Political Analysis

West may fuel Yemen, Somali militancy

By William Maclean, Security Correspondent – Reuters

Western counter-terrorism support for state security forces in Yemen and neighbouring Somalia may actually be fueling militancy because such backing is often seen locally as a form of aggression, a report said on Thursday.

“Western policies are contributing to a sense among some Yemenis and Somalis of being ‘under attack’ and are drawing them towards radicalisation and militancy,” the report from the Chatham House think tank said.

“Instead of more military training or more missile strikes, there need to be new political configurations that can support networks of resistance to terrorism,” the report by associate fellows Sally Healy and Ginny Hill said.

Yemen, next door to oil exporter Saudi Arabia, jumped to the forefront of Western security concerns after a botched Dec. 25 bid to blow up a U.S. airliner over Detroit claimed by Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

In Somalia, across the Gulf of Aden, al Shabaab rebels have been fighting a weak transitional government for three years and now controls much of the south and centre of the country.

Both groups have recruited Western-based militants.

Speaking in Washington on Aug. 25, U.S. officials said the United States would likely increase strikes against al Qaeda in Yemen, seeking to apply the same degree of pressure there as covert drone attacks in Pakistan have had on al Qaeda there.

The report said Washington was arming, training and funding local proxies in Yemen to carry out its counter-terrorism aims, while in Somalia a Western-funded African peacekeeping force has struggled to support a weak transitional government.

This security emphasis undermined “the balance of political and economic actions” needed for state-building, it said.

“Attempts to achieve stabilisation by building a state-level security apparatus … are often perceived by the local population as a form of aggression.”

Local structures could build opposition to extremism, but encouraging this process without distorting it was a challenge.

The report argued counter-terrorism was also being hindered by lucrative business networks spanning the Gulf of Aden.

Some analysts say regional vested interests including some state officials have ties to smugglers of migrants, arms, fuel and drugs who dominate maritime traffic across the Gulf of Aden.

“A number of `shadow networks’ exist within and between Yemen and Somalia, facilitating a flourishing regional trade in arms, people-smuggling, and fuel-smuggling,” the report said.