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

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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' 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 inside 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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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' 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 inside 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.

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

  1. 5 out of 5

    J.M.

    The history of Al Qaeda has a prismatic quality, taking on a different color depending on the angle from which you examine it. Gregory Johnsen's TheLast Refuge: Yemen, al-Qaeda, and America's War in Arabia brings a shockingly fresh perspective to the story, examining the terrorist organization through its tortured relationship with Yemen. Starting with the jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan, Johnsen puts on a masterful show of storytelling as he unravels the twin stories of Yemeni involvemen The history of Al Qaeda has a prismatic quality, taking on a different color depending on the angle from which you examine it. Gregory Johnsen's TheLast Refuge: Yemen, al-Qaeda, and America's War in Arabia brings a shockingly fresh perspective to the story, examining the terrorist organization through its tortured relationship with Yemen. Starting with the jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan, Johnsen puts on a masterful show of storytelling as he unravels the twin stories of Yemeni involvement in Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda's impact on Yemen. Johnsen is a former Fulbright fellow and current doctoral candidate at Princeton, but this is no dry academic read. From its first pages, The Last Refuge unfolds like a novel, effortlessly guiding readers through a thicket of complex situations and unfamiliar characters, bringing their stories to life. In this respect, it compares favorably to Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower, and the books also complement each other in terms of content. Wright offers the broadest picture of Al Qaeda's early history and formation, while Johnsen tells the story as it was seen by Yemenis. The perspectives are so different that you could easily read the books back to back without fear of repetition. Much of this story will be new to readers, even those with a previous interest in Al Qaeda. Johnsen draws extensively on Arabic language sources, including media reports and jihadi writings, as well as his own field work in Yemen. His time on the ground shows in an abundance of rich and evocative detail rarely associated with books on terrorism. The author breathes life into key figures such as Tarik al-Fadli, who fought alongside Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, and Nasir al-Wihayshi, bin Laden's former personal secretary and the leader of Al Qaeda's current incarnation in Yemen, as well as a host of supporting characters. The result is a rich narrative and a compelling portrait not only of the jihadist current in Yemen, but of the rise and the beginning of the fall of Yemen's president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose challenging and contradictory personality jumps off the page at times. But unlike the fiction genre from which Johnsen clearly draws literary inspiration, The Last Refuge begins to lose steam just as events build toward a climax. There are obvious challenges in writing a history of events as they happen, but The Last Refuge hits the fast-forward button in the late 2000s and doesn't release it until the book concludes. This is particularly disappointing for those who follow Johnsen's work. The author is well known for his vocal and substantive critiques of conventional wisdom regarding U.S. policies toward Yemen, including the counterterrorism focus on Yemeni-American cleric Anwar Awlaki and the potentially counterproductive tactic of aggressive missile and drone strikes inside the country. But these subjects get the shortest of shrift in the book's penultimate chapters. The author offers little color on Awlaki, especially in comparison to the lavish characterizations and backstories he provides for other AQAP figures. This may be informed by his belief that Awlaki's importance in AQAP has been overstated, but he doesn't make that case or attempt to clarify what Awlaki's actual role might have been. While this topic is plagued by conflicting and incomplete information, there's ample source material to paint a compelling portrait of Awlaki's personality and at least sketch a qualified outline of his significance, or lack thereof. Similarly, Johnsen skimps on the issue of U.S. airstrikes against Yemeni targets, some of which are cataloged but not substantially contextualized. The author's other work makes clear his strong opinions about how air strikes may be counterproductive, contributing to anti-American sentiment disproportionate to their strategic advantage. The Last Refuge does little to convey how passionately Johnsen cares about this issue, belying the subtitle's focus on "America's War in Arabia." The breakneck pace of recent developments clearly collided with the unavoidable time frame for publication. Saleh's departure, for instance, occurs after the end of the book’s timeline, as do most of Al Qaeda's interesting attempts at governance. Although publication schedules are understandable from a writer’s perspective, for readers the final act simply can't live up to the robust storytelling of earlier chapters, despite the inherent, escalating drama of events. Aggravating the lightness of the closing pages is the book's abrupt end. While Johnsen the storyteller shines through most of the book, Johnsen the analyst never makes an appearance, not even at the conclusion, where some context and guidance would be very welcome. There are no summations or recommendations, and the book presents no road map to the complicated lessons that might be learned. Despite these shortcomings, The Last Refuge is undoubtedly a definitive history of the formation and development of Al Qaeda in Yemen. As such, its value is indisputable, and as a work of literature, it's a startlingly elegant debut. I highly recommend it on both counts. Readers may find themselves wanting more -- especially those who work in terrorism-related fields. But the quality and importance of this first book make it clear we'll hear more from the author in the future. If The Last Refuge is any indication, it will be worth the wait.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ed

