Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 4, 2011

Saleh leaves Sanaa (?)(!)

Filed under: Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on June 4, 2011

A few minutes ago (6:16 AM Eastern Time) the BBC reported:

President Ali Abdullah Saleh has left Yemen a day after being injured when his presidential compound in Sanaa came under attack, reports say.

Sources in the government told the BBC that he had been flown to Saudi Arabia for treatment, but it is not clear whether he has gone there for good.

The prime minister and four other senior officials were also flown out.

The president has not appeared in public since Friday, but he broadcast an audio message saying he was well.

I am not yet seeing confirmation from other sources.  About an hour ago Al Jazeera, apparently depending on Reuters, reported:

Several top Yemeni officials injured in an attack on the presidential palace on Friday have been flown to neighbouring Saudi Arabia for treatment, a medical source said on Saturday.

The speakers of both houses of parliament, the deputy prime minister and other officials were evacuated, the source said without offering details on the conditions of the officials.

The most recent report from the Associated Press does not mention Saleh’s departure and is still being treated as breaking news by several European media. The AP says:

Five top members of the government were sent to Saudi Arabia for treatment of wounds they suffered in a rebel rocket attack on the presidential palace, the official government news agency reported Saturday. President Ali Abdullah Saleh was slightly injured.

At 6:43 Eastern Time the BBC is reporting that other Yemeni government officials are denying the President has left the country. I will go to breakfast and give you an update after some oatmeal.

About 90 minutes after the initial BBC report, there seems to be growing confidence that President Saleh has NOT left Sanaa and, in the words of a Saudi official, “has no intention of leaving.” At around 7:00 AM Eastern Time the Telegraph is flatly reporting, “President Ali Abdullah Saleh suffered head injuries but was not among those sent to Saudi Arabia.”

SATURDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE: Twelve hours on from the initial posts above, Al Jazeera is reporting, Saleh ‘to seek medical care in Saudi Arabia’. Reuters, AP,  The Telegraph and other outlets all have similar stories.  As of 4:00 PM Eastern Time every credible report I am finding is still using the future tense for the trip to Saudi Arabia (and the BBC is being especially careful).

Several reports indicate that Friday’s attack on Saleh and others left the Yemeni President with shrapnel near his heart.

At 4:35 PM Eastern Time Reuters is reporting, “Saudi Arabia brokered a fresh truce in Yemen on Saturday and a Riyadh government source said President Ali Abdullah Saleh was expected to leave the country within hours for medical treatment. ‘Saleh is expected to come to Saudi Arabia tonight for treatment for neck and chest wounds,’ the source in Riyadh, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.” At roughly the same time as the Reuters report, the online New York Times headlined its lead story as “Yemeni Leader Agrees to Go to Saudi Arabia for Treatment.”

SATURDAY EVENING UPDATE: As of 8:00 PM several media sources are now reporting President Saleh is in Riyadh. See Al Jazeera, BBC, and New York Times.  Power has been transferred to the Yemeni Vice President.

For more context please see a late Friday report by Deutsche Welle: Yemeni rivals accuse each other of profiting from al Qaeda threat. Additional background is available from the Council on Foreign Relations.

As far as I know, John Brennan is still in the region. He was in Saudi Arabia and UAE on Thursday and Friday.

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15 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 4, 2011 @ 6:49 am

Perhaps for the good in the long run but yet another country destabilized by USA drone attacks violating International Law! The USA does not get it and John Brennan<Mr. Homeland Security, has an unparalled record at the Peter Principle! Another the END JUSTIFIES THE MEANS INTEL officer! Did this President flunk CON law?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

June 4, 2011 @ 9:19 am

Bill, I share your concern that drone attacks in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia raise important questions of international and constitutional law; questions that are more often officially avoided than honestly engaged.

In regard to Pakistan, I would agree that cynical non-attribution of the drone war has probably been politically destabilizing, even if tactically effective. There is apparently another example of tactical effectiveness today, see: Harkatul Jihad al-Islami confirms Ilyas Kashmiri killed For evidence of a destabilizing influence see: Pakistan and the US: A too-close embrace?

But in Yemen and Somalia I think the operational outcome has, at least to date, been more stabilizing than destabilizing. Which might then beg the question: Has stabilization of the Saleh government been in the self-interest of the US?

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 4, 2011 @ 12:07 pm

President Karzai want drone attacks ended in Afghanistan. Please remind me again of UN resolutions backing US missions in all but Libya? In meantime looking like EU E-Coli outbreak may head to USA. FDA announcing enhanced testing for 6 types in USA. Haiti of course has no ability to test for much of anything. Cholera still rampant IMO! Mexico also possible disease vector to USA!

Comment by Not / Not

June 4, 2011 @ 4:43 pm

Can we get back to a discussion of “homeland” security? (Guess I am not a fan of PSD-1).

Comment by Philip J. Palin

June 4, 2011 @ 7:40 pm

I testified against the outcomes of PSD-1 and still have reservations about the integration of the homeland security staff into the national security staff. But if the claims made by intelligence sources regarding Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula are even half true, the situation in Yemen has to be of concern to homeland security. Earlier today Tom Lister at CNN posted a piece entitled Why we should care about Yemen that does a reasonable job explaining why. The reasons involve both national security and homeland security, to apply the “old” framework.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

June 5, 2011 @ 5:56 am

Homeland Security Watch very seldom tries to deal with breaking news. Usually we aggregate and analyze old news and occasionally advocate for a policy, strategy, or even more vaguely an attitude or worldview.

Saturday’s attention to unfolding events in Sanaa was largely opportunistic. I happened to see an (inaccurate or at least premature) BBC exclusive just moments after it was published. I decided to broadcast it because the report matched what my sources and intuition told me would be an eventful day in Yemen.

