Wikileaks: a tragi-comedy in Sanaa

A batch of US embassy cables relating to Yemen emerged yesterday, courtesy of Wikileaks. I have linked them below, in chronological order. The New York Times has a commentary on them here, as does the Guardian (here and here).

The content isn't earth-shattering but it does provide some valuable insight into US-Yemeni relations. 

The Americans clearly find President Salih difficult to do business with (who doesn't?), though at times he's presented almost as a comic character – a self-important dictator who is preoccupied with angling for an invite to meet Obama in Washington and getting $11 million for a state-of-the-art "extremist rehabilitation facility" while his country falls to pieces.

The Americans, meanwhile, have been trying to persuade the Yemeni military to get rid of their shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles (MANPADS), lest they fall into the wrong hands and are used by al-Qaeda to shoot down Salih's plane. Despite the apparent threat to the president's life, the military seem reluctant to disclose how many they have.

One interesting revelation, from a Riyadh embassy cable, is that the Saudis are eavesdropping on phone conversations in Yemen:

In this light, the recent attack against al-Qaida in Yemen "was very positive." Prince Mohammed noted that the Saudis have been monitoring conversations of Al-Qaida operatives in Yemen very closely, and whereas before the attack they were hearing relaxed 20-minute phone conversations over cell phones, after the attack the phones went virtually silent. This suggests that at least for now these operatives are more focused on their own security rather than on planning operations.

The documents

23 March 2009: Yemen president tells US to keep its Guantánamo detainees

31 May 2009: Yemen president says foreign forces are wrecking his country

4 August 2009: America warns of security lapses in Yemen cargo screening over a year before printer bombs

15 September 2009: Bomb al-Qaida where you want, Yemen tells US, but don't blame us if they strike again

21 December 2009: Yemen trumpets strikes on al-Qaida that were Americans' work

4 January 2010: Yemeni president Saleh rejects US ground presence

19 January 2010: Saudis praise American strike against al-Qaida in Yemen

3 February 2010: US offers to help boost security at Yemen airports

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 4 Dec 2010