    The history of terrorism in Yemen and the limits of U.S. foreign policy in distant, unfriendly lands are the twin subjects of Gregory Johnsen’s excellent book. He is one of the most knowledgeable people in the West on Yemen, having lived, studied and worked there for years and is currently finishing his Ph.D. in Near East Studies at Princeton. Johnsen wears his learning lightly—he seems to know the history and current affiliation of every tribe, ethnic group and political operation in the desert The history of terrorism in Yemen and the limits of U.S. foreign policy in distant, unfriendly lands are the twin subjects of Gregory Johnsen’s excellent book. He is one of the most knowledgeable people in the West on Yemen, having lived, studied and worked there for years and is currently finishing his Ph.D. in Near East Studies at Princeton. Johnsen wears his learning lightly—he seems to know the history and current affiliation of every tribe, ethnic group and political operation in the desert nation but “The Last Refuge” is written for the general reader. Johnsen is a careful stylist but his language is exciting and he paints a vivid picture of how Al Qaeda has affected Yemen and how the people, culture and landscape of Yemen have affected Al Qaeda. Ali Abdullah Salih ruled (or tried to rule) for over 30 years although the government of Yemen never controlled the entire country and often only held sway over Sana’a and the area immediately around the capital. He thought it would be a good idea to send young men to Afghanistan for jihad and then begin using them against his only real opposition, the Socialist Party. He realized too late that while setting a process in motion may seem easy, controlling it or even influencing its direction can become impossible. Many young men left as idealistic defenders of Islam against invasion from infidels and returned as hardened Al Qaeda operatives, experienced in combat and unwilling to live under Salih’s kleptocratic regime. And so these returning veterans created Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Salih was happy to allow U. S. counterinsurgency operations against AQAP but since they consisted solely using drones to kill those suspected of being ranking members of AQAP they were bound to be unsuccessful. The missiles fired by the drones sometime killed tribal or political enemies of the government of Yemen instead of their putative targets and more importantly, killed many Yemenis with no ties to Al Qaeda. Thus was a poorly coordinated rebellion turned into a large scale insurgency. Events caught up with Johnsen—the Salih regime fell shortly after he finished the book but recent events in Yemen including the Houthi occupation of Sana’a and the collapse of the government that followed Salih shows the impossibility of accounting for everything with such a fast changing and unpredictable set of actors. Highly recommended as a detailed history and analysis of the growth of terrorism in Yemen and the U.S. response to it.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Mark Hertling

    Tremendous insight and mesmerizing detail on the history, culture and politics of Yemen and how Al Qaida was spawned from and still affects the region. Masterfully researched, brilliantly written, and extremely insightful. Connects the dots of the history of AQAP.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jerome

