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Yemen, the next strategic blooded quagmire

April 13, 2015 at 1:51 pm

The latest statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO) revealed that for the period from 19 March to 6 April there were 643 deaths in Yemen. Some 334,093 people have been displaced and there are now a total of 254,413 Yemeni refugees. Those stuck inside Yemen are forced to live with little electricity, water and the reality that their lives could end in a matter of seconds if they were to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Chaloka Beyani, UN special rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons last week told the world “to prepare for massive displacement and humanitarian crisis as conflict torn Yemen further descends into chaos and civilians flee the fighting.” To policy makers and analysts everywhere, it is clear the fate of what was once referred to as “the happy Yemen” in its golden age is going to crumble in the eyes of humanity; mainly because of the easily avoidable mistake of not empowering the Yemeni people to sort out their affairs.

Currently, it is commonly being implied that the current conflict is based mainly on Saudi airstrikes targeting Houthi militants, forgetting the fragile context of Yemen that allowed it to become a base for sectarian terrorism. As a part of America’s post 9/11 counter-terrorist strategy, they began to strike Yemen in 2002 – a country that only managed to unify its northern and southern parts 12 years earlier – with drones in an attempt to target terrorists and their bases, with Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) being their main target.

Last week, it was confirmed that AQAP captured Al-Mukalla, Yemen’s fifth largest city. It resulted in them taking over many government buildings in the area and forcing the citizens to flee to the outskirts of the city, increasing the number of those internally displaced since the start of the airstrikes. Conflicts through history have taken advantage of displacement as a tool of war to destabilise communities and to prevent them from organising an efficient resistance force. They are also used as a tool to crush social infrastructures and increase internal instabilities to ease the way for the classic “divide and rule” strategy. Considering that the Arab coalition strategy is intended to strengthen Yemen – President Hadi called for the strengthening of nationalist Yemeni tribes in their battle against rogue groups – the clear power vacuum and demolishment of Yemen’s socio-political infrastructure as a result of the airstrikes over the past few weeks proves again that the Arab coalition’s strategy is both futile and counterproductive.

One must not point fingers solely at the Arab coalition for the instabilities in Yemen and must take the political situation of Yemen in the past few decades into consideration. The country which was split into two, then reunited with many civil conflicts in between, is bound to have a weak social infrastructure. The fact that it was reunited under Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has both the blood of corruption and innocent lives on his hands, is another fact that must be taken into heavy consideration.

In the post 9/11 global structure, Yemen was a target of covert warfare because it was believed by Western policy makers that the most advanced Al-Qaeda branch in the MENA is in Yemen. Not only are they advanced in smuggling and allowing their propaganda to stretch across the globe, but Yemen was considered to be the hub for all potential Al-Qaeda recruiters to learn Arabic, skew their interpretation of Islam with violent and inaccurate interpretations and have military training all in one. As a result, in 2002, America began their drones operation as a form of counter-terrorism.

It is clear from the current deteriorating state of Yemen and the power grabbing of many non-state actors that this strategy failed miserably. The reason for this is simple, their counter-terrorism policy viewed AQAP in Hadramaut the way they viewed 7/7 bombers in London, both as criminal outcasts of a stable society; when Yemen of course, is far from politically stable. A society with no stable middle class, a lack of capable socio-political organs and a leader with a net worth believed to be between $32-$64 billion. The psychosocial effect of drones should not be forgotten either, though drones are seen to be more covert and targeted forms of warfare, civilians are not only unexcused from the effect drones in terms of collateral damage, but a number of recent studies have shown that drones psychosocially deteriorate civilians the same way in which more traditional forms of warfare do; thus increasing the likelihood of radicalisation.

A more successful counter-terrorism strategy in Yemen would be to fill in the cracks of society through international development schemes to help build a middle class and normalise society. Ali Abdullah Saleh should have been prosecuted and held accountable for the corruption under his leadership that allowed terrorism to expand. The absence of such a policy has clearly allowed him to empower the Houthis.

The Yemeni people should have been aided in a smoother and more stable transition into democracy that would have eventually increased the likelihood of proficient and unified Yemeni military and intelligence services. Hope at that point was minimal and it would have been a very difficult process, but at the very least, with a more contextually appropriate approach, Yemen would not have deteriorated to the level it has deteriorated now.

The past three weeks has clearly taken Yemen further down the route of becoming a failed state and is further taking the situation of Yemen out of the hands of the Yemeni people. Calling for ground forces to aid Yemeni tribes fighting the many non-state actors that are fighting for power after an already fragile country has been stretched beyond its limits after air strikes that has torn the country shows a lack of a consistent strategy. The country has lost all hope of stability; a complete contradiction of the result of the strategy set on the 19 March. Displacement, death and destruction of civilian infrastructure have put both Yemen and the Arab coalition in a web that would be almost impossible to get out of as it becomes clearer that Yemen’s fate is to be plagued with blood and anarchy. Yemen was and continues to be the guinea pig of counter-terrorism policies when the fundamental reasons behind Yemen’s political instabilities are not only ignored, but expanded on through irresponsible policies.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.