The number of attacks against Yemen’s US-backed army and security forces in the south has risen since the launch of an anti al-Qaeda offensive. The Voice of Russia talked to Dr. Lina Khatib, Director of Carnegie Middle East Center.
Can you explain to us what the situation is like currently in Yemen? We know that it is one of the most unstable regions. But can you be more specific about the situation right at this time?
At this time Al Qaeda seems to be resurging in Yemen, especially in the south and southeastern areas, namely the governorates of Abyan and Shabwa where the latest attack happened, and the Hadramaut governorate. Al Qaeda has cells operating really across the country.
To what extent are they supported by the people themselves? Is the government effectively fighting them?
The government is indeed fighting them and the US is trying to also be involved through drone attacks on the Islamist jihadists. But there is a degree of interconnectivity between the Al Qaeda militants and local tribes who have been helping certain Al Qaeda operatives.
At the same time, when the US uses drones, the civilian casualties are increasing resentment among the Yemenis towards the US, which is increasing the support for Al Qaeda in Yemen.
To what extent has this been happening over the past years? I mean, has there been an upsurge in drone attacks and this support for Al Qaeda has followed?
Yes, there have been studies conducted by independent sources on the impact of drone attacks not just in Yemen, but in other countries as well where drones have been used. So, while drones may be effective in killing individuals, they are causing a lot of social and political damage on a kind of long-term and wide-scale basis.
And what is not helping right now is that there are also fighters coming back from Syria bringing with them some resources that have been directed at Al Qaeda in Syria. And all of this results in an increased instability in the country.
Is there a strong support for the government?
There is some support for the government, but the government does not have enough capacity to stabilize the country and in a way it is relying on the US military backing.
Certain tribes of course are against the Yemeni government. Some of them do not recognize the legitimacy of the government. They take the rule of law into their own hands. This is a reality of the society in Yemen and I don’t think it would be realistic to conceive of any solution to stabilize Yemen without taking into account this very particular social dynamic.
To what extent the tribes are unified?
It is not just that you have different tribes that may compete with one another, sometimes tribes also get together and form coalitions. So, when we are talking of negotiation, the best way to go around it is to engage with the leaders of the key tribes that have influence on the smaller tribes in Yemen.
If nothing is done, do you expect further destabilization in the country?
Yes. Really, what is needed is a regional solution to fighting Al Qaeda and not just in Yemen.