    In his remarkable book, Greg Johnsen has managed to crawl inside Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and provide us insights into personalities, ideology, organization, strengths and weaknesses. Johnsen also treats fairly Saleh's and the U.S.' waxing and waning efforts against Al Qaeda and usefully explains the complexities of the Al Huthi rebellion and southern secession. Given his past criticism of narrowly focused counter-terrorism -- no magic missiles -- it is a bit ironic that he himse In his remarkable book, Greg Johnsen has managed to crawl inside Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and provide us insights into personalities, ideology, organization, strengths and weaknesses. Johnsen also treats fairly Saleh's and the U.S.' waxing and waning efforts against Al Qaeda and usefully explains the complexities of the Al Huthi rebellion and southern secession. Given his past criticism of narrowly focused counter-terrorism -- no magic missiles -- it is a bit ironic that he himself says little about efforts toward political and economic development. Clearly AQAP prioritizes it -- e.g. its efforts to bring Taliban-like justice to Jaar. A critical assessment of John Brennan's broad aspirational strategy would have been welcome, but perhaps that's volume 2. 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. Johnsen also details several fascinating and previously unheard-of operations in Yemen. We all know about the drone strikes by UAVs in the region, but I'd never heard of the various strikes by US warships and jets. Also new to me was the killing of Fahd al-Quso, the character we met in Lawrence Wright's "The Looming Tower." In all, a well-written and panoramic history of al-Qaeda's effort to utilize Yemen as a sanctuary and base of operations, and US and Yemeni efforts to deny them this sanctuary.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Molly Gum

    Excellent primer on Yemen's political history over the past three decades. Well researched and strictly objective, this book makes no attempt to inject interpretation or analysis of the reported events. Having little background knowledge on this subject I would have liked more critical analysis and commentary, especially since Gregory D. Johnsen, given the extensive amount of time he's spent living in and reporting on Yemen, is arguably one of today's most authoritative Western voices on the reg Excellent primer on Yemen's political history over the past three decades. Well researched and strictly objective, this book makes no attempt to inject interpretation or analysis of the reported events. Having little background knowledge on this subject I would have liked more critical analysis and commentary, especially since Gregory D. Johnsen, given the extensive amount of time he's spent living in and reporting on Yemen, is arguably one of today's most authoritative Western voices on the region. There were far too many names to keep track of, but Johnsen included a list at the back of the book for easy reference. An excellent read. I hope he publishes another book in the near future that covers the latest developments.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    Johnsen's done a lot of work telling the story of Drones, al-Qaeda and America's War on Terror in the Arabian peninsula. It's an easy read (stylistically) but difficult in content as it will challenge many Americans' ideas regarding our nation's actions abroad. NPR recently interviewed Johnsen. If you're not going to read the book, I'd suggest at least listening to the interview. It's important stuff. Johnsen's done a lot of work telling the story of Drones, al-Qaeda and America's War on Terror in the Arabian peninsula. It's an easy read (stylistically) but difficult in content as it will challenge many Americans' ideas regarding our nation's actions abroad. NPR recently interviewed Johnsen. If you're not going to read the book, I'd suggest at least listening to the interview. It's important stuff.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    An excellent book that provides an eminently readable narrative on Yemen, a country we should all know more about, and Al Qaeda's history there. An excellent book that provides an eminently readable narrative on Yemen, a country we should all know more about, and Al Qaeda's history there.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Tariq Mahmood

    Is it as easy as a 19 minute jihadist video made in Yemen,to influence American policy (like shutting Guantanamo bay) thousands of miles away in the White House? Sounds like beggars belief to me. The more likely scenario surly is that someone who never wanted the closure of Guantanamo bay orchestrated the making of the video to force the hand of Obama or am I just another nutty Muslim prone to conspiracy theories? If the Pakistani government stands accused of not managing its own Intelligence Se Is it as easy as a 19 minute jihadist video made in Yemen,to influence American policy (like shutting Guantanamo bay) thousands of miles away in the White House? Sounds like beggars belief to me. The more likely scenario surly is that someone who never wanted the closure of Guantanamo bay orchestrated the making of the video to force the hand of Obama or am I just another nutty Muslim prone to conspiracy theories? If the Pakistani government stands accused of not managing its own Intelligence Service than surly the mighty US government is also vulnerable to a similar ailment with own CIA? That was my initial impression when reading the prologue to this book before undergoing a detailed set of events which pretty clearly explains the nature of Al-Qaida in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Osama was Yemeni and wanted desperately to make Yemen Al Qaida's base of operations. The chronology of events is presented like the format of a flowing story which makes it very readable. I must confess I was convinced by the end of the book that Al-Qaida is a real threat and not a mere passing fascination as portrayed by media in Pakistan and most of Middle East. Therefore the almost full marks accorded to this brilliant longish article of a book, which resembles a blog in form. The only bit missing was the abrupt end to the book without the author's concluding remarks. Then there was the casual mention of ex-volunteers turned intelligence officials in the book. I was never able to fully understand the utter dislike for 'peaceful' initiatives like polio drop vaccination and the deployment of Peace Corps among majority Pakistanis. This book provides at least one example of a peace corp volunteer turn into diplomat, into intelligence officer before evolving into head of clandestine operation in Yemen. Do I need any more evidence still? The story of Yemen is a familiar one, a powerful monarch partners a fundamentalist Islamic militant sect to crush its enemy before turning over its guns on its former partner. It happened in Saudi Arabia, Lawrence of Arabia orchestrated another version for the Allies, Pakistani/Arabs did a version in Afghanistan and now a repeat version in Yemen. How many more iterations will we witness before we learn from the past?

