The United States has enjoyed a close military-to-military relationship with President Ali Abdullah Saleh, providing Saleh with military equipment to help the US prosecute the “war on terrorism” in Yemen. In the past months, however, the US has shifted its position toward Yemen because of the instability created by a popular uprising of people demanding Saleh leave power. Revelations from US State Embassy cables released by WikiLeaks have also shown how the US has been conducting business with Saleh.
I liveblogged the Senate Foreign Relations hearing on US policy in Yemen at 2:30 pm ET, which featured two panels of witnesses. The first will include Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Janet Sanderson of the State Department, Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance Christa Capozzola from USAID and Coordinator for Counterterrorism Daniel Benjamin of the State Department.
The second panel will include: Carnegie Middle East Program Associate Dr. Christopher Boucek of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Soref Fellow Daniel Green of the Washington Institute on Near East Policy.
Here’s a bit of a primer on the US and Yemen:
In November, it was reported that cables showed Saleh was covering up US drone strikes against al Qaeda. Saleh told General DAvid Petraeus, who recently became head of the CIA, “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours.” It was also reported that military aid provided to Saleh for use against al Qaeda was being used against Houthi rebels, mis-appropriating the aid for his own purposes. (Cables released also revealed more about “Cirque de Saleh,” such as how he had grown unstable and how his hospital compared to the oldest hospital in Aden.)
Jeremy Scahill of The Nation wrote an article a few months ago titled, “The Dangerous Game in Yemen,” which highlighted how the US was consenting to Saleh’s brutal rule out of fear that counterterrorism programs would be cut off without realizing by consenting to his rule they were almost ensuring those programs would be threatened by next ruler. Also, in the past months, as Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald has detailed, the US has been working to target and assassinate a US-born citizen named Anwar Al-Awlaki, a Muslim cleric who speaks to the Muslim world about US violence and the responsibility Muslims have to stand up to the violence. He has become a target because his message resonates with Muslims, especially those willing to take up arms against the US, and so the US has been firing cruise missiles and using drones to try and kill him, claiming he is a terrorist who deserves to die and does not deserve due process.
The hearing provided further proof that there is a bipartisan national consensus on targeted killings of US-born citizens like Anwar al-Awlaki. There’s also a consensus on the use of predator drones (despite the fact that leaders admit they create anti-American sentiment and radicalize people).
*Here’s the live blog of today’s hearing.
4:18 pm ET Hearing adjourns
4:17 pm ET Boucek: Recognize economic challenges. We don’t need to find high cost high-impact solutions. There are low cost measures we can do. But, we have to address fundamental issue of resourcing this in the way that we talk about. This is not resourced as it is resourced in Pakistan.
4:16 pm ET Green: As we face fiscal problems, throwing money at problem can be bad, how we are organized matters.
4:15 pm ET Sen. Casey is now suggesting security experts find al Qaeda to be strongest in Yemen. He asks Green about strength of al Qaeda in Yemen today.
Green overrunning munitions factory and the fact they were able to take over Zanjibar shows advancement of organization. They now have internal safe haven. Lot of focus has been on Abidjan province. We need to know focus on violence may be good but because there is absence of violence doesn’t mean there is not al Qaeda activity.
Sen. Casey asks if Green thinks AQAP’s capacity to attack US has increased.
Green says, yes, increased. We have responded with preventive measures. We now operate in “dusk” with no good understanding of what is happening outside of big cities. Have to incur risk and put personnel in other areas in the country to improve understanding of country dynamics.
Boucek adds — Under-governed spaces are getting larger. AQAP is increasingly lethal, opportunistic, demonstrate they have a good learning curve.
There is potential for those affiliated with AQAP to reach back into US and European communities through Internet and other materials not traditionally part of extremist landscape in Yemen.
4:06 pm ET Green says will there be revolution, evolution or de-evolution. After 60 days since Saleh left, the constitution will force an election. There should be outside participant to oversee election. Might require UN presence to make sure vote matters.
Think there might be evolutionary process. Saleh supporters will not be set aside (and they’re armed). Some of these factions may end up having to do power-sharing. Getting people to not shoot each other will require confidence in electoral process.
Boucek adds, we don’t know how this will turn out and that power elites will likely negotiate a settlement. Change in the system will not likely actor. There is a belief in Yemen that now outside actor wants to see a systemic change.
Young protesters will then lose out and this is the one group talking about what US government talks about. I would like to see elections, democracy and transition.
4:05 pm ET Boucek now suggesting that when everyone is prosecuted the same, address corruption etc. We can do more to make sure Yemenis think government is working on issues common Yemenis complain about.
4:01 pm ET Sen. Casey asks about abuse by police and intelligence agencies fueling radicalization in Yemen.
