After the ‘underpants bomber’’s failed attempt to bomb a flight from Amsterdam to the US the Obama administration has said it will carry out ‘retaliatory strikes’ against Al Qa’ida leaders in Yemen. Yet the Bush and Obama administrations have been carrying out missile strikes on suspected Al Qa’ida leaders since 2002 and organising and training Saudi and Yemeni government forces for attacks on suspected Al Qa’ida leaders in Yemen since 2001. The SAS are also reported to have been deployed to Yemen from 2002 on and US Special Forces have almost certainly been operating too. The results have included a lot of civilian deaths in the strikes and an increase the support for extremist groups in the region.
When the editor of a Yemeni website reported on civilian deaths in a Yemeni military airstrike in September 2009 he was arrested by plain clothes intelligence officers and has not been heard of since.
A junior British foreign office Minister interviewed on BBC news recently said ‘security co-operation’ with the government of Yemen would be stepped up in parallel with development to reduce unemployment, lack of education and poverty.
Looking at the record of the same ‘coherent, integrated strategy’ in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan though the actual results are generally to create civil war and massively increase the number of terrorist attacks. In Afghanistan before the US invasion of 2001 suicide bombings were extremely rare, the most notorious targeted Ahmad Shah Massoud, a Mujahedin leader killed by Taliban suicide bombers in June 2001. Since the invasion suicide bombings have become common and civilian casualties from all causes have risen every year. Ditto for Iraq and Pakistan since big military offensives, air strikes and ‘counter insurgency’ to ‘root out extremists’.
Far from stabilising the countries involved ‘support’ from the US and it’s allies generally leads to massive destabilisation, which is used to justify military bases being set up in the country and troops being deployed to train or operate alongside the forces of the country. The only way you could interpret what’s happened in Pakistan or Iraq as ‘greater stability’ would be if you adopted Chomsky’s interpretation of the phrase – certain governments’ code-word for ‘greater influence for us’.
Afghanistan and Pakistan provide the majority of the pipeline route favoured by the US and EU for export of the post-Soviet republics oil and gas. Iraq has the second largest known oil reserves in the world, while Yemen, though having little oil or gas, is strategically important according to the US Energy Information Agency ‘because of its location on the Bab el-Mandab, one of the world's most strategic shipping lanes, through which an estimated 3.5 million barrels of oil passed daily in 2010. Disruption to shipping in the Bab el-Mandab could prevent tankers in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Aden from reaching the Suez Canal/Sumed pipeline complex, requiring a costly diversion around the southern tip of Africa to reach western markets.’ You can see on the map below how Somalia and Yemen guard either side of the Gulf of Aden – which would be the main alternative export route for Middle Eastern oil and gas if a conflict with Iran closed off the Straits of Hormuz between Iran and Oman.
map of the middle east showing how Yemen and Somalia guard each side of the Gulf of Aden and how the important Bab el-Mandab oil tanker export route follows Yemen's coast - this map is from infoplease
(Please note that this post originally mistakenly claimed Yemen had as high a share of proven global oil reserves as Kuwait. This was wrong and based on mis-reading a column in BP's Annual Statistical review and mistaking the United Arab Emirate's figures for Yemen's, which are only 0.3% of proven reserves globally.)
The collapse of Somalia’s government in the late 1980s has led to little oil exploration, so no significant proven reserves, but what surveys have been undertaken suggest it may have large reserves in its territorial waters and several major oil companies, including Conoco, had oil exploration contracts with the dictatorship of Siad Barre before it’s overthrow and have argued that those contracts are still valid if the civil war ends.
Maybe many of the members of governments involved genuinely believe they are preventing rather than inciting terrorism – and maybe the overlap between oil and gas reserves and export routes and countries where the US intervenes against Al Qa’ida is just co-incidence, but it’s just as likely that Al Qa’ida and ‘WMDs’ have become the same worldwide excuse for intervention for other motives that ‘Soviet backed Communism’ was during the ‘Cold War’.
Could it be that more progress would be made in reducing terrorism by ending the raids and the air and missile strikes and the ‘counter-insurgency’ and instead simply defending against terrorist attacks with defensive security measures and providing a standard of living above subsistence level to most Yemenis, Pakistanis, Afghans and Iraqis?
BBC News 25 Jan 2002 ‘CIA 'killed al-Qaeda suspects' in Yemen’, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/2402479.stm
BBC News Online 17 November, 2002, 14:49 GMT ‘SAS 'hunting Bin Laden in Yemen'’,
Reuters 23 Sep 2009 ‘Yemen media protest arrest of third journalist’,
guardian.co.uk 04 Jun 2007 ‘Briton 'killed in US missile attack in Somalia'’,
ABC News ‘Obama Ordered U.S. Military Strike on Yemen Terrorists’,
Guardian 14 Dec 2009 ‘Air strike 'kills 70 civilians' in Yemen’,
Los Angeles Times 13 Jan 1993 ‘The Oil Factor in Somalia’, http://articles.latimes.com/1993-01-18/news/mn-1337_1_oil-reserves
; for full version see http://www.somaliawatch.org/archivejuly/000922601.htm
B.P. Statistical Review of World Energy 2009, http://www.bp.com/liveassets/bp_internet/globalbp/globalbp_uk_english/reports_and_publications/statistical_energy_review_2008/STAGING/local_assets/2009_downloads/statistical_review_of_world_energy_full_report_2009.pdf
Arabian Business.com ‘Company Profile : Exxon-Mobil Chemical’,
BBC News 21 Dec 2009 ‘Houthi rebels say 54 killed in north Yemen air strike’,
BBC News 24 Dec 2009 ‘Dozens killed in Yemen air strike on al-Qaeda suspects’, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/8429370.stm (US gave Yemeni government $70mn in military aid in 2009)
Committee to Protect Journalists 25 Sep 2009 ‘In Yemen, critical journalist disappears’,
AP 24 Dec 2009 ‘Al-Qaida fighters killed in Yemen air strikes’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/dec/24/yemen-strike-al-qaida
Guardian 28 Dec 2009 ‘Al-Qaida: US support for Yemen crackdown led to attack’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/dec/28/al-qaida-us-yemen-attack
Energy Business Review 15 Oct 2009 ‘Total's Yemen LNG Plant Starts Production’,