The Last Refuge: Yemen, al-Qaeda, and America's War in Arabia

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Overview

A gripping account of how al-Qaeda in Yemen rebounded from an initial defeat to once again threaten the United States.
Far from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States and al-Qaeda are fighting a clandestine war of drones and suicide bombers in an unforgiving corner of Arabia.The Last Refuge charts the rise, fall, and resurrection of al-Qaeda in Yemen over the last thirty years, detailing how a group that the United States once defeated has now become one of ...

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The Last Refuge: Yemen, al-Qaeda, and America's War in Arabia

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Overview

A gripping account of how al-Qaeda in Yemen rebounded from an initial defeat to once again threaten the United States.
Far from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States and al-Qaeda are fighting a clandestine war of drones and suicide bombers in an unforgiving corner of Arabia.The Last Refuge charts the rise, fall, and resurrection of al-Qaeda in Yemen over the last thirty years, detailing how a group that the United States once defeated has now become one of the world’s most dangerous threats. An expert on Yemen who has spent years on the ground there, Gregory D. Johnsen uses al-Qaeda’s Arabic battle notes to reconstruct their world as they take aim at the United States and its allies. Johnsen brings readers in-side al-Qaeda’s training camps and safe houses as the terrorists plot poison attacks and debate how to bring down an airliner on Christmas Day. The Last Refuge is an eye-opening look at the successes and failures of fighting a new type of war in one of the most turbulent countries in the world.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
As the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden and many high-level al-Qaeda operatives, Yemen has long held a powerful appeal for jihadis: its remote and unforgiving terrain, weak central government, and shifting tribal rivalries make it more like outlaw-friendly Afghanistan than any other Arab country. Johnsen, a former Yemen-based Fulbright fellow, has produced the first comprehensive history of the al-Qaeda movement there: an engrossing account of the operations, personalities, and motivations that have caused the United States such headaches. Drawing upon both American sources and documents captured from insurgents, he offers a sophisticated look at complex phenomena, even though his knowledge of al-Qaeda's inner workings tends to be limited and speculative. Although the background of tribal politics and Wahhabi religious institutions that made Yemen a terrorist nerve center is largely eschewed in favor of the details of drone attacks and suicide bombings, Johnsen exposes the frequent missteps of both the insurgents and American authorities, including errors that caused the CIA to waste years tracking down con men and fraudsters. The story ends ambiguously. Today, the movement's leadership is in disarray, but in the chaos of Yemen's civil war, al-Qaeda fighters have established hegemony over significant regions of the country, potentially ready to pose further problems. Agent: Rick Broadhead at, Rick Broadhead & Associates. (Nov.)
Daily Beast
Gregory Johnsen has written the best new book on al Qaeda in 2012 and the best book on Yemen in years.... The Last Refuge: Yemen, Al Qaeda and America’s War in Arabia is a detailed narrative account of the development of [Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula]. It is also a great read...— Bruce Riedel
The New York Review of Books
The Last Refuge is an authoritative and deftly written account of al-Qaeda’s Yemeni incarnation. The book is dense with terrorist genealogies, but it also offers a lively portrait of the American government’s stumbling efforts to understand and influence a profoundly alien culture. His account, starting in the 1980s, implicitly places Yemen near the center of the global jihadi movement; it may not be where al-Qaeda started, but it has always furnished many of the movement’s foot soldiers, and it has now succeeded Afghanistan as the US government’s most urgent concern about counterterrorism.— Robert R. Worth
Booklist
“Gripping and insightful.”
The Washington Monthly
Part modern history, part explanatory narrative… Johnson moves deftly between decades, continents and languages.... The Last Refuge is a cogent insight into what the U.S. has done in the past twenty-five years—a bird’s-eye-view on those successes and failures, in all their shades of horrid gray...— Haley Sweetland Edwards
Jeremy Scahill
“Gregory Johnsen has written a break-through book on one of the most under-reported and misunderstood stories of the post 9-11 era. Penned in gripping prose and with incredible attention to detail, The Last Refuge unfolds with the pace of an action novel. But this story is all too true. If we ignore the widening covert war in Yemen and fail to learn from its complicated history, we do so at our own peril. Years from now, Johnsen will be seen as one of the few who got it right.”
