Yemen: A U.S. Partner in the War on Terror
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 17, 2002 President Bush is determined to hunt down terrorists wherever they hide. So is Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Bush has called for "a sustained campaign to deny sanctuary to terrorists who would threaten our citizens from anywhere in the world." Every terrorist, he said, must be forced to live "as an international fugitive with no place to settle or organize, no place to hide, no governments to hide behind, and not even a safe place to sleep."
To make that pledge a reality, defense officials are extending Uncle Sam's help to Yemen. U.S. defense leaders aim to train and equip forces in countries facing terrorist threats. The ultimate goal, defense officials say, is to "pursue the nexus of terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction" wherever it exists.
Vice President Dick Cheney met with Saleh in Sana'a, Yemen's capital, in mid-March to express U.S. appreciation for Yemen's determination to eradicate the al Qaeda presence in Yemen. To support Yemen's counterterrorism effort, Cheney said the United States would provide training to Yemeni special forces and help with essential military equipment needs.
U.S. Central Command initially sent about 20 U.S. service members to Yemen to determine what assistance the United States would provide in response to Yemen's request for help. This week, a Pentagon spokesman said, Central Command sent another 30 service members to Yemen, and training is slated to begin at the end of the month.
"The Yemen government has made it clear they want to work with us," Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said. "They want assistance in fighting the terrorism in their own back yard."
Yemeni authorities suspect al Qaeda terrorists are hiding in three tribal areas in the country that's about the size of California and Pennsylvania combined. A group calling itself Sympathizers of al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for several bombings in Sana'a last month.
In 2000, al Qaeda terrorists killed 19 American sailors in an Oct. 12 attack on the destroyer USS Cole in Aden harbor. Yemeni authorities have detained a number of al Qaeda operatives and many al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan, including some in U.S. custody, are from Yemen.
Yemen is one of the oldest centers of civilization in the Near East. Unlike the nomads of other Arabian Peninsula nations, Yemenis live in small villages and towns along the coast and throughout the highlands, according to U.S. State Department officials. The people belong to two Islamic religious groups: the Zaidi sect of the Shi'a, found in the north and northwest, and the Shafa'I school of Sunni Muslims, found in the south and southeast.
Yemen's history involves two states, North and South Yemen, merging into one. North Yemen became independent of the Ottoman Empire in 1918. In 1967, unable to deal with uncontrollable violence, the British withdrew from a protectorate they'd established in the 19th century around the southern port of Aden. This area became South Yemen.
Three years later, the southern government adopted a Marxist orientation and hundreds of thousands of Yemenis fled from the south to the north. Two decades of hostility between the two states followed. North and South united in 1990 to form the Republic of Yemen. A southern secessionist movement in 1994 was quickly subdued.
For more information on go to the U.S. State Department Web site at: www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/5302.htm.