My orientation was predisposed to look for and believe this was the time for Saleh to leave. So… I observed what was happening and “saw” what I was predisposed to see. I made decisions and took action on the basis of this predisposition.

For about 12 hours I was wrong… even while I continued to feel as if I was right.

At least based on what I know now, I was wrong… until I was right. I wonder if the BBC’s original “usually reliable source” got his English tense wrong or if the translator got the tense wrong. I wonder how much tension was felt in Sanaa, Riyadh, Washington, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and elsewhere over the use of present or future tense.

There was certainly great relief when everyone could use the past tense to report that Saleh was in Riyadh.

I perceive homeland security — as distinguished from law enforcement, emergency management, and other complementary disciplines — should mostly be about shaping context. Context is a matter of orientation: our own, our allies, and that of our adversaries.

I’m still not sure why my orientation (intuition) told me yesterday was likely to be the day for Saleh to leave. If my decision/action was more consequential than blogging, I probably would have been more circumspect… and perhaps lost an important opportunity.

Our context is usually ambiguous and therefore malleable. Yesterday while I was merely blogging, others were actively engaged in producing the considerably new context to which — for better and for worse — Yemen awakened today.

How this complexity unfolded in about 15 hours strikes me as an interesting case study in context setting.

The BBC — which took some knocks for its early reporting yesterday — has a good Yemen after-action published at 8:00 AM Eastern Time on Sunday.

Comment by John Comiskey

June 5, 2011 @ 7:21 am

Per QHSR 2010, HLS is “ultimately” about National Security.

Primary to our National Security Strategy is democracy. Democracy is the mainstay of American exceptional and is premised on civil society whether it is hometown, homeland, or “homeworld” works best when both like-minded and different-minded people agree to deal with all matters and particularly conflict “civilly.” That is the crux of a US and world friendly and civil Yemen: its best for Yemen and the world.

That’s high-minded and that’s the way we want it. Notwithstanding, US self-interests, the Arab Spring complimented with UBL dead and AQ withering, should the US stand by and allow freedom to blossom on its own accord or facilitate it?

Re: UAV writ large: are these simply overt covert operations that might be a jus ad bellum (jus ad intelligentsia). Might Afghanistan and Pakistan’s public objection to UAV attacks be a façade, i.e. those same governments actively support those programs behind closed doors?

Is international law reconciled to transnational terrorism?

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 5, 2011 @ 2:18 pm

Revised Article 3 of Geneva Convention studied in detail by Reagan Administration in early 80’s. Results never released. FEMA suggested OLC opine on application of Article 3 to terrorism at the time. No indication of what happened to FEMA request.

Retaliation and Retorsion and Revenge concepts addressed by even early scholars of International Law in 1600s.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

June 6, 2011 @ 6:37 am

John, As I am sure you have seen up close and personal, generally the law lags — or more positively, reflects — emerging social norms. International law is even more a sluggard than domestic law. Finding and framing authentic international norms is also more difficult than domestic norms, which are plenty difficult. But as your comment suggests, or at least as I hear you, it is our honest engagement with high-minded principles that is important. It is not hypocritical to engage complicated issues and sometimes fail to behave consistent with our principles. It is hypocritical or cynical, and self-deluding, and self-defeating to claim to be high-minded and neglect the practical implications of our principles.

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 6, 2011 @ 7:21 am

Phil! Post script?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

June 6, 2011 @ 8:55 am

Bill, I don’t — yet — have a meaningful postscript for Yemen. It is one of the most complicated places on the planet. I was recently reading Lord Rees, the Astronomer Royal (and a worthy successor to Newton), on the complexity of humans. Put a human in Yemen and I think his or her complexity quotient is probably trebled before taking a step or saying a word.

Related to homeland security, is a recent TED talk by Lord Rees. Please see: http://www.ted.com/talks/martin_rees_asks_is_this_our_final_century.html

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 6, 2011 @ 11:19 am

Now predict YEMEN a write off for USA for various reasons by this time next year, joining Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Palestine, perhaps Jordan, Algeria, Morrocco, Nigeria, Sudan, Syria, and Iran! Question is will USA be total failure in MENA by 2012 elections?

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 7, 2011 @ 7:11 pm

Saleh purportedly badly injured and in Saudi Arabia.

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 11, 2011 @ 11:02 am

So Phil what would be your vision for YEMEN and what is the liklihood of that vision?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

June 12, 2011 @ 5:27 am

Bill, that is an interesting way to pose the question. What do I see? I see a country of 24 million that is projected to have 60 million by 2050 (neighboring Saudi Arabia has a current population of roughly 22 million). I see a very poor place with poorer prospects. Water scarcity will be an existential concern for Yemen over the next generation. Today 46 percent of the population is under age 15. The expectations — even the basic needs — of this rising generation will be nearly impossible to meet.

The population is currently about 52 percent Sunni and 46 percent Shia (specifically the Zaidiyyah tradition). Tribal identity is strong especially among the Shia. There is a north-south divide in Yemen that corresponds with tribal and religious differences. The current situation seems likely to exacerbate these divisions.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is largely based in Yemen and has demonstrated considerable tactical success under the leadership of Nasser al-Wuhayshi. AQAP’s success in recruiting a number of Western-born operatives has amplified its reach. I do not have a confident understanding of the connection between AQAP and the internal politics of Yemen. In the past AQAP has called for tribal uprisings against the Saleh government. But assessing the influence of such calls is outside my competence.

You may be asking me to offer some vision of a “solution”. How can Yemen avoid becoming another Somalia or worse? This is beyond my current sight-line.

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