Yemen is in the headlines once again for another Al Qaeda bombing plot. What can the U.S. and its allies do to stop Al Qaeda in Yemen (AQAP)? The goal is simple enough: eliminate this terrorist group. But the devil is in the details. No one single action will do it. But you have to do each single action.
Al Qaeda in Yemen will continue to try and attract recruits from anywhere in the world. They can and have gained membership from multiple classes of society. So there are many fronts on which to stop Al Qaeda’s vast reach.
However, one source of their recruiting pool is often ignored in terms of developing an anti-terrorism strategy. These would be recruits from within Yemen itself as Al Qaeda needs to have the support of the population if they are to grow.
Christopher Boucek of the Carnegie Endowment points out, “One of the biggest problems in Yemen is the ever expanding recruiting pool of under-educated and under-employed men. Every day there are more men that can be recruited to carry out AQAP’s ambitions.”
Laura Kasinof writes in the Christian Science Monitor that impoverished countryside areas of Yemen, with citizens disgruntled by the government, “worry analysts as they also offer fertile ground for recruiting new members.”
Hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos within Yemen itself will only bolster Al Qaeda’s stronghold there. So certainly, the lackluster efforts to fight hunger and poverty in the country do not serve the anti-terrorism strategy very well. It’s not the only aspect of the struggle, of course, but it’s one of them and it does not get the attention it deserves.
In fact, programs to fight hunger and poverty in Yemen are often drastically underfunded. The World Food Programme and UNICEF are both short on funding for their relief missions in the country. Children in Yemen go hungry, suffer malnutrition and lose educational opportunities. Families lose hope for getting out of poverty. Such conditions are never a recipe for peace. The same holds true in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Americans want to see an effective, comprehensive strategy for defeating extremist elements in Yemen and other countries. Americans know not one single action will do this. But if we keep ignoring the cries of hunger and desperation that come from these countries, there will not be a peaceful outcome. Never underestimate the effect of fighting hunger and poverty and giving a population hope.