  9. 5 out of 5

    David

    If this book were a film it would fall into the action/adventure/political thriller category. Johnson has interesting stories to tell and keeps the narrative moving at a brisk pace. The names got to be a handful but the author helpfully provided useful refreshers when reintroducing the many characters. In general I thought the book did a nice job of informing the reader about the motivations of the lead actors. (I thought “The Looming Tower” (by Lawrence Wright) gave a much more comprehensive bac If this book were a film it would fall into the action/adventure/political thriller category. Johnson has interesting stories to tell and keeps the narrative moving at a brisk pace. The names got to be a handful but the author helpfully provided useful refreshers when reintroducing the many characters. In general I thought the book did a nice job of informing the reader about the motivations of the lead actors. (I thought “The Looming Tower” (by Lawrence Wright) gave a much more comprehensive background but this book moved at a quicker pace and also has lots of interesting information about AQAP which was in its earliest form when The Looming Tower was published.) The background on Yemen was also informative and concise. If the subject matter interests you this book is worth reading.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Alex Linschoten

    Great for those coming to the topic from scratch. Johnsen draws together a variety of strands together to tell the history of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or AQAP, with a specific focus on its actions in Yemen. I found the sourcing convention (no footnotes, but most things referenced at the back) a bit frustrating, but that's probably just me. For everyone else, this is an excellent (if dated by a few years, now) primer on religiously-inspired militancy in Yemen. Great for those coming to the topic from scratch. Johnsen draws together a variety of strands together to tell the history of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or AQAP, with a specific focus on its actions in Yemen. I found the sourcing convention (no footnotes, but most things referenced at the back) a bit frustrating, but that's probably just me. For everyone else, this is an excellent (if dated by a few years, now) primer on religiously-inspired militancy in Yemen.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Stevenson

    A great summary of the evolution of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, its successes and failures, and US efforts to control or eradicate it. Johnsen writes in a very compelling, action packed style.

  12. 5 out of 5

    James

    A very interesting book, for the last 4 years I was unhappy that Obama reneged on his promise to close Guantanamo, after reading this book, I think they should keep those idiots locked up forever.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Coleman

    Great primer on Yemen through the 80s + 90s, including the civil war. Particularly appreciated the background on the 1990 unification, the players involved, and how those internal conflicts play into today's situation there. Great read if you're interested in Middle East history. Great primer on Yemen through the 80s + 90s, including the civil war. Particularly appreciated the background on the 1990 unification, the players involved, and how those internal conflicts play into today's situation there. Great read if you're interested in Middle East history.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Aaron Shields

    Probably a 4.5. Painted a great picture of not on only the rise of AQAP in Yemen but great insight into US relations in the region the last 20 years. Very insightful and well worth the read.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mturner

    Very interesting book on Yemen and its role in the growth of al-Qaeda and eventually ISIS. It was sometimes hard to follow all the people - they overlapped a lot - and it took me a while to finish, but it was absolutely enlightening to start to understand how al-Qaeda evolved and what the west did to make it worse.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    A great overview and almost novel-like approach to explaining the rise and continuing presence of Al-Qaeda.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Lindsay

    A great starting point for looking at al-Qaida in Yemen and the formation of AQAP.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin Ables

