President Barack Obama has called the war in Iraq a distraction from the real fight in Afghanistan. What is becoming clearer is that even Afghanistan is peripheral when compared to Yemen, which has been the cultural, ideological, and operational center of al-Qaeda from early on, when organized Islamic resistance to American imperialism was in its formative years. Yemen will gain a heightened focus from the United States security apparatus in coming years.
The protests that spilled over into Yemen from the revolutionary fervor in Tunisia and Egypt were really just a continuation of the instability that had been rising there for years. After mass demonstrations led to gun battles between government forces and tribal militias, creating a threat of civil war, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh refused to sign an agreement to relinquish power on three separate occasions.
On June 3, Saleh was wounded in an attack on his palace and moved to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment. With his departure, executive authority was delegated to Vice President Abdo Rabu Mansour Hadi and although a seeming majority of Yemenis plus the Obama administration have called for a transition, a spokesperson for Saleh promised his return to the country this week. Violence and instability are ongoing and just last week more than 60 suspected al-Qaeda militants escaped from a jail in the south.