How US Policy Helps Al Qaeda in Yemen

Exclusive: President Trump – like President Obama – is working at cross purposes in supposedly fighting Al Qaeda in Yemen while helping Saudi Arabia kill Al Qaeda’s chief Yemeni enemies, as Jonathan Marshall explains.

By Jonathan Marshall

In a world of bad actors, one of the “baddest” of all is the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which the CIA once branded “the most dangerous regional node in the global jihad.” It masterminded the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000; nearly blew up a U.S. passenger jet flying into Detroit on Christmas Day, 2009; brought down a UPS cargo plane in 2010; and sponsored the 2015 attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris, killing 11 and wounding another 11.

President Donald Trump touches lighted globe with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Saudi King Salman and Donald Trump at the opening of Saudi Arabia’s Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology on May 21, 2017. (Photo from Saudi TV)

All of which raises an embarrassing question: Why is the United States supporting AQAP’s main ally in Yemen, Saudi Arabia?

The respected news publication Middle East Eye reports that Abdulmajid al-Zindani, a Yemeni cleric, “veteran al-Qaeda supporter,” and “former spiritual adviser to Osama bin Laden,” has been operating freely in Saudi Arabia, even posting YouTube videos lauding the Saudi war in his home country.

Apparently no one in Riyadh cares that he’s been on the U.S. Treasury’s Specially Designated Global Terrorist List since 2004, identified as a recruiter for terrorist training camps and a key purchaser of weapons for al-Qaeda and other extremist groups. Indeed, Zindani “has been warmly received by senior clerics and officials,” including one adviser to the Royal Court, according to Middle East Eye.

The publication’s sources further allege that “at least five Yemenis designated as terrorists by the U.S. Treasury have advised and coordinated Saudi operations in Yemen with allied forces on the ground.” One senior al-Qaeda supporter in Yemen, Nayif al-Qaysi, has been repeatedly interviewed in Saudi Arabia by fawning television stations. He served as governor of the Yemeni city of Bayda until late July.

Most bizarre of all, one notorious al-Qaeda fundraiser, who has lived in Saudi Arabia for nearly three years, turned up on a list of terrorists whom Saudi Arabia accused Qatar of harboring. Saudi Arabia and four other Arab states broke diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar in early June, in part over allegations that Doha supports extremists.

The Devastation of Yemen

Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and other Arab allies have been laying waste to Yemen with logistic support from the United States. They are fighting to wrest control of the country from Houthi militants and their ally, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Riyadh aims to reinstate Saleh’s rival, President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, whose legal mandate ended in January 2015.

Saudi King Salman bids farewell to President Barack Obama at Erga Palace after a state visit to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 27, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Tens of thousands of Yemenis have died from the fighting, historic cities have been pulverized by criminal Saudi bombing raids, and more than 400,000 people have contracted deadly cholera. Almost two million children and millions more adults suffer from malnutrition owing to war-related disruptions of food supplies and a Saudi blockade of Yemen’s ports.

Suffering and chaos provide ideal breeding grounds for AQAP, which took control of a provincial capital and one of Yemen’s largest ports for many months. A special report last year by Reuters concluded that “the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen, . . . backed by the United States, has helped Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to become stronger than at any time since it first emerged almost 20 years ago.”

Even the UAE newspaper The National conceded last month: “In the absence of a political resolution that addresses local grievances and builds and empowers a central state that can provide jobs and services, Al Qaeda has filled vacuums and its fighters have found a role, while a sectarian narrative that is promoted by the group has increasing traction.”

This matters not only because of AQAP’s potential threat to U.S. security, but because the only possible legal rationale for continued U.S. military involvement in Yemen is the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists, which approves operations against al-Qaeda, not in support of its allies. Members of Congress are growing restive about such legal issues as U.S. tax dollars fund the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen, with no end in sight.

Getting Stronger

AQAP has gained traction by taking advantage of growing local resentment toward U.S. and UAE counterterrorism operations that result in the murder or torture of suspects.

In a weird twist, typical of the war’s endlessly shifting alliances, AQAP has also joined pro-Saudi forces in bloody offensives to retake the southern city of Taiz from Houthi rebels.

