It’s no secret that the country of Yemen is in big trouble both economically and politically but its crippled military operations on several fronts has left a gaping hole for al-Qaeda to continue perusing its global jihad. Claiming responsibility in the foiled Christmas Day US airline bombing and the devastating attack on the USS Cole back in 2000, Yemeni based al-Qaeda groups continue to take advantage of the chaos plaguing the country.
In the latest round of unrest, Yemini military forces continue to search for a way to control attacks by Shi’ite insurgency in the northern part of the country. While not a direct threat to US and NATO forces, the Houthi rebels have caused the Yemen military to redirect portions of its military to the north, in turn taking away much needed resources to combat al-Qaeda.
This poses a much bigger problem for the US and its allies. To be frank, Yemen is no stranger to being a breeding ground for unrest and terror. And as much of an ally as they may appear to be on paper let’s not kid ourselves, high ranking authority and government are as corrupt or in disrepair as many other nations lending their support. It’s quite hard to fathom a country being affective at combating terrorism when food, infrastructure and basic civil services are scarce at best, no matter how much aid may be supplied.
And it’s not only the Houthi rebels that continue to eat away at the larger operation of cleaning up al-Qaeda. The South Yemen insurgency poses another problem for an already fractured government. Police and military posts continue to be vacated as Islamic militants capitalize on the instability plaguing the country in all corners. As expected, American operations from drone surveillance to organized attacks on soft targets continue to be negatively impacted from the instability. The Obama administration knows this as fear from a possible change in power would have dire consequences on future operations executed in the region. Talk about a new airbase in close proximity to Yemen surfaced several weeks ago, highlighting the need for escalated attacks by the US military’s Joint Special Operations Command. But it’s clear that the Obama administration, C.I.A and J.S.O.C. are growing increasingly concerned about what appears to be an eventual coup in Yemen.
Even with the growing unrest and near collapse of government power, US operations have seen some success. At the beginning of June, an American led airstrike resulted in the death of mid-level al-Qaeda operative Ali al-Harithi. Even more significant was a failed attempt to take the life of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born cleric. But make no mistake about it, losing current president Ali Abdullah Saleh would create more problems than solutions.
So the current flux that typifies Yemen leaves US operations uncertain. One thing is finite though, no matter who leads the country now or later al-Qaeda will continue to use the country as a base for terror. It will be a matter of how affective US special operations can continue to be.