Peter L. Bergen
“Gregory Johnsen, an authority on Yemen and jihadist extremists, has delivered in The Last Refuge a wonderfully well written and deeply reported account of the only al-Qaeda affiliate that continues to pose a real threat to the West.”
Ali H. Soufan
“The Last Refuge offers a valuable look at al-Qaeda’s operational history in Yemen. Gregory Johnsen has done us all a service by explaining the country, the threats, and why we should pay attention.”
Bruce Riedel - Daily Beast
“Gregory Johnsen has written the best new book on al Qaeda in 2012 and the best book on Yemen in years.... The Last Refuge: Yemen, Al Qaeda and America’s War in Arabia is a detailed narrative account of the development of [Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula]. It is also a great read...”
Robert R. Worth - The New York Review of Books
“The Last Refuge is an authoritative and deftly written account of al-Qaeda’s Yemeni incarnation. The book is dense with terrorist genealogies, but it also offers a lively portrait of the American government’s stumbling efforts to understand and influence a profoundly alien culture. His account, starting in the 1980s, implicitly places Yemen near the center of the global jihadi movement; it may not be where al-Qaeda started, but it has always furnished many of the movement’s foot soldiers, and it has now succeeded Afghanistan as the US government’s most urgent concern about counterterrorism.”
Haley Sweetland Edwards - The Washington Monthly
“Part modern history, part explanatory narrative… Johnson moves deftly between decades, continents and languages.... The Last Refuge is a cogent insight into what the U.S. has done in the past twenty-five years—a bird’s-eye-view on those successes and failures, in all their shades of horrid gray...”
Kirkus Reviews
The first book-length treatment in English of al-Qaida's operations in Yemen. As increasingly more of the Middle East descends into chaos, the situation in Yemen has never been more pertinent. Johnsen, who has lived in and studied the country for years, posits that it represents the single most important battleground in the war between the West and Islamist militants. In a staccato page turner liberally peppered with bursts of gunfire and splatters of blood, he details the organizational structure of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and the spy-vs.-spy intrigues that have plagued the nation for three decades. Johnsen delves into the personal lives and motivations of al-Qaida commanders and foot soldiers and incorporates troves of documents recovered from insurgent hideouts, but he necessarily gives way at the margins to speculation and creative reconstruction. Bearing more resemblance to a John le Carré potboiler than a political or historical primer, the book includes pages of operational details of plots hatched both by the militants and the intelligence agents working to capture them. Johnsen includes little of what could be considered deep background--analysis of the social, political and religious factors that have made Yemen such a hospitable home base for jihadists. In the end, neither side comes out looking especially impressive, and the plotlines of many misadventures could have been lifted from an episode of the Keystone Kops. An entertaining, if a bit fluffy primer on the hold of terrorism in the more desolate reaches of the Middle East.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393082425
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 11/19/2012
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 774,245
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Gregory D. Johnsen, a former Fulbright Fellow in Yemen, is a PhD candidate at Princeton University and the Michael Hastings National Security Fellow at BuzzFeed. A frequent guest on NPR, he has contributed essays to the New York Times. He lives in Ithaca, New York.

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Table of Contents

Map of Yemen ix

Prologue xi

I Rise and Fall

1 A Far-Off Land 3

2 The Next Afghanistan 19

3 The Dogs of War 35

4 Faith and Wisdom 48

5 The Southern Job 65

6 Allies 81

7 A New War 93

8 Attrition 107

9 Victory 119

II Forgetting

10 Rehab 135

11 A Revolt in the North 148

12 Prison Cells 160

13 Policy Shift 176

III The Next Generation

14 The Great Escape 191

15 Resurrecting al-Qaeda 206

16 Echoes of Battles 220

17 The Merger 235

18 Targets 251

19 Out of the Shadows 269

Principal Characters 289

Acknowledgments 295

Note on Sources and Transliteration 301

Notes 303

Index 333

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 1, 2013

    hannah

    She leaned on you

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    Posted May 1, 2013

    Dan

    *flops on couch as well

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