Boucek says we can work to improve security in Yemen indirectly by improving investigative skills of authorities so right individuals guilty of crime are apprehended. Arbitrary detention fuels terrorism. We can improve ability of Yemeni people to charge people, criminalize behavior we think should be criminalized.
We can help make sure people who end up incarcerated stay incarcerated. Can do more rule of law training, English language training.
If not US, friends/allies could work on these initiatives.
4:00 pm ET Yemen is a difficult company for oil companies to operate in, says Boucek. The companies don’t typicall go there (Boucek’s response to Sen. Risch’s question about whether they have no oil cause they just haven’t done exploration.)
3:58 pm ET Boucek, responding to Sen. Risch’s question on resources, says oil will run out. Natural gas will continue to generate revenues. That will not make up for shortage of revenues. Economy is in freefall. There is a huge budget deficit and if they enact current spending and spending announced at beginning of year when protests started, they do not have money to make up.
Green agrees, have to focus on state of economy. Focusing on private sector is essential.
3:56 pm ET Yemenis are curious about Americans. If they met Americans through predator strike, they may have dim view. My sense is that they have an openness, Green argues.
Boucek disputes what previous panel said saying that it is difficult to get public perception data but that he thinks the people have less positive view toward America.
3:55 pm ET Sen. Risch applauds panel’s pragmatism and focus on what US can do
3:54 pm ET Green arguing that lessons of Afghanistan not being employed in Yemen. He says we now have generation of state aid folks that have been in line of fire and Yemen looks good compared to other areas of conflict.
3:52 pm ET Sen. Casey asks Green about engaging in efforts in countryside, to which Green says from experience in Afghanistan that lack of efforts is problem in Yemen. Nobody wants to be put into harm’s way but nobody wants al Qaeda to have successful attack.
We should go to countryside to show US cares about people, not just counter-terrorism.
3:50 pm ET Sen. Casey recounts Green’s proposed ideas for improving policy on Yemen. He asks Green if US is not doing any of these proposed items yet, etc.
Green says USAID/State Dept having trouble in decentralized atmosphere. There’s a centralized focus on leaders in Sanaa.
Our sensitivity to non-state identities is not well developed.
3:48 pm ET Boucek, to Sen. Bob Casey’s question, says US has immediate near-term solution to Yemeni problems and that involves going after al Qaeda. We have to build belief among people that government is not working against them.
3:47 pm ET Boucek suggests that we can help with rain collection. The policy doesn’t have to just be about terrorism.
He says we can always do more to address corruption in Yemen at source of extremism/instability.
3:44 pm ET Perception in Yemen is still al Qaeda and counterterrorism is what US cares about, Boucek suggests. Security and stability will come when conditions improve for people of Yemen.
We need to address needs of Republic of Yemen, not government. We need to focus aid and assistance to areas that aren’t necessarily plagued by AQAP.
After political crisis ends, economy will dwarf current problem. Yemen likely on way to being failed economy — food prices, cooking/fuel prices and one of the poorest countries in region.
Saudis are trying to figure out what to do with Yemen: security/stability utmost concern.
3:43 pm ET Dr. Christopher Boucek noting that there is a lot we don’t know. Also, the fears of mass violence has not transpired as feared. That said, the situation could go wrong quickly.
Failing economy is really at heart of everything wrong in the country: rampant corruption, huge unemployment, government deficiencies and abuses, high growth rate
It is very hard to talk about Yemen because we know we want to avoid state collapse but it is hard to see how that might be done. There are no easy policy solutions. We must look at Yemen with healthy dose of realism. We have little leverage to influence events in Yemen.
3:36 pm ET 2nd panel begins with Daniel Green now speaking. Green talks about Saleh reportedly removing security forces from Sanaa. On March 27th, it was alleged that AQAP seized a munitions factory. Green recounts AQAP overrunning city of Zanjibar.
General sense of lawlessness has allowed AQAP to take advantage and grow operations. US needs to pay attention to problem and craft strategy to address it.
US approach must be decentralized, localized and holistic like AQAP approach. Now is time to consider offering aid package to stabilize the country.
US needs robust foreign internal defense program. US trainers should embed with Yemeni units. Forces would benefit from US presence.
US needs to establish foreign internal governance strategy, form partnerships with provincial governors or tribal leaders. Decentralized approach would bolster local governance and address grievances
Exploit human terrain more effectively. We need an effort to map the human terrain of Yemen to fight AQAP more effectively. This could facilitate deeper understanding — establish program similar to what was used in Afghanistan.
US should consider appointing Special Envoy and assist him in efforts to stabilize Yemen. Person would provide way to show US is not just concerned with counterterrorism.
