Yemen's President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi warned in an
interview Saturday that his country, still reeling from the popular uprising
that ousted his predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh, risks a descent into a civil
war "worse than Afghanistan" should an upcoming months-long national dialogue
fail to resolve the Arab Gulf state's deep political and societal rifts.
In the interview, conducted through his translator and arranged
and also conducted by top editors and reporters from the Washington Post, Hadi praised what he described as "excellent"
counterterrorism cooperation with the United States and confirmed that he
personally signs off on all drone strikes conducted by his American ally.
Repeating the public
comments he made Friday at Washington's Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Hadi, dressed in a blue suit and fingering a set of glass prayer beads, marveled
at the precision of drone technology, describing it as "more advanced than the
human brain." He said that Yemen and its primary counterterrorism partners -- the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Oman -- were taking steps to avoid past
"mistakes," an apparent allusion to airstrikes that in some cases have killed
He described visiting the jointly run center where the drone strikes are conducted and said that one could see the operations unfolding "step by step."
Hadi said that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula had reached
the "beginning of the end" of its campaign a terror, a surge that saw the ambitious
local branch of the global terrorist group take advantage of last year's
security vacuum to seize major areas of Abyan and Shabwa provinces.
The Yemeni military recently drove
AQAP out of its strongholds in the towns of Jaar and Zinjibar, but thousands of
refugees remain in the port city of Aden, many of them living in schools
because their homes have been destroyed, Hadi said.
"The first victims of al Qaeda are the Yemenis," he said,
noting the security situation's impact on the country's oil and tourism
He acknowledged that reconstruction efforts were proceeding
slowly in the retaken areas, but vowed that al Qaeda would not be allowed to
return. Many of the group's foreign fighters had fled to African countries such
as Mali and Mauritania, he said, or to the mountains.
Hadi received fresh pledges of roughly $1.5 billion in
financial assistance during this week's "Friends of Yemen" meeting in New York,
bringing the total promised international funds to nearly $8 billion. But it's
not clear how much of that money will be available for reconstruction, or how
Hadi's interview came on the heels of meetings with top U.S.
officials, including White House counterterrorism advisor John Brennan, Vice
President Joe Biden, Department of Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano,
and - briefly -- the president, a spokesman for the Yemeni embassy said. He
also planned to meet with Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.
In the roughly 45-minute interview, Hadi offered few details
about how he would confront what he described as a triple crisis facing Yemen
-- economic, security, and political -- but seemed especially seized by the national
dialogue, set to begin in November, and by the country's endemic employment
Six hundred thousand Yemeni university graduates have been
waiting for a job for 10 years, he said.
The civil war that could result from the dialogue's failure,
he warned, would endanger navigation routes in the Gulf of Aden and therefore
pose a threat to regional and global security.
He also said that Yemen was facing "three undeclared wars" conducted
by al Qaeda, pirates in the Gulf of Aden, and Houthi rebels in the north, and
that Iran was supporting these adversaries "indirectly," but did not offer
details of that support.