Yemenis wary, rulers ready to aid U.S. war

  • From: "Muslim News" <editor@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <submit@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 27 Mar 2002 07:27:17 -0000

SAN'A, Yemen — As late as the 1960s, the massive ironclad doors of this
walled city's Yemen Gate were shut tight every night, testament to a
tribal country's well-founded suspicion of outsiders. 

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The British, Egyptians, Saudis and Russians have all been here, pursuing
their intrigues over the last 40 years, fueling wars and rebellions in
this Arab country strategically situated at the mouth of the Red Sea. 

No wonder that, when a crowd formed around a foreigner recently at the
gate, a man shouted a question about the expected arrival of American
troops: "Are they coming to protect Yemen, or for Yemen to protect
them?" 

U.S. officials claim it is a little of both. They say fewer than 100
troops will come to train Yemeni security forces in mechanisms to track
al Qaeda operatives who may be using the country for refuge or to plan
attacks. It will help America's war on terror and provide stability for
a country that has seen little of it, they say. 

But success will depend on winning cooperation among a complex array of
tribes and shifting political allegiances. 

In this country of about 18 million people, many still identify first
with their tribal heritage rather than their volatile government. 

The current regime vows to fight side-by-side with the United States
against al Qaeda. But the government also enlisted and rewarded Arabs
trained in Afghanistan to win a civil war in 1994. It sided with Iraq in
the 1991 Gulf war. 

In November, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh met at the White House
with President Bush, who was pleased with Yemen's willingness to
cooperate in the war on terrorism. U.S. officials also were encouraged
by Yemen's stepped-up help in investigating the 2000 attack on the USS
Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden that killed 17 soldiers — an attack
believed to have been carried out by bin Laden's network. 

Al Qaeda militants are thought to have used a small boat packed with
explosives to cripple one of the Navy's most advanced vessels. Yemen is
one of several dozen countries where al Qaeda operates, according to
U.S. officials. There are no training camps or command centers here,
they say, but there are individuals around with links to al Qaeda. 

Finding them will take grass-roots support, and that could be hard to
come by. Although a recent headline in the government-controlled press
read: "Americans on way to help," most in this poor country with limited
political freedoms distrust U.S. motives. 

In markets where men buy bags of their afternoon fix of qat, a leafy
stimulant tucked between cheek and gum, Osama bin Laden is arguably more
popular than America. 

"He is the top Muslim," said laborer Mohammed Mohsin, 24. "He is the
only one who can fight America and Israel." 

Many denounce bin Laden but still say the United States is sending
troops just to win control over Yemen's strategic Arabian Sea shipping
lanes or to boost its presence in the oil-rich region. 

One of the biggest challenges will be the American plan to form a Yemeni
coast guard to keep watch over the country's 1,100-mile coastline. The
long and unprotected coast is just one of the factors making Yemen
vulnerable to al Qaeda. 

Like Afghanistan, Yemen is a land of harsh terrain that has always
defied central rule. 

Government officials acknowledge that two of the country's 18 provinces
are out of their control, others say there are more such provinces. Also
like Afghanistan, it is a country beset with illiteracy and poverty,
with a per capita income of about $368 a year, according to the United
Nations. Yemenis frequently say what they need most from America are new
schools and hospitals. 

Turbaned fighters, armed plentifully with Kalashnikov rifles, still
guard the perimeter of their tribal territories; government police
stations are nonexistent in many areas. In these parts, tribal elders
settle disputes, requiring the quarrelling parties to put up
Kalashnikovs and oxen as shows of good will. 

Source:  NewsService

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