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The GCC is saying that an agreement is close that would have Saleh, who has been in Saudi Arabia since June, recovering from an assassination attempt, agree to abide by the results of an election to be held at some unspecified future date. Given the president’s history of double-crossing the opposition, it seems unlikely he will accede to his own demise. This is unfortunate because the months of conflict have bankrupted a country that already was one of the poorest in the world. This pro-opposition website (which features several horrific videos of the violence) reports that shortages of food, fuel, and even water are plaguing the population. Prices for staples like cooking oil, rice and wheat have gone up as much as 46%, and government assistance is no longer being handed out. The humanitarian group Oxfam reports that Yemen is near “the breaking point” and that “[o]rdinary families are telling us they simply don’t have the money to buy even the basics. Many say they don’t know where their next meal is coming from.”
The United States continues to claim it is on the side of democratic change, while working with the government to battle AQAP and keep it from expanding its operations outside of Yemen. Many protesters believe that the threat from AQAP has been wildly exaggerated by the government in order to justify the crackdown. That may be true, as far as the terrorists being able to seriously threaten the government of Yemen, although as Saleh’s regime has been engaged in a battle for its survival, AQAP has moved into several cities and towns.
But the US is more concerned with AQAP’s growing ability to strike targets abroad. The terrorists are taking advantage of the chaos thrown up by the “Arab Spring” to extend its reach in Yemen and further its goals of establishing an Islamic state, as well as target US interests and allies in the region. There are also some US homeland security officials who believe that AQAP may already have the capability of striking inside the United States.
Matt Olsen, who heads up the new National Counterterrorism Center, told the Senate Homeland Security Committee, “It [AQAP] has shown itself to be – to have both the intent and capability of carrying out attacks against the United States in the homeland.”
The Obama administration has recently stepped up drone attacks on AQAP, trying to fill the void created when Saleh’s troops were pulled from many remote outposts in order to battle protesters in Sanaa. AQAP has taken advantage and actually seized several small towns in the south. The drone strikes have been with the knowledge of Saleh’s government, and it is unclear if such cooperation were to extend to any new regime that took power once Saleh agrees to leave.
With the opposition fracturing between the street level protesters and the more established political parties, and President Saleh holding out by brutalizing his own people, it is difficult to see how Yemen can avoid another bloody civil war. Meanwhile, a humanitarian disaster is in the making, as the bulk of Yemen’s population has little to eat, no employment, and little hope that the future will bring anything but more misery.
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