3:32 pm ET Engagement in Yemen was interrupted for years. When Obama Administration came into office, Benjamin explains, in March 2009 Yemen was recognized as challenge in world of counter-terrorism. It wasn’t until December that we thought they were on board and took action against AQAP. This was just before Christmas underwear bomber on Detroit flight.
3:31 pm ET US has publicly called for US government to prosecute violence against protesters. Sen. Casey asks about building capacity of Yemeni security forces. Still showing concern for taxpayers, what can be said about how US is doing in training forces?
3:29 pm ET An awful lot of people who enjoyed comfort in life have developed radical ideas, nonetheless, it is key to look at socioeconomic factors. Poor governance and failure of governments to provide services can lead to radicalization and extremism, explains Benjamin. This is why development aspect is important.
Yemenis sense that they are part of modern world key.
3:28 pm ET US is much more popular in Yemen than Pakistan, claims Benjamin.
3:25 pm ET Reception of our aid is positive in Yemen, says Capozzola. We brand our assistance. It is tagged and clear where aid is coming from. This means we are able to operate openly as funded by American people and this is well-received and done safely throughout country
Risch follows-up: What percent of country would respond that they favored US?
Capozzola says she cannot speculate and I may ask colleague from State Dept. I have no data on perception
Sanderson says I have seen some Pew reports but not aware of anything specific to Yemen. In terms of embassy outreach, until recent security problems we were moving outside of Sanaa to make sure we were not just focused on capital. Reception received has been good.
Can look into getting specific information — polls, etc
3:24 pm ET Capozzola please provide how Americans are regarded in Yemen. Sen. Risch says Americans spent money investing in Pakistan and they have objective measurements that approval of America is in single digits. That is disgusting, how we get no appreciation for it. Do you have anecdotal testimony on how we are regarded?
3:22 pm Capozzola explains it has been documented in a number of settings but do not have assessment of activities in Yemen. I will look to see if I can find specific project story. Work now reaching 14,000 youth is important. Also, we are on civil society side engaging to support emerging youth leaders. Very important to US embassy.
3:21 pm Sen. Casey — living in environment here where taxpayers need to see results… In order to sustain support, have to be able to list/itemize/measure results. Please continue to provide those results. [Adding time to question period — to ask about linkage between poverty and extremism.]
3:18 pm Capozzola answers (although she takes a long time to formulate answer) that they are improving number of women who get access to healthcare. In my view, the ultimate outcome which is laying solid foundation for Yemen’s development — We aren’t there yet in this current environment. That is ultimate indicator: Will we be in position for Yemenis to move forward on developmental challenges, like water, jobs, services, etc and beyond cycle of conflict?
We have anecdotal examples of how projects mitigate conflict: in different areas in north, a lot of conflict on tribes around water for farming. Programs have been doing simple repairs to irrigation canals and having impact on communities and helping to prevent conflict.
Ultimate goal is to see that add up.
3:17 pm Sen. Casey: What can you say about results from US tax dollars in Yemen? Can you show how poverty and economic devastation leading directly to extremism or terrorist activity? We say that in a way that we believe is self-evident. Is that true, Ms. Capozzola?
3:13 pm ET From a counter-terrorism perspective, pleased with Obama Administration’s commitment to development, which gets to root causes that drive extremism.
On Saudi Arabia, we consult every step of the way; most influential in region, neighboring Yemen to north. Saudis share our desire to see resolution of political situation and get on with helping Yemenis solve security problem.
3:12 pm ET Primary constraint is political situation, Benjamin says, which inhibits our ability to spend effectively.
3:11 pm ET Capozzola says resources were stepped up in FY 2010. “Really stepping up our game and using variety of mechanisms to extend our reach.” Says water is being delivered with these increased resources but we cannot address longer term water challenges until there is a political solution.
3:09 pm ET Sanderson says we have a holistic approach but also understand we have to have developmental approach. State Dept has tools to do what is necessary but hamstrung by what Yemeni society is capable of doing. We focus on counterterrorism partners. Mentions MEPI and how that helps develop political parties and civil society.
We do have tools to do what is necessary on ground but when there is this political solution, needs of Yemen will become much greater. US will have to step up and help in new environment.
3:07 pm ET Sen. Chris Coons now talking about extremism, political upheaval making this hearing necessary. He argues that we need to remain alert about new threats in Iran, Somalia and Yemen. Asks if resources for addressing emerging security threats have been dedicated properly.
3:05 pm ET Sen Risch asks if there is concern about training people in Yemen who might turn on US. Benjamin says not a concern right now and the militants in south are not people we have trained before. What we are occasionally concerned about is that weaponry being given to forces are used for use they were given for.
