Yemen Falls Out of U.S. Counterterrorism Menagerie

Coming civil war could lead to favorable environment for Al Qaeda and other terrorists.



This week saw the last of the U.S. special operations forces station in Yemen evacuate that country. The United Nations envoy to the country warned that Yemen was on the verge of civil war. But rebels dissolved the parliament and took over the capital almost two month ago.

For President Obama and Democrats interested in prosecuting the war on terror with a "light" footprint, Yemen was supposed to be the archetype for other U.S. counterterrorism engagements around the world. Just last September, as Obama recommitted U.S. troops to Iraq—when the U.S. was already having to broker ceasefires between government forces and rebels in Yemen—he pointed to the country as the model for the campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The experts now say Yemen was never an example of a success, because it didn't involve nationbuilding. The AP reports:

Barbara Bodine, a former U.S. ambassador to Yemen, said even the most optimistic regional experts did not share Obama's view that the Yemen campaign was a model of success.

"It was being defined in terms of what we were doing to develop local forces and use drones and counter the immediate and real security threat," said Bodine, now director of the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University. "But what we hadn't done, certainly had not done visibly enough, was get at the economic and governance issues that were driving the problem."

U.S. troops and other personnel have been in Afghanistan for more than 13 years—when she was secretary of state Hillary Clinton oversaw a "surge" in diplomatic staff for nationbuilding—yet the same kind of "economic and governance issues" are driving the problem in Afghanistan, where the U.S. is keeping about 10,000 troops until at least the end of this year despite the official end to the war last year. The extended stay isn't coupled with any anti-Taliban plan beyond the training and targeting that's been happening for at least the last five years.

In Yemen, the ousted president and his forces are set to face off with the rebel forces now in charge of the country, and Al Qaeda—the U.S.'s putative target in Yemen lo these many years—and ISIS are expected by to exploit a chaos some fear will be the worse since the last civil war 20 years ago. How much the U.S. campaign in the country contributed to the situation it is hard to say, but Al Qaeda and its associated forces appear on the verge of having an easier time in Yemen now than at any time since before the campaign began—a sadly familiar pattern for U.S. military excursions in the Muslim world, under Presidents Bush and Obama.