Ex-ambassador: Yemen could be like Afghanistan

Former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Edmnud Hull appears on the CBS Evening News June 3, 2011.

In Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh could be losing his grip on power. Well-armed opponents have been battling his forces all week in the capital, Sanaa. They fired shells at his palace Friday, wounding him in the attack.

At least six guards were killed and eight top officials were also wounded, an official said.

Meanwhile, tribal groups have continued to march on the capital as what began as pro-democracy demonstrations continues to evolve in the direction of civil war.

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Edmund Hull was the U.S. Ambassador to Yemen from 2001 to 2004. He spoke to CBS Evening News anchor Harry Smith Friday about the evolving situation in Yemen and how it affects U.S. interests. A transcript of the interview follows:

Smith: Why should Americans be concerned about what's going on in Yemen right now?

Hull: Well, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is based in Yemen, and that's the most active today in the al Qaeda network currently. And within the last couple years, they have twice targeted the U.S. homeland -- initially with the underwear bomber on Christmas Day and then more recently the printer cartridge bombs in airplane freight.

Smith: If, in fact, Yemen ended up as a failed state as a Somalia, for instance, how dangerous would that be?

Hull: It would be extremely dangerous. It would give al Qaeda a safe haven akin to that which they had in Afghanistan before 9/11. And one of the cardinal lessons that we learned from our study of the 9/11 attack was that the United States can never allow al Qaeda to create those kind of safe havens again.

Smith: Is there literally anything that can be done?

Hull: A lot can be done, but I don't think it's the right approach to think about an outside force trying to hold sway in Yemen. Any outsider that's intervened in Yemen has lived to rue the day. No. I think the outside -- the international community's role here is enhanced diplomacy and giving support to the regional efforts of the Gulf corms council and the efforts of the many reformers within Yemen itself.

Smith: Finally, how critical a juncture is this country at right now?

Hull: I think it's extremely critical. I think the choice now is either civil war and perhaps fragmentation or moving it into a path towards the future towards greater democracy. It's a true crossroads.

Smith: Mr. ambassador, thank you for your time tonight. Do appreciate it.

Hull: Thank you.