The United States lost another ally in the war against Islamic terrorism. The pro-American government in Yemen–which helped us fight the ruthless Yemeni al-Qaida and allowed our drone attacks–was overthrown by Houthi rebels. The Houthi are Shi’ites, meaning they oppose the Sunni al-Qaida and ISIS, but are allied with Iran. Still, they oppose the drone strikes and are strongly anti-American and anti-Israel. The coup is another setback for American anti-terrorism efforts.
The White House’s strategy for fighting al-Qaeda in Yemen — repeatedly presented as a model by President Obama — was left in tatters Thursday by the resignation of the manwho personally approved U.S. drone strikes in the country and the collapse of its central government.
U.S. officials struggled to sort out a melange of reports about who, if anyone, is in charge in Yemen. The prospect of continued chaos cast doubt on the viability of the Obama administration’s counterterrorism policy for Yemen and whether it can still count on local help against al-Qaeda.“A dangerous situation just went from bad to worse with grave implications for our counterterrorism efforts,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee. “Our relationship with the Yemen government has been vital in confronting [al-Qaeda] and keeping the pressure on its leadership, and every effort must be made to continue that partnership.”
As recently as September, Obama had cited his Yemen strategy as a template for confronting jihadist threats in other places, including Iraq and Syria. Instead of sending large numbers of troops to fight al-Qaeda’s affiliate in the country directly, the Pentagon has limited its presence to a small number of trainers to teach and equip Yemen’s security forces.
The other foundation of the U.S. strategy has been to rely on drones to provide surveillance over Yemen and launch scores of airstrikes against suspected al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) targets. Flown by the CIA and the military’s Joint Special Operations Command, the drones are based outside Yemen, but U.S. officials have relied until now on the Yemeni government’s authorization to conduct the airstrikes.