    Gregory Johnsen’s “The Last Refuge” presents a thorough but flowing examination of al-Qaeda in Yemen, from the group’s formation and early operations to current status, capabilities, and members-at-large. It is a both insightful and balanced account. While certainly a stretch to say that this book will evoke feelings of empathy, especially among westerners, after reading it one cannot help but to develop a certain understanding behind the appeal such radical groups have on their members. Yemen of Gregory Johnsen’s “The Last Refuge” presents a thorough but flowing examination of al-Qaeda in Yemen, from the group’s formation and early operations to current status, capabilities, and members-at-large. It is a both insightful and balanced account. While certainly a stretch to say that this book will evoke feelings of empathy, especially among westerners, after reading it one cannot help but to develop a certain understanding behind the appeal such radical groups have on their members. Yemen of the past three decades is replete with examples of history repeating itself. The 1994 civil war between the nationalist north headed by President Ali Abdullah Salih against the socialist south carried with it shades of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and likewise served as a call to arms for bin Laden’s nascent al-Qaeda. In a sense, Yemen was a natural and much closer extension of the conflict in Afghanistan. Salih’s refusal to adopt an Islamic government following his victory over the socialists, and bin Laden’s proclamation declaring America to be enemy number one, pitted the former allies against each other. In what has become an all too common narrative, the despotic Salih found support in multiple American administrations that, in their ongoing battle against terrorism, were all too willing to overlook hard handed tactics and poor governance that yielded tangible results. I believe that this is the underlying and ever present theme of “The Last Refuge”. We must understand that for every action we take, there will be consequences, often unforeseen and many years in the making. Rendition, drone strikes, and diplomatic ties to autocrats are three such courses of action in Yemen, that, while sound in the short run, have resulted in a long term strategic nightmare for America. Undoubtedly Yemen will maintain a pivotal role in the United States’ ongoing battle against terrorism in the years to come. The country’s mountainous geography, where tribes still boast a perceptible degree of autonomy, and porous borders provide a natural refuge for al-Qaeda. The organization has proven itself to be both resilient and capable of regrouping even when it looked to be on the ropes. Additionally, as the fight against terrorism continues with no end in sight, support for American policy abroad will continue to erode, and once pliable governments, suffering from their own domestic backlash, will no longer accept American intervention. “The Last Refuge” is an excellent read. I would recommend it to anyone looking to develop a better understanding of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) as well as terrorism in general.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Velma

    This book is an elaborate account of al-Qaeda's shift from merely addressing domestic struggle to battlling intl politics; and it is nicely done. The intertwining relation between domestic politics and universal ideal is a retrospective as well as an ongoing account of the political turbulence in middle eastern countries. The struggle narrates a story that contests the domestic political power, which is inadequate to the globalization of economic and social relation. It is also a truthful accoun This book is an elaborate account of al-Qaeda's shift from merely addressing domestic struggle to battlling intl politics; and it is nicely done. The intertwining relation between domestic politics and universal ideal is a retrospective as well as an ongoing account of the political turbulence in middle eastern countries. The struggle narrates a story that contests the domestic political power, which is inadequate to the globalization of economic and social relation. It is also a truthful account of the international juridical source that fails to support a new order, so that it couldn't avoid the impending descent into global disorder. This book has a story that it doesn't tell: a story about the imperial order that we live in and try to grasp. It hints the inadequacy of the supranational form of order and the harmful consequences of neglecting the variety of state subjects in the current discourse of a global state/society.

  20. 4 out of 5

    John Findlay

    For anyone wanting to follow the history of Al-Qaeda, this is a very informative book. Prior to reading it, I had no idea what a prominent role the country of Yemen played in the life of the terrorist organization. Unfortunately, my unfamiliarity with the names, and their similarity, made it difficult to keep the major contributors straight. But the author does a wonderful job of capturing the way of life in Yemen, and the turmoil between various groups. It also pointed out to me that drone atta For anyone wanting to follow the history of Al-Qaeda, this is a very informative book. Prior to reading it, I had no idea what a prominent role the country of Yemen played in the life of the terrorist organization. Unfortunately, my unfamiliarity with the names, and their similarity, made it difficult to keep the major contributors straight. But the author does a wonderful job of capturing the way of life in Yemen, and the turmoil between various groups. It also pointed out to me that drone attacks by the US, in which many civilians are killed, serve as a recruiting tool for Al-Qaeda. And the US presence on the Saudi peninsula also riles up the people and leads to more Al-Qaeda members. Certainly the Muslim terrorist organizations are a very significant challenge that must be dealt with strategically.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Griffiths

