Cargo Bombs Add To Increasing Pressure On Yemen

The bombs planted on U.S.-bound aircraft are widely believed to be the work of al-Qaida's affiliate on the Arabian Peninsula, based in Yemen. The failed attacks have raised some difficult questions: How should the U.S. and its allies now handle Yemen's fragile government to get it to do more to crush the militants? Should the U.S. use more military measures, like CIA drone attacks? What should the international community do to create conditions that would cause al-Qaida to wither away, and lead Yemen away from the brink of total collapse as a state?

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It is now widely believed that the two bombs intercepted on cargo planes bound for Chicago were the work of Al-Qaida on the Arabian Peninsula. The group is based in Yemen and those failed attacks are prompting the international community to ask some tough questions about Yemen.

First on the list: How can the West eliminate the threat posed by al-Qaida there without pushing the fragile nation further toward collapse?

The answers are far from simple, as NPR's Philip Reeves discovered at a forum on Yemen in London.

(Soundbite of conversations)

Unidentified Man Okay, we're going to get going. Good afternoon...

PHILIP REEVES: On one issue, everyone here is agreed: Yemen is in trouble is getting worse.

Mr. ALAN DUNCAN (Minister, State for International Development, U.K.): It's running out of oil. It's running out of water. And it may be running out of time. Well, the world is - in some eyes - running out of patience.

REEVES: Alan Duncan, Britain's International Development minister, says Yemen is on the edge of collapse. He spells out what collapse might mean.

Mr. DUNCAN: It could lead to a litany of chaos, with no water, no energy, no food, civil strife, al-Qaida flourishing, increasing radicalization, and a regional and international threat to both the world energy supplies and to many nations' security.

REEVES: Duncan is addressing a room full of people. Theyve come to talk about Yemen at Chatham House, home of Britain's Royal Institute of International Affairs. This forum was organized long before last weekend. The cargo plane bombs have added a sense of urgency.

Senior American and British diplomats are here. There are aid organizations, investors, pundits. There are also Yemenis, they include the speaker of Yemen's Upper House, Dr. Abdul Aziz Abdul Ghani. Abdul Ghani doesnt like the way Duncan talks about his country.

Dr. ABDUL AZIZ ABDUL GHANI (Speaker, Shoora Council of Yemen): I dont think he's absolutely - I dont agree with him. We have not a failed state and we're not failing. And we're not on the brink.

REEVES: Abdul Ghani also objects to the decision by Britain and Germany to restrict flights from Yemen, after the bombs are found. After all, he says, one of those bombs also passed unnoticed through neighboring airports in Qatar and Dubai.

Dr. ABDUL GHANI: Yemen is punished for acts taking by the terrorist organization. This falls rightly into the hands of al-Qaida, which wants to have Yemen cut their relations with the outside world.

REEVES: Duncan, the British minister, goes on to press case for more international support for Yemen and a comprehensive approach. He urges international donors to Yemen to get their act together and coordinate assistance. Will any of this make any difference?

Christopher Boucek of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, is an expert on the Arabian Peninsula.

Dr. CHRISTOPHER BOUCEK (Associate, Middle East Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace): I think when you look at the totality of the crises Yemen is trying to deal with - economic collapse, resource depletion, population explosion, three ongoing violent insurgencies - it seems almost overwhelming.

REEVES: Boucek believes the international community must try to help Yemen, but it will never actually solve Yemen's problems.

Dr. BOUCEK: The United States won't. The European allies won't. The international community will not solve Yemen. What we can do is we can reduce the impact of how bad these things will be.

REEVES: There are many complications. Yemen is one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

Saadaldeen Bin Talib was a member of it's anti corruption commission. He resigned in disgust after concluding the government was the chief cause of the problem. Talib thinks the threat from al-Qaida in Yemen could get worse, because the U.S. and its allies are propping up a bad government, just as they have before.

Dr. SAADALDEEN BIN TALIB (Former Member, Supreme National Anti Corruption Committee): I could remember there was a strong fight against communism. The West was putting up very dictatorial regimes which ended up in failure, most of them. Such assistance will end up in, with an increase of extremism.

REEVES: As the world gropes around for solutions in Yemen, some voices, particularly in the U.S., are calling for increased military measures - more missile strikes from CIA drones, for example, and much more military aid. At this gathering in London, there seems to be little enthusiasm for this remedy.

Ginny Hill is a Yemen expert at the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

Ms. GINNY HILL (Associate Fellow, Middle East and North Africa, Royal Institute of International Affairs): It was intelligence and not hard power that foiled last Friday's mail bomb. And this is a fact that I think should give Western military planners pause for thought, before reviewing the scale of military assistance to Yemen.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, London.

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