“We fight along all Muslims in Yemen, together with different Islamic groups,” against the Houthis, said Qasim al-Rimi, the senior military commander of AQAP, this spring.

Although the United States put a $5 million price on al-Rimi’s head, Associated Press reported that his forces “regularly receive funds and weapons from the U.S.-backed Saudi led coalition.”

Ironically, just hours before U.S. commandos killed another prominent AQAP-linked tribal leader in late January (along with several children), that leader had arranged for the Saudi-backed coalition of President Hadi to pay his tribal fighters $60,000 to join in the fight against Houthi rebels.

No wonder the International Crisis Group recently reported that “The Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda is stronger than it has ever been,” and that AQAP “is thriving in an environment of state collapse, growing sectarianism, shifting alliances, security vacuums and a burgeoning war economy.” AQAP, it added, has “emerged arguably as the biggest winners of the failed political transition and civil war that followed.”

Targeting Islamist tribal leaders with more bombs, drones, and military raids — as the Trump administration seems inclined to do — will simply aggravate civilian suffering and strengthen AQAP’s political base. There’s only one way to dry up its support: the international community must demand a cease-fire, send foreign armies packing, promote a political settlement among all Yemeni stakeholders, and send food and medical aid to alleviate the population’s extraordinary suffering.

Jonathan Marshall is a regular contributor to

16 comments for “How US Policy Helps Al Qaeda in Yemen

  1. August 3, 2017 at 10:51

    It took Russia to defeat Da-esh in Syria, despite occasionally being bombed by the USA and Turkey.

  2. August 2, 2017 at 15:33

    I believe Yemen is a war Crime:
    A Message to the Past and Present Ruling Leaders

    The People of Yemen are being slaughtered because of what you do
    You sold arms to the Saudis and formed a bombing coalition too
    Famine and cholera are the result of your criminality
    Yemen is being destroyed because of your sick mentality

    You are war criminals that deface the face of the earth
    Evil war mongering monsters and a total curse
    If there was any justice you all would be arrested
    But, sad to say, “justice” has become corrupted…

    [read much more at link below]

    • Rick Jones
      August 7, 2017 at 00:44

      Well said!

  3. mike k
    August 2, 2017 at 07:19

    “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.”

    The insane mantra of the Vietnam war, “we must destroy the village in order to save it” has morphed into a global US mantra, “We must destroy the world in order to save it.” With these glorious marching orders, what could go wrong? We are on a sacred mission to save the world (for global capitalist oligarchs).

    • mike k
      August 2, 2017 at 09:53

      Wasn’t that the sick excuse put forward for destroying Iraq, after it was shown that the imaginary WMD’s were nonexistent? We had to save the Iraqi’s from the evil demon Saddam, and according to Madeleine Albright, if a few hundred thousand dead Iraqi children were part of the deal, “it was worth it.” A ruined culture with over a million dead, it’s infrastructure laid waste was “worth it”?? This is the power of American “idealism” – it can justify any crime you choose to perpetrate – just ask the innocent victims of our drone hit squads.

  4. August 2, 2017 at 07:14

    It seems ABC has depublished it’s report “Al-Qaida leader says group fought alongside US-backed forces” linked within the article above.

    However, I found a copy at, under this link:

  5. Alister
    August 2, 2017 at 03:19

    Once you understand that the Saudis are crypto-zionists then the entire turmoil in the Middle East makes complete sense.

    • Brad Owen
      August 2, 2017 at 05:20

      Yes. And once you understand that Saudi crypto-zionists (AlYamamah, BAE arms-for-oil deal), the actual zionists (Cecil Rhodes RoundTable Group), and Allen Dulles-led, post-FDR, covert coup of our Intel community, in favor of MI6, Wall Street-City of London banks, British Crown (linchpin for all other Royal Dynasts in Europe with their Managerial Elite oligarchs of finance, industry,resource cartels, etc…) All for a New Roman Empire to control its former “provinces” in Africa and the M.E., like in the old colonial days, using American military for this task (directly against our own Nat’l interest as former champions of Liberty for former colonies in FDRs time, and at our own expense in treasure, lives and the Good Will,of the World), AND deliberately making us into enemies of former allies (Russia/China) in order to checkmate those 3 most powerful forces (USA/Russia/China, throw in Japan and India for good measure) that can challenge this New Roman Empire project, it then makes “perfecter” sense.

