There is nothing new in the notion of Yemen as “the next Afghanistan”; this has been a staple of U.S. national security state propaganda since mid-2009, when a PR campaign accompanying a major strategy shift began….
Facing an active insurgency in the north, a separatist movement in the south, and a domestic al-Qaeda presence, Yemen rests today on the knife’s edge.
The small Arab state sits south of prosperous Saudia Arabia and just across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia, the world’s most failed state. Long plagued by separatist insurgencies and terrorism, many analysts fear that Yemen is on the edge of becoming an international crisis point on the scale of Afghanistan. Yemenis make up 40% of the detainees held at Guantanamo Bay. Yemen, along with Somalia and of course Afghanistan, is frequently cited as a safe haven for terrorism. Because al-Qaeda is a predominantly Arab organization, and Yemen is an Arab state unlike Somalia or Afghanistan, some fear it could be more susceptible to al-Qaeda infiltration. Yemen’s dilapidated economy, expected to decline over the next year and disintegrate as oil runs out by 2017, could plunge the nation into chaos.
The U.S. is already engaging Yemen’s problems, if lightly. Series of bombings hit suspected terrorist sites in Yemen, with apparent American support. The extent of U.S. involvement remains unclear, however, with news reporting ranging from mere intelligence assistance to Yemeni officials to launching cruise missiles against the targets. But it’s clear American officials are beginning to worry about Yemen.
About two-thirds of the country is out of government control and in the hands of either separatist groups or local tribes.
Five prior unsettled wars in Yemen’s northern Saada Governorate led to a sixth in 2009, the most intense so far. The Yemeni army ratcheted up its offensive against a rebel group drawn from the dominant community in the region, and the humanitarian fallout was unprecedented. Civilians and non-military targets such as hospitals were heavily affected by fighting. Hundreds of thousands were displaced and humanitarian assistance came to a virtual halt.
The consequences of another humanitarian crisis continued to reach the shores of southern Yemen. Since the beginning of 2009, nearly a thousand smuggler boats carrying more than 50,000 Somali refugees and Ethiopian migrants have crossed the Gulf of Aden in search of safety and a better life in Yemen, representing a 50 percent increase compared to 2008. Passengers say that more than 100 people are routinely packed into the 30- to 40-person vessels. Many suffocate while others drown before they can reach the shore.
In the coming decades, Yemen will suffer three negative trends – one economic, one demographic, and one environmental. Economically, Yemen depends heavily on oil production. Yet analysts predict that its petroleum output, already down from 460,000 barrels a day in 2002 to between 300,000 and 350,000 barrels in 2007 and down 12 percent in 2007 alone, will fall to zero by 2017. The government, which receives the vast majority of its revenue from taxes on oil production, has conducted virtually no planning for its post-oil future. Demographically, Yemen’s population – already the poorest on the Arabian Peninsula with an unemployment rate of 40 percent – is expected to double by 2035. An incredible 45 percent of Yemen’s population is under the age of 15. Environmentally, this large population will soon exhaust Yemen’s ground water resources. Given that a full 90 percent of Yemen’s water is used in highly inefficient agricultural projects, this trend portends disaster.