The Best Defense

Yemen movie: 'In the hands of al Qaeda'

By Emile Simpson

Best Defense terrorism movie reviewer

Yemeni security forces recently fired on protesters in the southern Yemeni city of Aden, apparently wounding up to 30 of them. In the Hands of al Qaeda hydrates such headlines: In this gripping documentary film, released last year, Iraqi journalist Ghaith Abdul Ahad unpacks the complex dynamics of the conflict. At its core, this is a film about the fight between al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Yemeni Government -- government versus insurgents -- but this polarized dynamic is situated within broader kaleidoscopic elements: How many south Yemenis see the security forces as northern occupiers? Why do some tribes support AQAP and others fight them? This provides a nice illustration of the erosion of the boundary between the military and political domain in contemporary armed conflict.

The centerpiece of the film is Ghaith Abdul Ahad's coverage of the AQAP heartland east of Aden, at the centre of the U.S. drone campaign in Yemen. For example, in Ja'ar we encounter a city of 100,000 fully controlled by AQAP. This is truly fascinating; the tension of the documentary at this point is palpable. Since Ja'ar was retaken by Yemeni forces in the summer of 2012, this film offers a rare glimpse into what ground-holding by the international jihadis of AQAP looked like: While we see an extreme form of sharia law practiced, so too is there an active print and internet media operation, and real efforts to gain local support by AQAP water and electricity projects.

AQAP's carrot and stick approach during their overt, ground-holding phase does not seem so distant from COIN doctrine, albeit in a far more brutal form (an example of mirror imaging?). The film draws out the contrast with the no carrot, big stick, U.S. drone approach that appears to strike fear not just into AQAP, but also into the civilians who live under the drones' gaze: Much of the local population's political support is lost, but U.S. objectives against the AQAP leadership nonetheless appear to be met. Whether this represents campaign success more broadly presumably would depend on how one conceptualizes the conflict -- are you fighting physical networks or an idea? Perhaps too the film illustrates in Yemen a U.S. move back to a more conventional understanding of military effect against an enemy, for better or worse. While the film is not about COIN or drones per se, and is indeed admirable in its objectivity, a viewing would no doubt form an excellent basis for discussion of the pros and cons of these approaches.

In the Hands of Al Qaeda (2012)

Clover Films

Executive Producer: Tracey ‘H' Doran-Carter

Producer: Jamie Doran

Director: Safa Al Ahmad

Emile Simpson served in the British Army as an infantry officer in the Gurkhas from 2006 to 2012. He deployed to southern Afghanistan three times and is the author of War From the Ground Up: Twenty-First Century Combat as Politics (Columbia, 2012).

-/AFP/Getty Images

The Best Defense

A new treatment for PTSD emerges

By Dr. Elspeth Ritchie

Best Defense guest columnist

Psychiatric Annals recently published the second in a series on new and innovative treatments for PTSD. The series focuses on so-called complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) used in the Department of Defense. I say "so-called" because no one quite agrees on the name; it is also called integrative medicine and/or holistic medicine. CAM generally includes acupuncture, herbal techniques, and meditation. I add canine-assisted therapy, virtual reality, and other innovative therapies in this series in Psych Annals, of which I am the guest editor.

PTSD is an immense problem in the military after 11 years of war. The military is also leading the way in developing new therapies. This article focuses on stellate ganglion block, which is an anesthetic technique traditionally used to treat pain. In brief, an anesthetic is injected into the peripheral nerves. In some cases, it has been found that this technique drastically reduces symptoms of PTSD.

One of the many things that are exciting about this treatment it is that it is biologically based. So, if anyone still thinks that PTSD is "all in their head," or totally psychological, the success of this technique would seem to refute that. Another interesting point is that it seems to work in refractory PTSD that has not responded to other treatments.

This is not yet an evidence-based treatment. In other words, it has not yet been subjected to randomized clinical trials (RCTs), which are the gold standard in research in medicine. However, in the days since the on-line version was published, funders from the Medical Research and Material Command (MRMC) have been reaching out to researchers to see if they can do some of the RCTs. So exciting times in new approaches to treating an age-old problem.

Retired Army Col. Elspeth Ritchie, MD, MPH, is the chief clinical officer, Department of Mental Health, for the District of Columbia. She also is a professor of psychiatry at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

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