  6. HorizonScanner
    August 2, 2017 at 01:54

    Yemen will become Saudis Vietnam and as their IPO heads for the show, Yemenis will create a lot of surprises for the Saudis. Probably the Saudis do not understand that Iran is waiting Saudi to make mistakes and combined with lower oil prices throw Saudi plans into a tailspin. There are so many challenges facing Saudi that it is very hard to even fathom what is going to be their future. Yemenis have recently attempted to attack Saudi oil facilities and if they get successful as they move ahead, it could lead to serious problems for the global economy and the prospective investors of Saudi Arabia. Perhaps anyone who wants to understand the precariousness of the situation should try reading this post –

    Mind boggling complexity in conflicts, it is beyond me to even think how we can call the middle east stable.

    • Martin Bryant
      August 2, 2017 at 13:45

      Interesting, Interesting !!! I never thought that ARAMCO IPO may be behind the the shock and awe Saudis want to create in the region. If the analyst is right and we will see how it goes, then, around the IPO, Saudis will become more adventurous in the region perhaps even sanctioning Oman, Kuwait and Turkey who have close links with Iran. Seems like they are learning from the American playbook, when there are problems at home, go create problems offshore to distract attention.

    • August 3, 2017 at 10:56

      Saudis would need to send in stormtroopers to mirror Vietnam.

  7. Joe Tedesky
    August 2, 2017 at 00:53

    It’s a strange strategy the U.S. has, where ‘where ever it is’ to ‘whatever it turns out to be’ is how we morph into whatever role, it is the U.S. feels it needs to play, it does. While Americans are bogged down trying ignore the wall to wall Trump Russia-Gate idiocy on 24/7 cable news outlets, never hardly a notable mention of Yemen’s suffering, nor the strange alliances the U.S. has in this horrendous unreported war crime. Instead, we celebrate record arms sales, and praise Sunni over Shia, and call this diplomacy in the highest order. Who’s order?

  8. Realist
    August 1, 2017 at 23:50

    I’ll bet none of the Neocons in Congress or in the Donald’s government ever heard of any of these “historical cities” in Yemen, but I’m also sure they are pleased as punch to be “pulverizing” them. They’re proud to be doing a man’s job. Give them all medals. But ixnay on the dead babies, please. Don’t be too critical of our great patriots. Don’t you feel safer because of their good works?

  9. Realist
    August 1, 2017 at 23:40

    Yes, sir, Washington is really on the ball. They know how fervently the American people wish for Saudi Arabia to vanquish the purported Houthi proxy fighters for the evil Iranian Mullahs in Yemen. Worth every penny we spend and every life we take to accomplish this mission. I am tickled pink to pay more in taxes and suffer more in social safety net cuts to make this happen. What loyal American would not? And our children, the future generations of Americans? They should learn straight off that everyone should be willing to make some sacrifices for the sake of American global hegemony. Why save up to get a college education when you can find an adventuresome job in the military right out of high school. Right, John McCain?

    When Rome ruled the world it was known as the Pax Romana.
    We should proudly proclaim this era in history to be the Pox Neoconis.
    (Not a spelling mistake)

  10. August 1, 2017 at 23:16

    The good news is that Canada is contemplating cutting off military aide to Saudi Arabia because it is being deployed in Yemen. This was reported on RT’s Boom Bust 08/01/2017 so it may not yet be archived. I have long been frustrated by this issue. Here is a post that harkens back to the pre-election debates.

    • Tannenhouser
      August 2, 2017 at 09:57

      NeoNazi Freeland will find nothing wrong with the Saudi regimes use of Canadian arms against it’s citizen. The NWO show pony and card carrying member of the Uhh cult AKA the PM of Canada will continue to blind the nation with it’s hypocrisy and prostration to OTHER nations interest.

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