Yemen decided to act today to curtail the al-Qaeda threat that almost blew up a plane on Christmas Day. Their military forces raided a known AQ hideout and engaged in an apparent gunfight, managing to capture one suspect alive so far:
Yemeni security forces stormed an al-Qaida hide-out Wednesday in a principle militant stronghold in the country’s west, setting off clashes, officials said, as a security chief vowed to fight the group’s powerful local branch until it was eliminated.
A government statement said at least one suspected al-Qaida member was arrested during the fighting in Hudaydah province. The province, along Yemen’s Red Sea coast, was home to most of the assailants in a bombing and shooting attack outside the U.S. Embassy in 2008 that killed 10 Yemeni guards and four civilians. …
A security official who gave more details on Wednesday’s raid said it resulted from a tip and targeted a home five miles (eight kilometers) north of the Bajil district. He said one suspected al-Qaida member was injured and several who fled were being pursued.
The owner of the home, a sympathizer of the group, was arrested, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
Yemen finds itself in a difficult position, somewhat akin to Pakistan’s. The radical Islamists have plenty of sympathy from Yemenis, mainly for their anti-Saudi activities in a nation that resents its larger and much richer neighbor and especially resents a border settlement that produced Osama bin Laden’s radicalism in the first place. They also know that the US, as an ally of the Saudis and of Israel, is only slightly more popular than the plague in Yemen at the best of times. Attacking AQ means generating more opposition to the Yemeni government, already unstable enough as it is.
Unfortunately, the alternative for Yemen is to have the US conduct its own attacks on AQ strongholds — and we still may do it anyway, if the Yemenis can’t clean up their own country. After several years of being asleep to the threat in Yemen, the American public wants action to defeat AQ in its new and old stronghold in the wilds of a nation that could be considered close to a failed state. The existence of Anwar al-Awlaki and his apparent involvement in two successive terrorist attacks in the US over the last few weeks has made action inevitable, and if Yemen punts it to the US, they will be in worse shape domestically than if they do it themselves.
All of this means we should take any action with a large, Lot’s Wife-sized grain of salt. We’re much more likely to see a “usual suspects” approach, taking out a few low-level people for show while Yemen largely leaves the rest of AQ alone. We had better be prepared to address Yemen in the same manner as we do Waziristan and the NWFP in Pakistan.