Yemen has been one of those battlefields in the War on Terror that we never really committed many troops for, but the small presence we do have on the ground there is imperative to keeping our boots on the throat of our enemy—similar to other operations in the Philippines, Somalia, Pakistan, and North Africa.
U.S. SOF has been heavily involved in Yemen since 2002. Joint efforts between the CIA and SOCOM (read: JSOC) have led to almost 120 drone strikes with an estimated 700-900 militants killed—mostly members of one of the most well-financed, coordinated, and efficient al-Qaeda offshoots, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP. This is the same group responsible for the recent Charlie Hebdro massacre in Paris, France.
The partnership between the U.S. and the Yemeni government to rid the region of terrorism is one of those rare instances of successful cooperation between the West and the Islamic world. That partnership seems to be over. Concurrent to our fight against AQAP, since 2004 the Yemeni government has been fighting a second battle against the Houthis—the country’s Shia population, responsible for starting a rebellion to remove the Yemeni government.
And for good reason: the Yemeni government has been responsible for terrible civil rights violations, including torture, extrajudicial executions, rampant corruption, non-existent women’s rights, and nationwide police brutality. It’s the type of government that knows if it didn’t align itself with the U.S., it just might be next on their target list.
The Houthis are fighting the Yemeni government, but they are also battling AQAP. The United States is supporting the Yemeni government just so it can have free reign against AQAP, so we are forced to support Yemen in the form of 28 air raids against the Houthis starting in late 2009. And al-Qaeda, well, they are trying to kill all three. It is a love triangle of epic proportions. Check out this video of an organized al-Qaeda attack against a Houthi camp as seen through a GoPro camera.
I’m sure you are waiting for the point to all this. Well, on January 22nd, 2015, the Houthis successfully ousted the government and took control of the capitol city of Sana’a. First, the prime minister resigned following key Houthi military victories in the capital area in September, 2014. Then, the president and his ministers resigned on January 22nd, forfeiting the presidential palace, residences, and all key military installations. The same key installations the CIA relies on to battle AQAP.
The repercussions of the Sana’a power vacuum have already put our counter-terrorism efforts on hold, as well initiate a lockdown of the U.S. embassy and the withdrawal of all personnel but a skeleton staff. The Houthis have shown no motive or desire to enter into armed conflict with the U.S., but as of this writing, the White House and the U.S. State Department have no real plan for how to successfully partner with the Houthis in our 13-plus-year al-Qaeda hunt in Yemen.
The CIA drone bases are all based out of Djibouti and Saudi Arabia, but the JSOC men on the ground collecting intelligence on AQAP targets are now without a partner as the Yemeni intelligence and special operations forces are struggling with their place in the new national order.
If the Houthis and the U.S. don’t see eye-to-eye in the next few months and continue the counter-terrorist program, we will see AQAP in full control of eastern Yemen opposed to the small patches of land they currently hold on the southern coasts.
(Featured image courtesy of middleeastmonitor.com)