Top U.S. Marine Amos on Yemen: ‘I Don’t Know How It’s Going to Turn Out’
In an exclusive interview, Marine Corps Gen. James Amos said he is concerned Yemen is becoming 'a breeding ground' for al Qaeda -- and he doesn’t know what to expect next. By Stephanie Gaskell
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos is “concerned” about al Qaeda in Yemen, where the government says it just foiled a plot by al Qaeda to blow up ports and oil pipelines and capture several key cities in a bid to gain a new foothold there. But with more than a dozen U.S. embassies and consulates still closed worldwide in response to the threat, the nation’s top Marine officer said he does not know what to expect next from al Qaeda, warning the international community to pay close attention to Yemen.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen there and I don’t know what the next – you know, if you could move the book forward a couple chapters – I don’t know what it’s going to look like,” said Amos, in an exclusive interview with Defense One in his Pentagon office.
The intercepted threat prompted the Obama administration to shut down 20 U.S. embassies and diplomatic posts, including in the capital Saan’a, from Africa to South Asia. Military leaders are on edge as the violence in Yemen grows, watching to see if al Qaeda really is on the run or on its back heels, as many top officials at the Pentagon have been claiming.
This new plot, however, has Amos worried about what the future holds for this small but strategic nation that sits on the Gulf of Aden, where al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has set up its headquarters. And, despite some good intelligence and a strong partnership with the Yemini military, he’s still not sure how it all will turn out.
“I worry that it becomes, to some degree, a breeding ground for al Qaeda,” Amos said on Wednesday. “I think that internationally probably most of the westernized countries in the world should be paying very close attention to what’s happening with AQAP. So, I am concerned about that the same way I think all our nations are. I don’t know how it’s going to turn out, it’s hard to say.”
Amos said Yemen could become like the rugged border mountains of Afghanistan were in 2001, where Osama bin Laden found a place to rally his supporters and plan the Sept. 11 attacks.
“I mean, it’s a strategic part of the world and by virtue of the fact that a large percentage, or some percentage, of the bad guys have migrated there and are trying to get a foothold, it’s in our interest to pay close attention,” he said.
Amos said al Qaeda is fractured but trying desperately to reorganize itself while Yemen continues to try to fight an influx of fighters within its borders with the help of targeted U.S. drone strikes. His comment came as the Daily Beast first reported that 20 of the top al Qaeda leaders orchestrated a conference call to plot their attacks in Yemen. They clearly want a new stomping ground, and Yemen fits that bill.
Amos said the U.S. military is doing what it can to try to contain al Qaeda’s presence in Yemen and in the region, citing the recent French military intervention in Mali as an example of how to successfully achieve that.
“When the French went into Mali, they went into Mali for many of the same reasons. They’re concerned about al Qaeda in that part of the world and so they took it upon themselves to try to help a small, beleaguered country that kind of regained its borders and regained its sense of security. So I think there are other places around the world besides Yemen, but Yemen is in the headlines right now,” Amos said. “It’s a dangerous place.”