3:04 pm ET Benjamin says it is of great concern that this is happening in Zanjibar; when they have safer haven, we are worried about threat to Aden. If able to get access to sea, presents other concerns. It is vitally important that transition take place and that security forces get back to business, resume full-range of training activities.
Under governed spaces are not new to Yemen; situation is quite worrisome.
3:03 pm ET Sanderson describes reports of revolutionary guard in Zanjibar being under siege from extremists. She says this shows concern about central authority of country in Yemen government. We are concerned about focus on political malaise and unrest and how threat from al Qaeda and extremists is going unaddressed. This is why we are urging a resolution.
3:02 pm ET Sen Risch asks for description on extremism in southwest.
3:01 pm ET Sanderson says we see this as being more important than counter-terrorism…We understand this relationship must be about more than security and military relations.
3:00 pm ET Sen. Casey talking about how focus on counter-terrorism can de-emphasize focus on people. What would you say if you had room full of citizens from Yemen what would you say to them?
2:55 pm ET Sanderson responds: President still in Saudi Arabia but recovering, interested in returning to Sanaa but hard to return. What he does looms large in political calculations in Yemen. Orderly transition is what we want.
No provision for setup of council in the Constitution. Political climate “fluid” in Yemen.
Political dialogue essential to unravel set of knots. Protesters will be very important to the future.
2:53 pm ET Sen. Casey now asking about al Qaeda and health care issues, etc and juxtaposing that with how fervor for change had a transition process but here there is little of that. He says Saleh is not there, given mixed signals to world. In context of that plus unusual dynamic, we get news that there’s a 17-member council, which some have described as shadow government, that will select 501 members of national assembly and yet many members of council were not informed they were part of council. More uncertainty—questions around whether day-to-day governance can take place.
What can you say about this recent news about council, etc?
2:52 pm ET Political transition in Yemen will make it possible for US to do more work in Yemen. Sanderson concludes.
2:49 pm ET Sanderson now talking. She says protests have focused attention on “governance” in the region. Consistent with US national interest, two-pronged strategy in play: addressing extremism and working to accelerate economic development.
Strongly support Gulf Cooperation Council intiative — signed by ruling general people’s party and joint meeting parties. Only Saleh is holding up process by not signing initiative (An aside: Yemenis were saying this initiative was said to be dead months ago.)
Sanderson recounts violence in demonstrations and how US has urged Yemeni government to prosecute violence against protesters, says US wants a stable Yemen that is properly governed.
2:48 pm ET Now Capozzola talks about contingency planning — expanding geographic scope to include urban areas where unrest has had impact. She talks about summer programs for youth engagement and providing medical supplies for wounded in cities with violent protest.
She says Yemen is facing local/global challenges and in US interest to continue to provide assistance.
2:45 pm ET Capozzola is now up and she is talking about using development to mitigate extremism — improving livelihoods (cash-for-work/support for small farmers, etc); she also details maternal help program that USAID has funded
She speaks to working to strengthen democracy and governance and role of civil society so it can have more effective institutions able to respond to citizens, mitigate conflict.
2:43 pm ET State Department researching AQAP narratives to present how the messaging conflicts with narratives, Benjamin explains. Based on talks with broad cross-section of Yemenis, they are committed to working to achieve goals, etc.
2:42 pm ET Benjamin describes DoD aid to forces in Yemen fighting terrorism. Talks about how training being cut off as a result of protests and violence but they plan to resume once situation is resolved.
2:40 pm ET Benjamin now talking about Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) having ability to strike US. Says AQAP has taken advantage of power vacuum to expand. He claims it has made gains in Zanjibar gaining access to sea lanes.
Notes two-pronged strategy to help the country develop economically while at the same time combating terrorism and the appeal of AQAP to potential recruits
2:38 pm ET Senator James Risch makes statement noting the flow of extremism how we need to protect region from becoming a place with rampant piracy and the possibility USS Cole-type terror attacks
2:30 pm ET Hearing begins. Opening statement being read by Senator Bob Casey Jr. details how al Qaeda presence has become increasingly worrisome and that now after months of popular protest, and when considering the fact that President Saleh fled to Saudi Arabia, power vacuum is worrisome.
Counterterrorism operations in Yemen must be central to US foreign policy. Advocates for holistic approach — 1) better understanding of political opposition pushing for democratic reform, mentioning that opposition has commander Ali Mohsen and Hamid al-Ahmar 2) must be prepared to address rapidly deteriorating humanitarian crisis; violence between pro-Saleh and anti-Saleh demonstrators escalated; third of country is undernourished; faces fuel and food crisis; education are among lowest in Middle East — 32% of girls attending secondary school 3) US and international partners should develop long-term strategy on conflict in Yemen to address how Houthi rebellion and instability has provided haven for al Qaeda