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Uncertain Political and Security Situation Challenges U.S. Efforts to Implement a Comprehensive Strategy in Yemen

GAO-12-432R Published: Feb 29, 2012. Publicly Released: Feb 29, 2012.
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What GAO Found

According to senior State officials, the overarching U.S. policy goal in Yemen is to create a stable and secure state. To achieve that goal, the U.S. assistance strategy has for years included both a security element focused on counterterrorism activities and a civilian element focused on development activities. In 2009, in response to the increasing economic, social, and political challenges facing Yemen, the U.S. government undertook a comprehensive review of its policy toward Yemen. This review led to a whole-of-government strategy that still includes both security and civilian assistance, but that, according to U.S. officials, is more integrated than in prior years. The strategy seeks to simultaneously address security needs as well as the underlying economic, social, and political grievances that can lead to violent extremism. U.S. officials told us that assistance activities under this strategy have had to adjust to the changing security situation on the ground. Further, officials told us they have recently begun reviewing the strategy itself in light of the political changes under way in Yemen.

Since fiscal year 2007, U.S. agencies have allocated more than $642 million in security and civilian assistance to Yemen. Specifically, DOD, State, and USAID have allocated approximately $326 million for security assistance and more than $316 million for civilian assistance. Allocations reached their peak in fiscal year 2010, after a failed bomb attack on a U.S.-bound airline by a Yemeni-trained Nigerian citizen in December 2009. In fiscal year 2011, however, allocations declined sharply due primarily to the political turmoil in Yemen and the difficulty of implementing training and equipping programs in such an environment, according to U.S. officials.

Why GAO Did This Study

Yemen is an important U.S. partner in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism. According to U.S. officials, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)—which is based in Yemen—is one of the top national security threats facing the United States. AQAP has shown the intent and capability to carry out attacks against U.S. targets both in Yemen and in the United States, including the September 2008 bombing of the U.S. embassy in the Yemen capital, Sanaa, and the failed attempts to blow up a U.S.-bound airplane in December 2009 and to send packages containing explosives on two separate airplanes bound for the United States in October 2010. Further, Yemen faces severe economic and social challenges, such as escalating unemployment at a time when over half of the population is under 18 years old. These challenges have not only made the country internally unstable, they have also created an attractive environment for recruiting militants. As a result, in recent years, U.S policymakers have dedicated greater attention and resources to addressing threats emanating from Yemen.

Recognizing both the variety of threats emanating from Yemen, as well as the significant increase in U.S. assistance to Yemen, a Senate report directed the Comptroller General to, among other things, review this assistance. This report describes (1) U.S. strategies and activities for assistance to Yemen and (2) the amounts and types of assistance that the U.S. government has provided to Yemen since fiscal year 2007. This description does not include information related to any covert activities that the United States may fund in Yemen. To address these objectives, we analyzed budget and financial data from the Department of State (State), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Department of Defense (DOD), which have provided the vast majority of U.S. assistance to Yemen. In addition, we reviewed governmentwide and agency-specific documents related to assistance to Yemen and interviewed relevant officials from each agency. Enclosure I contains additional information on our scope and methodology.

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Embassy securityCounterterrorismDevelopment assistanceExpenditure of fundsLaw enforcementPublic officialsNarcoticsForeign military financingTerroristsBorder control