    this was a fascinating account of the recent history of Yemen and specifically that countries role in the growth of the wider Al Qaeda movement and also the Arabian Peninsula peninsula version. Whilst the roles of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Afghanistan in harbouring the movement are all fairly widely known the central role Yemen has played throughout Al Qaeda's history is far from common knowledge. the book also documents in a healthy level of detail the role that Ali Abdullah Saleh played in ma this was a fascinating account of the recent history of Yemen and specifically that countries role in the growth of the wider Al Qaeda movement and also the Arabian Peninsula peninsula version. Whilst the roles of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Afghanistan in harbouring the movement are all fairly widely known the central role Yemen has played throughout Al Qaeda's history is far from common knowledge. the book also documents in a healthy level of detail the role that Ali Abdullah Saleh played in many regards in the decline (arguably failure) of the Yemeni state to the point that Al Qaeda were able to practice actual running cities in a sort of precursor to the activities of ISIS in Syria and Iraq. for an important insight into one of the regions many hotspots this is a good place to start.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jill Crist

    Fascinating insight into the history of Al Qaeda in Yemen and the rise of the AQAP branch organization. The extremism and hatred of Americans is shocking, as is the ineffectiveness of the US intelligence agencies to correctly assess threats and military to carry out an effective counter-terrorism campaign that doesn't drive masses more to the anti-US cause. Heart-breaking to see how young these suicide bombers are. As someone with an inexplicable interest in Yemen and desire to see Sana'a, also Fascinating insight into the history of Al Qaeda in Yemen and the rise of the AQAP branch organization. The extremism and hatred of Americans is shocking, as is the ineffectiveness of the US intelligence agencies to correctly assess threats and military to carry out an effective counter-terrorism campaign that doesn't drive masses more to the anti-US cause. Heart-breaking to see how young these suicide bombers are. As someone with an inexplicable interest in Yemen and desire to see Sana'a, also very sad to see such a fascinatingly beautiful historical city and nation struggle for it's very survival.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    Good narrative on Yemen and the members of Al-Qaeda that reside there. Explains very well the reasons why Yemen has had been a magnet for terrorists. The most memorable parts start around the year 2000 with the attack on the USS Cole, which occurred in Gulf of Aden near Yemen. It also describes the FBI involvement in Yemen after the 9/11 attacks and the attempts to capture key members of the 9/11 conspirators. The book takes on a few too many narratives of Al-Qaeda operatives that left me a bit Good narrative on Yemen and the members of Al-Qaeda that reside there. Explains very well the reasons why Yemen has had been a magnet for terrorists. The most memorable parts start around the year 2000 with the attack on the USS Cole, which occurred in Gulf of Aden near Yemen. It also describes the FBI involvement in Yemen after the 9/11 attacks and the attempts to capture key members of the 9/11 conspirators. The book takes on a few too many narratives of Al-Qaeda operatives that left me a bit lost. It did give a fast paced and riveting account of the search for these operatives. It details key successes and failures of US in hunting them down.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Anurag Ram Chandran

