Yemen’s fragile nature could mean that it is going the way of other failed states as a safe haven for terrorism and the presence of a local branch of al Qaeda could present an imminent threat to U.S. national security. A debate I examine as I explore the nature of the threat posed.
All too often I wonder about whether or not our great nation can properly provide for the security of the 310 million people that live within its borders. As I concluded in my most recent post, the ever-increasing threat of terrorism is a difficult task that the United States must overcome. With the impact al Qaeda has had on terrorist groups worldwide through the creation of a global network, a development that Rohan Gunaratna explores in Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror, it has become evident understanding and measuring perceived threats is critical to national security. A recent RAND study on carrying out this analysis points out that al Qaeda possesses the capabilities and the hostile intentions, making it the greatest threat to the United States.
A recent terror attack plot by a branch of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), in the form of complex bombs within a cargo shipment to the United States, provides an example of an al Qaeda linked threat based in Yemen. In my journey through reputable political blogs and websites this week I uncovered a blog post at Foreign Policy magazine by David Bender and Jonathan Tepperman questioning the importance of the threat that AQAP poses to the United States’ national security. David Bender, a radio talk show host, and Jonathan Tepperman, an editor at Foreign Affairs and Newsweek, present an disparaging examination of the AQAP’s credibility by exploring past attack plots, crediting U.S. and Saudi intelligence agencies, and confiding in Yemen’s U.S. backed government. The recently failed attempt from AQAP presents a viewpoint, such as Bender and Tepperman’s, that the presence of an al Qaeda related group in Yemen does not pose a significant threat, because after all the group, “has made several attempts at striking targets abroad, [but] all of these plans have failed.” I enter into discussion with Bender and Tepperman about the possibility that this failed attack could mean so much more. My response to Bender and Tepperman’s post can be found at the Foreign Policy blog, and is also re-posted below for convenience.
“Why Yemen is not a crisis…yet”
Mr. Bender and Mr. Tepperman,
The situation in Yemen brings up some interesting discussion points. I believe this failed attack provides a great example of the threat the al Qaeda central poses to the international community as a whole not just the United States. Which leads me to believe that the problem of terrorism is an ever-present danger in our world today that we as Americans must learn about and understand as we attempt to combat such a difficult threat. The use of PETN by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula presents an increased sophistication that x-ray and sniffer dogs are unable to detect, which creates a growing threat for national security. In the article you reason that AQAP’s failed attempts are proof that the group “isn’t worth worrying about,” but is this not the same failure of imagination that the 9/11 Commission Report warned about? After all, this is the first successful attempt to smuggle primed explosive devices into the cargo of a comercil aircraft since 1988. Al Qaeda central had numerous failed attacks prior to 9/11, but one successful attack can have devastating consequences not matter the perceived threat and it appears that the Yemeni team is learning quickly. As you point out, reliance upon the Saudi GIP brings some comfort but improvement of U.S. capabilities to respond to such a threat is necessary.
Dependence upon Saleh to keep AQAP under control seems problematic at best, but support from the U.S. and Saudi Arabia should be helpful. It seems though, that improved action now will let the threat posed by AQAP grow and perhaps lead to increased capabilities and improved attacks. If the situation constitutes a threat now, as I believe it does, or eventually worsens with the failure of the government, do you believe that it will be in the U.S.’s best interest to intervene in Yemen? In discussing public exposure to U.S. counterterrorism operation in the past, there is mention that the Yemeni’s may side with AQAP rather than Saleh. Do you think the Yemeni’s see the increased security that AQAP provides and is it possible for them to understand the danger that could exist in supporting AQAP if it means that the U.S. will become involved? Thank you for your thoughts on the situation, hopefully I get an answer to my inquiries!