Yemen is one of the United States' foremost challenges on the counterterrorism front. So says Daniel Benjamin, U.S. Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the Department of State.
Al Qaida has long been a presence in the Arabian Peninsula, dating back to at least the early 1990s. Over the last five years, these terrorists have carried out multiple attacks against Yeminis, Americans, and citizens of other countries. In the last two years, this Al Qaida franchise has carried out a string of attacks, including an attack on the U.S. Embassy in September 2008, kidnapping of several groups of foreign tourists, attempts to terrorize Yemen's own security services, and, of course, the attempted bombing of a U.S. airliner on Christmas Day 2009.
After a review of U.S. policy toward Yemen, the Obama administration has launched a two-fold strategy: to strengthen the government of Yemen's ability to promote security and minimize the threat from violent extremists; and to bolster its capacity to provide basic services and good governance. On the security side, the U.S. is providing training and assistance to Yemen's key counterterrorism units. The training includes border control management, crime scene investigation, fraudulent document recognition, and surveillance detection, among others.
But this strategy will only succeed if Yemen's government can begin to meet the basic needs of its citizens. Yemen is grappling with serious poverty –- it is the poorest country in the Arab world. To help improve conditions, the U.S. is increasing its development assistance to Yemen. Mr. Benjamin said he expects the U.S. to provide as much as 63 million dollars in fiscal year 2010. Priorities include political and fiscal reform; reducing corruption and implementing civil service reform; and economic diversification to generate employment. Also, the U.S. Agency for International Development is building the capacity of Yemen's government to deliver services more effectively and efficiently.
"Ultimately," said Counterterrorism Coordinator Benjamin, "the goal of the U.S. and international efforts is a stable, secure, and effectively governed Yemen. As the government of Yemen grows more transparent and responsive to the requirements of its citizens, the seeds of extremism and violence will find less fertile ground and a more positive productive dynamic will begin to prevail."