This week, I read Christopher Swift’s new interview at Line of Departure following his recent research trip to Yemen. Swift does a good job of breaking down the different facets of AQAP/Ansar al Sharia and brings up two interesting quotes which I’ve posted here.
Christopher Swift: That’s right. I didn’t believe this before I went and interviewed people who had been in the training camps, people who had interviewed Al Qaeda themselves, people who go to Al Qaeda to do hostage and prisoner release – after speaking to those people they overwhelmingly said that majority of the foreign fighters, upwards of 50 percent, are Somali.
That shouldn’t be a surprise. One of the things I asked was about Al Shabaab – is it a Somali movement that pretends to be a global jihad movement or whether it really was part of Al Qaeda? Are they contributing to the global jihad or are they trying to expropriate external resources and bring them into a local conflict?
Well, Al Shabaab is doing mostly the latter, but there’s a wing within the Islamist movement inside Somalia that has said, “Somalia is not really what this is all about. We’ve got to go global, and the way we go global is to go to Yemen.”
And that’s what’s happening. Somalis are, in fact, migrating to Yemen. They’re signing up with AQAP. And they’re taking up the fight.
One of the things I was told while I was there was that AQAP is using the Somalis as shock troops for some of its operations in Zinjibar because they have better unit cohesion and they’re more intense about the fighting than some of the other foreign fighters.
Christopher Swift: Right.
There’s been a number of reports – Jeremy Scahill from The Nation has done a lot of reporting on the drones. While I was in Yemen there was a reporter there from the Washington Post who was down in the south.
So Scahill from The Nation and the Washington Post have down a series of interviews with victims of the drone strikes, and local officials and others who have projected a very negative view of the drone program.
I heard a lot of concern from some elements of the Yemeni population about the nature and extent of U.S. involvement in Yemen — mostly from Islamists and Salafists I interviewed but also from others.
One of the things that I didn’t hear, however, is this connection between drone strikes on the one hand and Al Qaeda recruiting on the other.
Well, I’ve questioned in several posts (see here for a summary) whether drones alone are the leading radicalizing factor for joining AQAP. All counterterrorism options in Yemen create backlash. But, I’d argue that drones cause far less civilian casualties and resulting backlash than the arming of tribal militias or backing of full scale military intervention into Southern Yemen. I guess only time will tell.