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Yemen too unstable now, 'we have to sit back and wait’

Published time: December 06, 2013 13:52
Firefighting vehicles drive to the Defence Ministry's compound after an attack in Sanaa December 5, 2013. (Reuters / Mohamed al-Sayaghi)

The bombing of Yemen’s Defense Ministry that claimed 52 lives is being widely blamed on Al-Qaeda. But retired US Army Colonel Douglas McGregor believes that the volatile tribal country’s fragile government could also harbor many secrets.

Moreover, the situation is not helped by the region’s dwindling natural resources, let alone other, wider, conflicts, McGregor told RT.

RT: So, a very well-coordinated terrorist attack against the military in the heart of the country's main city. What does that says about the strength of the insurgents in Yemen today?

Douglas McGregor:
It’s hard to gauge the strength. You have to remember, Yemen is a very backward tribal state – there are very many different factions and it’s a place for Al-Qaeda to gain easy access, so this bears the hallmarks of Al-Qaeda. How widespread it is, is difficult to ascertain.

RT: Pictures of the aftermath show hospital beds surrounded with blood. What were the attackers trying to achieve by attacking such vulnerable people?

DM: You have a Sunni-Shiite civil war unfolding in that part of the world, already in the Arabian Peninsula. Secondly, the borders are porous, there’s really no border control, it’s not a sovereign state in the sense that we think of it in the Westphalian context, so you’re talking about a tribal state: different sects of Islam opposed to each other, different tribes opposed to each other, everyone jockeying and maneuvering for power and influence. The government is extremely weak, almost to the point of being irrelevant. So under these circumstances, this is the perfect place for Al-Qaeda to sink its roots.

Nurses tend to an army officer, injured in an attack on the Defence Ministry's compound, at a hospital in Sanaa December 6, 2013. Reuters / Khaled Abdullah)
RT: Many have said the attack bears the hallmarks of Al-Qaeda, but one Yemeni Minister points toward people linked to the former government. Who do you think is to blame?

DM: That’s entirely possible. No one has yet claimed responsibility. The reason that many of us are simply saying ‘It looks like Al-Qaeda’ is that we’ve seen this before with Al-Qaeda, we’ve seen attacks like this in Afghanistan, in north-west Pakistan and, frankly, recently in Iraq, where Al-Qaeda is operating very successfully against the Shiite Islamic government in Baghdad.

RT: What are the key factors contributing to the country's instability right now?

DM: Well, I think the attack didn’t quite come off as originally hoped. The plan was to actually kill senior military officers that were supposed to have a meeting at the location at about the time the attack occurred. As it turns out, the meeting was postponed, the officers didn’t show up. So they ended up killing people that were largely irrelevant to them and losing people in the process. But I think what this tells us is that you’ve got a government, which has lots of people in it who are, frankly speaking, either sympathetic to Al-Qaeda or simply corrupt and can be bought off. So information was on hand that they plan to exploit. The government is lucky it didn’t lose most of its senior military leadership.

RT:
If there is indeed a conflict between the remnants of the old regime and the new government, how serious might this get?

DM:
When we say ‘serious’, what does that mean? The place is not going to become stable anytime soon. Remember that when the British established themselves there many years ago in Aden, they limited their interest to the poor. They certainly didn’t penetrate the back country, it was not worth their time, or interest – I’m not sure it’s worth our time or interest. We can’t manipulate the people on the ground over there. We’ve tried. It hasn’t worked very well. We’ve launched lots of drone strikes, killed lots of people. It doesn’t seem to have cured the disease. So I think we’re just going to have to sit back and wait. People there are going to fight it out. We hope that whoever emerges victorious is someone we could work with or deal with.

RT:
Are there any external influences that are inflaming Yemen?

DM: I think things are going to continue to deteriorate; we’re going to see more attacks like this, more instability, and more disorder. And remember, here’s something else – it seldom comes up in discussion: this place is running out of water, like much of the Middle East. The whole Saudi peninsula is in trouble. If you’re running out of water, what does that suggest for your future in the region? Unless you can build desalinization plants, which takes a lot of money and a great deal of investment, you are in trouble. And their oil and gas infrastructure is very small and running into trouble, they’re not pulling much out.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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