SANAA, Yemen, Sept. 7 (UPI) -- The U.S. military's Central Command has proposed a $1.2 billion, 5-year military aid program to beef up Yemen's poor-performance security forces to counter al-Qaida's growing strength.
But military analysts say that, in a failing state many see as the next Pakistan, such a program will only drive a disgruntled tribal society into al-Qaida's waiting arms.
Yemen has long been a battleground in the war against al-Qaida. The first strike by a missile-armed U.S. drone aircraft to kill a jihadist leader was carried out in Yemen in November 2002.
But the impoverished country at the southwestern tip of the Arabian Peninsula remained something of a backwater in the global struggle until 2 years ago when Saudi Arabian and Yemeni jihadists, among the most dedicated fighters in al-Qaida, joined forced to create al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
The killing of 13 Americans, allegedly by a Muslim U.S. Army psychiatrist, at Fort Hood, Texas, Nov. 5, 2009, and the Christmas Day attempt to blow up a U.S. airliner over Detroit were directed by AQAP.
These days U.S. intelligence officials say that AQAP is the militant group most likely to mount a major attack on the United States in a bid to replicate the carnage of 9/11.
The U.S. military's reasoning is that helping to bolster Yemen's 75,000-strong military will go some way to keeping AQAP fighting for survival than plotting potentially catastrophic attacks on American cities.
But this is the army that needed to call in Islamist militants, many of them veterans of the 1979-89 Afghanistan war against the Soviet army in which Osama bin Laden turned into a fanatical jihadist, to defeat secessionists in South Yemen in a 4-month civil war in 1994.
That same poorly led army couldn't defeat a ragtag force of Shiite tribal rebels in northern Yemen from 2005 to this year -- and in the end had to fall back on neighboring Saudi Arabia's U.S.-trained and equipped military to hammer the rebels into submission with airstrikes and artillery barrages.
As defense analyst W. Andrew Terrill of the U.S. Army War College noted a few days ago, the Yemeni army is a "basket case."
Since December 2009, in the wake of the bungled airliner bombing, U.S. forces have hit suspected al-Qaida bases, sanctuaries and gatherings with airstrikes and Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from U.S. warships.
These have killed some al-Qaida operatives, including some senior figures, but they also killed dozens of civilians, men, women and children. Attacks like those have angered many Yemenis, as constant U.S. drone attacks have done in Pakistan.
They see the Americans as simply propping up the dysfunctional and corrupt regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa, Yemen's capital, at a time when the country's ramshackle economy is collapsing.
Its meager oil reserves are expected to run out in a few years. Worsening water shortages are triggering widespread unrest.
The government's writ barely runs beyond the outskirts of Sanaa and a couple of other cities while the rebellious north simmers and the secessionist movement in the south gets stronger and more violent.
Al-Qaida is cashing in on the growing unrest and distrust of Saleh's 30-year-old regime, getting stronger and harder to pin down.
Analyst Murad Batal al-Shishani of the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington think tank that monitors global terrorism, noted in a recent assessment of AQAP's growing status that "al-Qaida's discourse finds a ready audience among tribal people, whether in the south or the north."
Yemeni journalist Nabil al-Sufi reported in the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat Jan. 31 that "al-Qaida's area of influence in Yemen forms a large triangle that is half the size of the country."
Shishani observed that this area is "known for its tribal affiliation rather than its affiliation to the state … A focus on tribes in Yemen has been a main reason behind al-Qaida's success in finding a safe haven there …
"It is evident that al-Qaida is attempting to build tribal alliances in the area extending from the south of Saudi Arabia to the south of Yemen," Shishani said.
"Local alliances have helped al-Qaida find a safe haven at the strategic level. This has given the movement the capability of carrying out attacks, not only inside Yemen, but also outside the country."