. Evidence that the underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, trained in Yemen will no doubt heighten the American interest.

Yemen is already a violent place. The government has been intermittently fighting an uprising by the Shia Zaidiyyah sect in the north of the country, adjacent to the Saudi border. The Saudi and Yemeni governments accuse Iran of aiding the rebels. Murmurs of secession still occur in the south and the kidnapping of foreign tourists by tribes remains an ongoing problem. Yemen is also becoming a hot bed of al Qaeda activity as jihadis displaced by U.S. military action in Afghanistan and Pakistan trek south. Saudi Arabian al Qaeda members are said to be pouring in. Somalia's al-Shabaab Islamist militia has said it will send reinforcements to Yemen in response to U.S. attacks there, and with an estimated 200,000 Somali refugees in Yemen, that's not a threat to be taken lightly. The country's lengthy border with Saudi Arabia has long served as a convenient weapons transit point for Islamist militants fighting the Saudi monarchy. And of course any threat to the Saudis is a threat to American oil interests and that, too, can be a precursor to violence.

Poor, alien, divided by tribal factions and violent, Yemen would pair nicely with Afghanistan. Already, like Pakistan and Somalia, a victim of U.S. covert warfare, it is a likely candidate for something much bigger. Lay your bets.

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