Yemen rose to the forefront of U.S. counterterrorism efforts in December 2009, when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who was trained in Yemen by al Qaeda, attempted to bomb an airliner bound for Detroit. Since then, Washington has become concerned about the growing influence of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and its spokesman, the U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. When two bombs were sent on cargo from Yemen to the United States last month, public attention again focused on U.S. strategies to combat AQAP.
So far, however, these efforts have been complicated by the current state of Yemen itself, which faces a multitude of internal problems that are pushing it to the brink of failure. Interconnected threats from the Houthi rebellion in the north, an increasingly active secessionist movement in the south, and a host of growing socioeconomic problems make Yemen a priority for experts in both counterterrorism and development. Yemen’s potential collapse concerns U.S. officials not just because of al Qaeda but also because such an event could threaten U.S. access to Bab el-Mandab (the narrow strait into the Red Sea through which millions of barrels of oil and countless military vessels pass each day), as well as create the prospect of a vast Yemeni humanitarian crisis that could send millions of refugees into oil-rich Saudi Arabia and beyond.
As months pass with little clear progress, and as anxiety about AQAP grows, Western governments and Yemenis themselves are increasingly asking: Is it too late to save the country? Fortunately, there remains a small but rapidly closing window of opportunity to rescue Yemen and, in the process, address pressing security concerns.
Yemen is the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest state and more closely resembles many sub-Saharan countries than any of its Gulf neighbors. The country faces recurring food security issues, and Sana’a is projected to be the first capital city in the world to run out of water by 2025. Of Yemen’s nearly 24 million citizens, 43 percent live
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