    Gregory Johnsen's The Last Refuge is an important book on Yemen, and details the country's tragic fall into chaos. It perfectly captures the rise of jihadism in the country and the political instability brought on by its former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. However, where the book falls short, in my opinion, is in providing contiguous clarity in its narrative. Johnsen often jumped between stories, and frustratingly fails to provide a deeper background into his principal characters. Overall, The Gregory Johnsen's The Last Refuge is an important book on Yemen, and details the country's tragic fall into chaos. It perfectly captures the rise of jihadism in the country and the political instability brought on by its former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. However, where the book falls short, in my opinion, is in providing contiguous clarity in its narrative. Johnsen often jumped between stories, and frustratingly fails to provide a deeper background into his principal characters. Overall, The Last Refuge is a very informative read and I highly recommend it to national security enthusiasts, and others wanting to learn more about Yemen. But it did leave me wanting more.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    Thorough study of Yemen ' s history. Unlike many overly bellicose books on the subject of Al Qaeda, I found his conclusions to be both fair and balanced. What I find the most disconcerting is when reporters interchange the rebels spurred on by the Arab Spring Movement with Al Qaeda. While Johnson does discuss how Al Qaeda operatives used the chaotic situation following the protests and military defections in early 2011 to their advantage, he clearly draws a line between these two factions; I com Thorough study of Yemen ' s history. Unlike many overly bellicose books on the subject of Al Qaeda, I found his conclusions to be both fair and balanced. What I find the most disconcerting is when reporters interchange the rebels spurred on by the Arab Spring Movement with Al Qaeda. While Johnson does discuss how Al Qaeda operatives used the chaotic situation following the protests and military defections in early 2011 to their advantage, he clearly draws a line between these two factions; I commend him for this.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Billy

    Good overview of the growth of Al Qaeda in Yemen. Probably a book meant for novices in the field, as it covers a lot of ground that has been picked clean by prior works. The book is very short on analysis and pretty much acts as if the Houthi rebellion was a minor sideshow with AQAP being the main show when in reality it's the opposite. The book also is good for those who want a flavor of how AQ is a political problem and that you're not going to be able to drone strike that away. If you are look Good overview of the growth of Al Qaeda in Yemen. Probably a book meant for novices in the field, as it covers a lot of ground that has been picked clean by prior works. The book is very short on analysis and pretty much acts as if the Houthi rebellion was a minor sideshow with AQAP being the main show when in reality it's the opposite. The book also is good for those who want a flavor of how AQ is a political problem and that you're not going to be able to drone strike that away. If you are looking for insight into the ongoing Yemeni civil war, this is not the book for you.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    I really enjoyed this book about Yemen as a growing site of AQAP and other extremist activity, as well as a place that the US has ineffectually meddled in the past. I would have liked to see a deeper treatment of the tribal context for Yemeni politics, but that's probably not practical in a book primarily oriented toward the topic of international terrorism. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to know more about the regional context of the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Egypt, and Saud I really enjoyed this book about Yemen as a growing site of AQAP and other extremist activity, as well as a place that the US has ineffectually meddled in the past. I would have liked to see a deeper treatment of the tribal context for Yemeni politics, but that's probably not practical in a book primarily oriented toward the topic of international terrorism. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to know more about the regional context of the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ross Ritchell

    This is a phenomenal study of an incredibly complex political and social reality. Yemen is often overshadowed by other lands in the GWOT, but in this work the significance and immediacy of its turmoil shines through. Of particular interest given the Huthi takeover, readers will be pleasantly surprised with the narrative style incorporated into this great history and analysis. Vividly written and incredibly important and worthwhile.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sandy J

    Readable, engaging and informative, Johnsen's 'The Last Refuge:...' Provides a fascinating description of the way Jihadi ideology operates in a fragmented country that perhaps should have remained a collection of tribal clans rather than a country. The strength and weakness is the lack of critical analysis. I'd love to know more of what Johnsen thinks, but the books strength is that it is descriptive rather than interpretive. Readable, engaging and informative, Johnsen's 'The Last Refuge:...' Provides a fascinating description of the way Jihadi ideology operates in a fragmented country that perhaps should have remained a collection of tribal clans rather than a country. The strength and weakness is the lack of critical analysis. I'd love to know more of what Johnsen thinks, but the books strength is that it is descriptive rather than interpretive.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Diane Secchiaroli

    Book about al Qaeda and Yeman and how we have really screwed up this war against terror. Scary. I don't know how we are ever going to get out of this mess. Well written book with lots of facts. Not an easy read but well worth taking the time. After reading this book and Princess... I have had enough of the Middle East and need some easy reading. Book about al Qaeda and Yeman and how we have really screwed up this war against terror. Scary. I don't know how we are ever going to get out of this mess. Well written book with lots of facts. Not an easy read but well worth taking the time. After reading this book and Princess... I have had enough of the Middle East and need some easy reading.

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