SANA, Yemen — Corruption, an inefficient security force and an intoxicating plant that keeps most men in Yemen high for hours a day all stand in the way of America's battle against Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which is believed responsible for a plot to mail bombs to the United States.
Life in Sana, the capital, reflects some of the challenges faced by anyone trying to isolate and destroy a terror group that uses religion as both ideology and recruitment.
Women in public wear flowing black robes and cover their heads except for a narrow slit for the eyes. Many of the men are bearded, a hallmark of piety, and in robes with an ornamental dagger tucked in a belt.
Weapons are everywhere, with some estimates that Yemenis hold about 50 million firearms ranging from city dwellers with AK-47 rifles to tribesmen in rural areas with rocket-propelled grenades, heavy machine-guns and mortars that they use against security forces or in tribal feuds.
The United States has for nearly a year waged a war against al-Qaida militants in Yemen. The insurgents find refuge with tribes in remote mountain ranges where the government has little control or support from a population of some 23 million known for its religious fundamentalism and disdain for America because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
About 50 U.S. military experts are in Yemen training its counterterrorism forces, and Washington is giving $150 million in military assistance to Yemen this year. A similar amount is given for humanitarian causes.
Many adult males chew qat, a plant with a mild amphetamine-like stimulant. The military is no exception, and security officials say that undermines discipline and renders soldiers unfit to perform combat duties for a big part of the day.