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Yemen Slides Toward Civil War

12:25 PM, Jun 3, 2011 • By KATHERINE ZIMMERMAN
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Towns in Abyan governorate—first Jaar and then the capital of Abyan, Zinjibar—have already fallen under the control of al Qaeda-linked militants. Accordingly, the more the internal conflict spreads, the more AQAP stands to gain. Even a rapid resolution of the presidential crisis in Sana’a, unlikely though that is, will not bring sufficient local pressure to bear on AQAP. Yemen’s factions will continue to remain focused on their own affairs for some time, and AQAP simply does not rank that highly in their scheme of concerns. However, for U.S. policymakers it is a key issue.

Washington has never had strong ties with Saleh, but concern about al Qaeda combined with very limited American abilities to operate in Yemen have driven the U.S. to rely on him to fight terrorists, in exchange for military and foreign assistance. The success of this policy before the current crisis was questionable, but the Obama administration appears reluctant to reconsider it even in light of the collapse of the Saleh regime. The defection of some of the regime’s strongest backers, including General Ali Mohsen al Ahmar and the leaders of the Hashid and Bakil tribal federations undercut the regime’s support base. It is far from certain that even a decisive American political approach would have changed the situation dramatically, and Washington is certainly not in a strong position now to shape the outcome. Yemen’s escalating violence, an economy on the brink of collapse, and the prospect of widespread civil war or a fragmented state may present the White House with a very dark reality—the emergence of a terrorist sanctuary on the Arabian peninsula hosting an outfit that has targeted the U.S. homeland.

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