The Los Angeles Times reported last week that at least 20 U.S. special operations forces are in Yemen. Reuters reported yesterday that one of these soldiers has been seriously wounded after being shot near Hudaida. These troops are principally in Yemen to provide the Yemeni government support in its operations against Al-Qaeda. The presence of U.S. military personnel in Yemen is only the latest escalation of the War on Terror, and there is little indication that the airstrikes that these troops are assisting in actually provide any incentive for Islamic fundamentalists to stop killing Americans, or are as accurate and civilian-friendly as the administration likes to claim.
According to Business Insider, the number of U.S. troops in Yemen is expected to rise. There were American troops in Yemen for some time, but they were withdrawn during the Arab Spring. However, the recent terror plots that have been organized and launched from Yemen have provided an incentive for a renewed involvement in the region.
What is most disturbing about the situation in Yemen is that the administration admits that there is no strategy other than killing as many Al-Qaeda operatives as possible. That such a strategy has been tried for over ten years in Afghanistan and Pakistan without any tangible reduction in Al-Qaeda’s ability to conduct acts of terrorism seems to have escaped the powers that be. It should not fill anyone with confidence that last week Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, remarked that, “None of us know where this is going.” Nor should it reassure Americans that Major General Kenneth Tovo, head of U.S. Central Command’s special operations force, said that the Yemeni army “will receive the necessary support that would enable it to destroy al Qaeda," Considering that the Yemeni Army still uses weapons supplied to it by the Soviet Union in the 1960s it is likely that many more troops will be needed than the twenty or so already in Yemen in order to “destroy al Qaeda.”
Any offensive against Al Qaeda in Yemen will almost certainly involve drone strikes that (contrary to popular belief) kill many civilians and encourage more anti-Americanism that Al-Qaeda can exploit.
In 2010, Obama said that he had “no intention of sending U.S. boots on the ground” to Yemen. Our recent adventures in Yemen provide yet more examples of not only how fickle the President’s foreign policy has been, but also how fruitless strategies are being blindly recycled in the ‘War on Terrorism’.