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The Last Refuge: Yemen, Al-Qaeda, and America's War in Arabia Hardcover – November 19, 2012

4.4 out of 5 stars 40 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

While U.S. foreign policy focuses on Iraq and Afghanistan, Yemen presents a mounting threat as al-Qaeda grows in strength and influence in the remote regions of the Arab world. Johnsen, an expert on Yemen, draws on al-Qaeda battle notes to deliver a detailed analysis of how a nation that had been a success story in the U.S. effort to defeat al-Qaeda and stabilize the region has been the site for resurgence instead. He examines the historical factors that have contributed to the buildup of al-Qaeda in Yemen as young men were recruited by the government, Yemeni tribes, and mosques in a concerted effort to turn the war in Afghanistan into a broader jihad. Johnsen explores the motivations of major figures, including tribal loyalties, old rivalries, new oil revenue, and geopolitics. Most compelling are the details of recruitment and training of young men vulnerable to appeals to righteousness and adventure as they are drawn into the training campuses and safe houses, where terrorists plot their attacks on the U.S. and its allies. Gripping and insightful. --Vanessa Bush

Review

Gripping and insightful.

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

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. --Jeremy Scahill, author of the international bestseller, Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army"

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. --Peter L. Bergen, author of Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Osama bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad"

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. --Ali H. Soufan, author of The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda"

Johnsen... has produced the first comprehensive history of the al Qaeda movement [in Yemen]: an engrossing account of the operations, personalities, and motivations that have caused the US such headaches. "

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 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"

Gripping and insightful. "

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"
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (November 19, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393082423
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393082425
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #851,133 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book is a fascinating read for the specialist or non specialist. Johnsen gives us a well researched narrative that is powerful and compelling and certainly helps one to understand the crisis of Yemen better.

Be careful not to expect any kind of analysis of U.S. policy in Yemen. The book, while providing an in depth story, does not come to a set of conclusions or policy recommendations. In the last chapter of the book, the story of AQAP simply ends, without any kind of discussions about the implications of the story the book has so painstakingly laid out. From reading Johnsen's blogs and other materials, it seems like he has quite strong (and very intelligently put) opinions about U.S. policy in the region, and it is a disappointment that these weren't included in this book.
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Format: Hardcover
Having traveled to Yemen and followed AQAP closely for awhile I was particularly excited when this book came out. Mr. Johnsen does a great job of detailing the history behind jihadists in Yemen which is much more varied and complex than one would assume. He writes many of the chapters in a narrative format and his style is both thrilling and informative. He makes a strong case against the over-reliance on drone strikes in fighting AQAP. The one thing I would have added would be a more extensive conclusion detailing possible options such as economic and political measures that could be used in tandem with a security approach.
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Format: Hardcover
This is an outstanding book that is well-researched and well-written. Johnsen offers a comprehensive look at the role that Yemen has played in terrorism since the 1980s, focusing most particularly on terrorist acts by Al-Qaeda. He discusses the history of Osama bin Laden and how the decisions of the U.S. and of various countries in the Middle East affected Al-Qaeda's (and subsequently AQAP's) successes and failures. He also looks at corruption in Yemen and actions by its longtime president, Ali Abdullah Salih, the shrewd-but-fickle politician who always had his hand out for money but whose support for U.S. policies ran hot and cold. Johnsen writes without an obvious political agenda, and he takes a measured look at miscalculations and successes by the United States. As an author, Johnsen took a lot of information and shaped it well; I was amazed at how readable and interesting the book is. This could have been painfully dry in the hands of a less-skilled writer! I highly recommend this book.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Johnson didn't miss anything in compiling facts for this work. It's hard to believe that it is even possible to amass so many facts and so much background information. I'm not aware of any other book that even comes close to giving such a complete picture of the events and societal forces at play in this complex country.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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. This book should be on the reading list for every diplomat, soldier or spy heading to Sana'a as well as any journalist or pundit who seeks to write or comment on Yemen's challenges or post-Bin Ladin Al Qaeda. 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. Author of High-Value Target: Countering al Qaeda in Yemen
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