Yemen, where al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has several hundred jihadi terrorists sheltered by anti-Saudi tribal chiefs, has been getting less than $70 million a year in U.S. assistance. Afghanistan, whence Arab jihadis decamped years ago, runs U.S. taxpayers $82 million a day. The would-be Nigerian suicide bomber Umaru Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, who tried to kill 300 passengers on Christmas Day by blowing up a Northwest flight from Amsterdam as it prepared to land in Detroit, had been in Yemen from last August till Dec. 7. He was studying under a U.S.-born Yemeni cleric how to become a jihadi “martyr,” a suicide bomber.

Anwar al-Awlaki is the same expert in Islamist brainwashing that captivated (via the Internet) Fort Hood’s Maj. Nidal Hassan. As a result, Yemen will now be getting $140 million, if Congress approves. This still can’t compete with the $2 billion Saudi Arabia gives Yemen in budgetary support. To deploy another 30,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan is budgeted at $30 billion.

Priorities are out of whack. For the first time since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Afghan war ($65 billion) will exceed the Iraq war ($61 billion) under the 2010 Defense Authorization Bill. Afghan costs are headed for another steep climb. The new 2,400-mile Northern Distribution Network, from Riga on the Baltic through Russia and the ‘Stans to northern Afghanistan, moves 20 to 30 supply trains per week. The 1,250-mile Pakistan route — through border tribal areas and frequently attacked by Taliban insurgents — had become too hazardous.

It’s a safe bet additional war funds will not come from new taxes but from more deficit spending, a pattern established under Bush 43 during fiscal years 2002-2009. With the national debt a staggering $12 trillion, another $30 billion is chump change.

Several hundred al Qaeda terrorists, mostly Arabs, moved from Afghanistan to Yemen years ago. Yemenis released from Guantanamo, presumably after feigning remorse and contrition, went back to Yemen — to rejoin al Qaeda. AQAP’s second in command, according to Saudi intelligence, is Said al-Shehri, who was released from Gitmo and flown to Saudi Arabia where he made his way to Yemen.

A score of Somali American youngsters vanished from their homes in the Twin Cities to resurface in Somalia, Mad Max country where a semblance of authority functions in less than half the shell-pocked capital of Mogadishu. There, they joined the Shabaab, an al Qaeda-linked group of thugs self-described as Soldiers of Allah.

John Lee Anderson in The New Yorker reports the number of Somalis who can’t survive without U.N. food aid has tripled since 2007 to 3.6 million. Shabaab terrorists routinely attack local food aid workers, killing 42 in the past year. And the World Food Program now says it’s too dangerous to continue working there.

Some 200 to 300 of al Qaeda’s Afghan survivors are known to be in Marif and Jouf, two mountainous eastern Yemeni provinces that compete with Afghanistan’s forbidding terrain. There, tribal chiefs eagerly protect them as their stated objective is to get rid of America’s “lackeys” in the Persian Gulf, i.e., monarchies, sheikdoms and emirates.

Interestingly enough, Iran and al Qaeda are now de facto allies with similar objectives in the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf. One of Osama bin Laden’s wives, six of his children and 11 of his grandchildren have been living in a high-security compound outside Tehran for the past eight years. His father was originally from Yemen and built a multibillion-dollar fortune as the prime builder of palaces for the royal family, which now has 7,000 male princes.

Somalia has failed miserably. Afghanistan and Yemen are potpourris of failing grades. A volatile mix of shifting tribal loyalties that are not for sale but for rent, many of Yemen’s tribal chiefs are now connected to al Qaeda’s Web-based blandishments. Most of Yemen’s 23 million live in villages in tribal areas.

The majority of Yemen’s 400 tribes live below the poverty line, $1 a day or less. Government troops have kept out of a mini civil war on the northern border between Sunni and Shiite tribes. Like Mexicans crossing the Rio Grande, some 3,000 Yemenis a day move into Saudi Arabia where they are rounded up and sent home. The Saudis expelled some 850,000 Yemeni workers. A secessionist movement in the south, anchored on Aden, is trying to divide the country again as it was during the Cold War when South Yemen sided with Moscow.

An unpatrolled coastline of 1,200 miles on the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea and a mostly desert land border of 1,000 miles with Saudi Arabia and Oman make Yemen the ideal country for al Qaeda’s safe havens. Nomadic militants can travel with impunity between Afghanistan and Pakistan and through Yemen down to Somalia, with plenty of willing recruits among the oppressive poverty in all four countries.

Yemeni President Abdullah Ali Saleh, 67, a former colonel, has been in power since 1978, and government is a family business. He is quick, smart and cunning. Like Afghan President Hamid Karzai, he appears shocked when given evidence of widespread corruption. His was the only Arab country to side with Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War. He has never really seen al Qaeda as a threat to his regime. Now, especially since the Fort Hood massacre and Christmas Day’s aborted plane disaster — both guided by remote control from Yemen — he is expressing outrage for the first time.

The suicide attack on the USS Cole in October 2000 should have been the wakeup call about al Qaeda. For the jihadis, the bill was $10,000. For the United States, 17 sailors were killed, a billion-dollar warship was out of commission for two years, and the repair bill was $250 million.

The United States can’t afford a second Afghanistan in Yemen. But Camp Lemonier, a former French Foreign Legion post rented from France, houses 1,800 Marines, Delta and Seal teams, and air power. And it’s only 18 miles from Yemen across Bab el-Mandeb (“Gate of Tears”), which connects the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. The Bin Laden Construction Co. has bid $200 billion to build a bridge.

Arnaud de Borchgrave, a member of the Atlantic Council, is editor-at-large at UPI and the Washington Times.  This essay was syndicated by UPI as “Mad Max Redux.”