The Yemen Factor
by Steven Emerson
Interview on CNN
December 30, 2009
Multimedia for this item
JOHN KING: Joining me now is Angel Rabasa, Senior Policy Analyst with the Rand Corporation and Steve Emerson, the Executive Director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism to talk more about this. Steve, let's start with you. Richard Clarke, the former White House NSC counterterrorism official; the one who sounded the alarm bells prior to 9/11 says that Yemen in many ways, is in danger of becoming the new Afghanistan. Do you agree?
STEVEN EMERSON: Absolutely. Richard Clarke was actually warning about Yemen back-and I remember getting briefed by him-back in 1999. In 2000, of course, the U.S.S. Cole was blown up by terrorists from Yemen. So Al Qaeda has had a lot of pressure, John, put on it in Afghanistan and Pakistan and therefore there's been a migration of some of its leadership and center of religious and political gravity to Yemen where there's a failed nation country so there's no central authority being able to be projected and rein in the terrorists. So that's why the United States is together with the Yemenis' military; but it's really the U.S. that has done many of these strikes in the last view months.
KING: And Angel Rabasa, do you agree that Yemen is a failed state or is it on its way to becoming a failed state and what are the internal pressures there that are making this a haven for Al Qaeda fighters?
ANGEL RABASA: I do not believe that Yemen is a failed state. It's a state this facing some very, very difficult challenges. In some ways there are resemblances between Yemen and the tribal areas of Pakistan. These are tribal societies. There are areas where the government doesn't exert jurisdiction. You have to keep in mind that Yemen is larger than Iraq and has a much more difficult geography. There are parts of Yemen were there are no roads, no infrastructure. These areas become sanctuaries; so they can become sanctuaries for terrorists very easily. And in this case there is some additional element in that Yemen is very close to the heart of Africa where there is a very large Al Qaeda linked insurgency going on. These two regions are very closely connected and this is what makes the whole area so dangerous for the stability of the world.
KING: Steve Emerson, it's been said that where the road ends, Al Qaeda begins and as Angel was saying, there is not a lot of roads in a big part of Yemen, so in terms of trying to dislodge these groups-in terms of trying to go after them as General David Petraeus has indicated the U.S. is and as Senator Joe Lieberman suggested the U.S. is with Special Operations Forces and Green Berets, how difficult is it to get to them? We know the difficulties that the U.S. has had in Afghanistan in those mountainous regions.
EMERSON: Well, you know, U.S. successes in Afghanistan, athough accompanied by signal intelligence have largely been; the successes have largely been attributed to boots on the ground, sources, infiltration special operations which is exactly the messy type of thing the United States is going to have to do in Yemen if its going to basically defeat and put Al Qaeda on the defensive. There's no other way around it. When Joe Lieberman was talking about Special Operations, he's talking about covert operations. He's talking about Special Forces on the ground, that are basically going to have to dislodge, conduct covert operations militarily, collect intelligence, recruit informants, basically replicate the entire apparatus of what we did in Pakistan in the south Waziristan.
KING: Is it possible Angel to turn back the tide there. You say that Yemen is not yet a failed state. Is it possible with the assistance of U.S. forces to stop it from tipping over into a failed state?
RABASA: I think it can be done and I think in fact that the job of countering insurgency is always better done by local forces. Cause local forces have the local knowledge and they are more accepted by the population. I think it would be a grave mistake to have boots on the ground in Yemen. It will simply validate Al Qaeda's narrative that the Muslim world is being occupied by infidels. What needs to be done is to give the Yemenis the capabilities that they need; the assistance, the training, the equipment to do the job themselves.
KING: Well, what do you think about that Steve because we have heard from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula that the attack on Flight 253 was in retaliation for U.S. attacks or perhaps U.S. sponsored attacks against Al Qaeda in Yemen. If the U.S. goes in there, tries to dislodge Al Qaeda, if it steps up operations, does it-do we risk seeing more of these acts of terrorism directed at the United States and that it would be better for Yemeni forces to do it? But it also raises the point, are they equipped to do it?
EMERSON: Ideally I agree with Angel that it would better for Yemeni forces to do it but so far if you look at the past decade they've been unwilling to do it or incapable of doing it and there's a reason for that. Either they themselves are jihadists or they don't have enough government resources behind them. And I would love to strengthen and embolden the central government to be able to take that decisive force and basically move in to the counterterrorism arena and basically obviate the United States from having to do it, but so far they haven't manifested the political will to be able to do that so it really leaves it to the U.S. to do it by itself. I would love-as I said-see the Yemenis do it, but if they can't do it, we're going to have to do the heavy lifting.
KING: Obviously there is going to be a lot of focus on Yemen coming up in the futre. Steve Emerson, Angel Rabasa, good to talk to you tonight. Thanks for joining us gentleman. Appreciate it.