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US funds the Short-Term in Yemen March 4, 2010

Posted by Rebecca Williams in Analysis.
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by Rebecca Williams and Matt Leatherman

Since the December 25th airliner bombing attempt and the Fort Hood shooting, US officials have become increasingly worried about the al-Qaeda affiliates operating within Yemen’s borders.  The al-Qaeda presence in Yemen is not new: since 9/11, the US has focused on preventing al-Qaeda from staging terrorist attacks there by strengthening the Yemeni government’s national forces, including the Border Security Force, Coast Guard, Air Force, and Ministry of Defense.  Security assistance in support of counterterrorism operations will more than double this year, from $69 million in FY 2009 to $150 million in FY2010.

Yet, while Washington and Sana’a share many priorities, they order those priorities quite differently.  President Ali Abdallah Saleh’s top domestic priority is defeating the Houthi rebellion in the north and the secessionist movement in the South. President Saleh has maintained a delicate balance of control over the country by appointing family members to key positions within the military and intelligence structure, essentially turning Yemen into “Family, Inc.,” as one expert stated before Congress.  From President Saleh’s perspective, al-Qaeda and Islamic radicalism in general are manageable threats that can be contained or co-opted.

President Saleh’s focus on internal national and regional conflicts above international terrorism raises concerns that US counter-terrorism assistance is being diverted.  A recent Senate Foreign Relations report on security assistance stated that, although the US government performs end-use monitoring, “Biannual monitoring is insufficient to determine with precision how US assistance is being used.”

Moreover, viewing Yemen through a counter-terrorism lens influences the US to invest heavily on immediate military and security capacity building and to engage with Yemen increasingly in terms of a military-to-military relationship.  The short-term investment the US is making in “Family, Inc.” reflects an investment in extending authority of the state.  This is not the same, however, as investing in the state’s legitimacy and the society as a whole.

Aggressive human rights training to correspond with military assistance would be expected in this situation.  DOD’s train-and-equip funds do include a human rights education component, but those training seminars receive roughly 1 percent of the total amount given in FY 2009.  Considering that Yemen has, at best, a mixed human rights track record, such spare resourcing for this program reinforces concerns that U.S. assistance will be misused.

Concerns are not limited to U.S. funds being misused, however.  Even if they are applied fully and competently against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, it is far from clear that force alone will be sufficient.  Yemen’s challenges run deep and broad: weak and ineffective government authority; deep poverty; high unemployment rate; poor education; high illiteracy; high rates of population growth; dwindling resources; sectarian conflicts; and religious radicalism.

Regrettably, U.S. assistance to Yemen pays relatively little attention to this concern.

Congress has enacted roughly $218 million in US assistance for FY2010, of which $170 million or 78 percent has been in the security domain [Train and Equip (Section 1206), Foreign Military Financing (FMF), International Military Education and Training (IMET), Nonproliferation, Antiterrorism, Demining and Related Programs (NADR), and International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE)]. This dwarfs the development and diplomatic sums provided to Yemen and transparently communicates the American investment in President Saleh.

Several questions consequently are incumbent on the policymaking community.  Is the United States prepared to trade-off long-term stability in Yemen for the short-term reprieve offered by an investment exclusively in President Saleh?  Are the human rights caveats on this assistance proportional to the risk inherent in this situation?  Can the U.S. afford to effectively jettison financial oversight in the face of the immediate probability of misuse?  The rhetorical answers to these questions are clear but so are the numbers, and the two conflict.  For now, the United States goes with Saleh.

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1. US Invests in Saleh, Refugees Starving | Armies of Liberation - March 10, 2010

[…] children. UN appeal is still unfunded, may cut programs for want of $16 million. A good report on US funding notes it targets security not the population: Congress has enacted roughly $218 million in US […]

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