ys-about-the-state-of-yemens-army/> What al Qaeda's attack says about the
state of Yemen's army
Editor's Note: Daniel R. DePetris is the Senior Associate Editor of the
Journal of Terrorism and Security Analysis. He is currently a research
intern with the American Enterprise Institute's Defense and Foreign Policy
By Daniel R. DePetris - Special to CNN
March 9th, 2012
01:19 PM ET
Just two weeks into Abdu Rabbo Mansour Hadi's young tenure as Yemen's
president, he is confronted with a serious string of military setbacks
against the country's active and ever-powerful al Qaeda affiliate in the
southern desert. The VP-turned-President was well aware of how difficult
his new job would be, particularly against the terrorists who have been
expanding their territorial control over the past year as the former
government was trying to salvage its regime. But even
Sunday's attack was grisly for al Qaeda, which has typically resorted to
small arms fire and ambushes against Yemeni soldiers.
The assault was not especially sophisticated in tactical terms, but the
damages have nevertheless shaken Yemen's fractured military to its core.
The exact details of the attack have been fluctuating over the past couple
of days, but Yemeni military officials have reported that a band of Islamic
militants from the southern city of Zinjibar
snuck behind the army's front lines when most of its soldiers were asleep in
When they were finally in place, al Qaeda's fighters unleashed a torrent of
automatic weapons fire straight into the sleeping quarters of the troops,
all of whom were caught unaware in the middle of their sleep. The unit was
effectively under siege by the gunmen, heavily outmanned and underequipped
to repel the attackers on their own. Reinforcements were called, but
arrived too late to do much damage to the militants before they succeeded in
killing dozens upon dozens of soldiers. The final damage was
pfQ?docId=684fd74b12de45f18689d30d7bca9604> 185 dead and 55 troops captured
120307> to be used as bargaining chips later on), with the militants losing
only 32 of their own.
Yemen's military establishment is in utter shock. How could the soldiers be
so outgunned and outmanned by a bunch of terrorists who would normally be
too disorganized to do such an effective job? Why were reinforcements sent
too little, too late? Were their any Yemenis in uniform that colluded with
the militants? And if so, what does that say about Yemen's armed forces,
even after tens of millions of dollars in U.S. funding and a growing U.S.
commitment with training and equipping? These are all questions that need
to be answered by President Hadi if he has any chance at taking the fight to
the enemy in the south, which
zz1oIw0SLfW> he has strongly pledged he would do before, during, and after
his swearing-in ceremony.
How quickly Hadi can assemble a competent, trustworthy, and merit-based
counterterrorism team around him will determine the future credibility of
his administration on the one issue that the United States cares most about.
Obama administration officials thousands of miles away have grasped how
significant the latest al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) attack was,
both in terms of its effectiveness operationally as well as the attacks
second-order effects, such as the dwindling morale of and confidence of
Yemen's soldiers. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton immediately issued
> a brief statement
after the AQAP ambush, expressing her condolences and redoubling America's
effort to aid and assist Yemen's army so a similar incident in the future
can be countered before an entire base gets overrun.
While U.S. assistance is undoubedbly vital, what President Hadi and his
government need more than anything else is a recalibrated and reorganized
Yemeni officer corps - commanders that will gain the trust of their men in
uniform and units that will work with Yemen's powerful tribal communities in
their anti-AQ effort rather than
trying to thwart them.
Those commanders who are not qualified, or who were promoted by the previous
regime on the basis of family loyalty rather than merit, should be offered a
generous retirement package to convince them to leave. Commanders and
fellow soldiers who are caught trying to subvert the system through corrupt
practices need to be terminated. The Yemeni Government, even with a new
president for the first time in three decades, cannot expect their troops in
the field to risk their lives for a system that turns a blind eye to
corruption in ranks of the senior military leadership.
A proposal by John Brennan, President Obama's senior counterterrorism
adviser, to bypass the commanders and
ew-government-to-combat-al-qaeda.html> pay soldiers directly is a positive
start to the process of deconstructing - and then reconstructing -the Yemeni
armed forces. If unable to convince Saleh's son and nephew to leave, both
Washington and Sana'a would be best served by keeping a watchful eye on
them. Yemen's leaders cannot begin to chip away at al Qaeda without
everyone being on the same team, looking at the same objective.
Accountability is a prerequisite step in order to ensure that al Qaeda,
rather than money and prestige, is the central focus.
Transforming the Yemeni armed forces from an internally divided,
tribally-based collection of militias into a modern military machine will
not happen in a few days, or even a few years. Hadi, after all, has only
been in office since February 25. Much of the previous regime is still
operating, albeit with its leader Saleh now debating where to retire. Yemen
will remain a troubled country for a very long time, and even the United
States will have its limits in poking and prodding their Yemeni partners to
reform for the good of their country. Yet promoting military protocol, while
not widely talked about in the counterterrorism fight, has the potential to
make the job of al Qaeda far more difficult. And it may just pull the armed
forces together at a moment when Yemeni society is still unsure of which
direction their revolution will take.
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Received on Fri Mar 09 2012 - 13:55:37 EST