Yemen: What's happening and why it matters

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Yemen: What's happening and why it matters

Ironically, it was sort of in the middle of the State of the Union Address that things in Yemen started to turn south, and fast.  Actually Diane Feinstein earlier had been giving warning.  From January 20:

The U.S. government should immediately close and evacuate the U.S. Embassy in Sana'a, Yemen, according to Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic vice-chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

I asked her today whether the embassy, which remains open despite raging violence throughout the Yemeni capital, should be closed. She responded: “Based on what I know so far, yes.”

“I’m very concerned about our embassy there, who is still there, who isn’t still there, and what the plans are,” Feinstein added.

The New York Post on the 24th had an excellent piece on why it matters.

 Yemen’s U.S.-backed president stepped down this week after Houthi rebels seized the capital of Sanaa, further destabilizing the region and hampering America’s ability to fight al Qaeda and other extremists targeting the West. The country’s parliament will meet Sunday, but the government’s future is unclear.

Five reasons why Americans should care about what is happening in Yemen, a country slightly smaller than Texas situated on the southern border of Saudi Arabia....

Copyright issues compel me to stop there, but you should read it.  The 5 reasons are:

1) Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is HQ'd there.

2) We have a vibrant drone presence in the area

3) It offers an area in opposition to encroachment by Iran.

4) Nearly 2/3 of the remaining Gitmo detainees are from Yemen.

5) The area does not yet, but plausibly could pose a problem to American interests.

Even Al Jazeera America (which I do not read on even an irregular basis) had a piece that was fairly good.  It's a bit hard to follow if you don't know the players, but you will get the gist:

I have been covering Yemen for many years and each time I am intrigued by its opaque political system, complex social fabric, ever shifting loyalties and growing influence of the Shia Houthis aka Ansar Allah [Partisans of God].

The latest spate of violence in the capital Sanaa and the ongoing political impasse stand as a reminder that the country could disintegrate if its political leaders fail to agree on a roadmap for the remainder of the transitional period.

And this is the crux of the matter; Yemenis are so divided that they may never be able to strike a deal without regional and international support.

But Yemen has slipped off the radar screen of the world for quite some time. Those who show interest do so obviously for a reason.

They want to defend their political interests. But now unless there is a coordinated effort to solve the crisis, violence may spin out of control.

Now, President Obama says that nothing going on there that so far anyway has impacted our ability to counter AQAP:

 President Obama defended his counterterrorism strategy in tumultuous Yemen Sunday, as influential lawmakers from both parties suggested the U.S. may need to turn to special operations forces to root out terrorists from the Middle Eastern nation and elsewhere in the region.

Obama, who is traveling in India, said U.S. operations against a dangerous al-Qaida affiliate in Yemen would not stop because of the country's political vacuum. In his first public remarks on Yemen since the country's American-backed president and Cabinet resigned after rebels seized the capital last week, the president rejected the notion of moving away from the current drone-based campaign to a heavier footprint on the ground.

"We'll continue to try to refine and fine-tune this model, but it is the model that we're going to have to work with," Obama said during a joint media appearance with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. "The alternative would be massive U.S. deployments in perpetuity, which would create its own blowback and cause probably more problems than it would potentially solve."

So where does this leave us?  I don't know to be honest.  But I've said for years that Yemen was our next conflict, and I'd be VERY happy to be wrong on that.  It's even worse than Somalia, and that place has never exactly been a sought after vacation destination.  Let's hope that some cool heads prevail there.





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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.