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23 September 2014

Obama's 'Successful Yemen Strategy' Not Looking So Successful After All...

‘This counterterrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort … using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground. This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have SUCCESSFULLY PURSUED IN YEMEN and Somalia for years.

-President Barack H Obama, Statement by the President on ISIL, The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, 10 September 2014

Yeah, not so much...

The Obama administration may think it’s winning the fight against Al Qaeda and building democracy in Yemen. But that’s not the way it looks on the ground.

By Shuaib Almosawa, The Daily Beast: Obama’s ‘Yemen Model’ for the War on ISIS Is a Wreck

...Here on the ground, as Mubarak Ali Mubarak discovered, it’s much harder to use the word “success.” On the evening of August 14 Mubarak turned his car around as ordered. Two hours later explosions rocked downtown Al Mukalla as militants and government forces skirmished in the biggest city in the Yemeni region of Hadramaut which, not coincidentally, is the ancestral home of the Bin Laden family.

The “Yemen model” was first put into effect before the uprisings of 2011, known as the Arab Spring, added whole new layers of chaos to the entire region and left the Sanaa government paralyzed. Once that happened, in order to counter Al Qaeda's growing threat and avert a civil war the Obama administration backed a transition roadmap brokered by Yemen’s oil rich neighbors on the Arabia Peninsula. The deal dictated redistribution of power among competing political parties, but at its core was the replacement of longtime president, the wily Ali Abdullah Saleh, with his deputy Abdu Rabbu Mansoor Hadi, who was known as a more willing partner in the war on terrorists.

Compared to the disaster in Syria and the complications of Egypt, the relative ease of the transition in Yemen inspired glowing rhetoric from Obama. "We do have a committed partner in President Hadi and his government," Obama said back in June in early remarks about the crisis in Iraq. "And we have been able to help to develop their capacities without putting large numbers of U.S. troops on the ground, at the same time as we’ve got enough CT, or counterterrorism, capabilities that we’re able to go after folks that might try to hit our embassy or might be trying to export terrorism into Europe or the United States."

According to Yemeni intelligence memos obtained by The Daily Beast, Obama’s Yemen model has been helpless to prevent recent waves of Al Qaeda attacks.

...If Al Qaeda thought it would meet resistance, said one of the several related memos, the attacks would be postponed until one of the first days of August and would target Lahij, the capital of a strategic southern province that hosts a major military base. The intelligence, directed to the ministry of interior and other related security agencies, said that Al Qaeda was planning to bomb all government there and then declare Lahij an Islamic emirate. All security apparatuses were advised to remain fully prepared for the planned attacks.

Al-Qaeda overran Lahij on August 11 unchallenged, bombed the buildings specified in the memos, then left. This followed on attacks in the eastern parts of Hadramaut, where Al Qaeda briefly overran the Al Qatn district, destroyed almost all security buildings and robbed a bank. Al Qaeda also hijacked a public bus in Seiyun that carried 14 unarmed soldiers heading home on leave. In the style of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, the group severed the heads of the soldiers one by one and posted footage of the killing on YouTube.


All of this is playing out against a backdrop of ferocious political rivalries and discord in the capital of Sanaa. The “Yemen model” in 2011 managed to bring fighting between competing powers to an end and promised to address longtime grievances. It also engaged two marginalized groups, the Shia Houthi and some of the disgruntled movements in the south. There were inclusive talks known as the National Dialogue Conference (NDC), brainstorming sessions to develop ideas for a new constitution. But the Hadi government's failure to address longstanding issues, has brought the Islamist-led government and the Hadi presidency to the brink of collapse.

(Nobody said Middle Eastern politics is simple, which is one of the facts the Obama administration has to keep in mind, whatever “model” it adopts. In Yemen as anywhere else, all politics is local, and as in Iraq or Syria, local politics more often than not is tribal.)

"In general, the Houthis are completely independent of the regime in Sanaa, yet they do not want to secede. They represent an independent power source that cannot be bought or coopted like others in the Yemeni political system,” says Charles Schmitz, a Yemen expert and professor at Towson University in Maryland. “For the north they are very significant because they are rapidly changing the local balance of power and even challenging to some extent the tribal system.'

“The Houthi media blames everything on the Americans and the Houthis are very anti-American-government,” says Schmitz. “But I think their anti-Americanism is really anti-imperialism and pro-sovereignty. The Houthis present themselves as authentically Yemeni and they see the regime in Sanaa as American puppets because of the close relationship between Hadi and the Americans.

Thus far Washington has reacted coolly toward the Houthis. Its main concern is that they not become another Hezbollah. But 'this is mostly American fantasy,' says Schmitz...

In the meantime, Hadi’s government has been cracking down on the press. His elite American-trained forces overran the Al Yemen al Youm TV station in June when it was broadcasting protests over an acute fuel shortage and electricity blackout. The troops looted equipment and generally trashed the place. Hadi dubbed the news coverage a “coup aimed to undermine success of the transition.”

Foreign journalists who have run stories that counter government propaganda have either been deported or banned from returning to Yemen. Adam Baron, who reported for McClatchy and the Christian Science Monitor, was deported in May without any government explanation. He had for years “used his singular access to show the gritty realities of the country’s counterterrorism struggle, from profiling casualties of US drone strikes to revealing the U.S. interception of Al Qaeda’s internal communications,” wrote his McClatchy colleague Hannah Allam.

The Yemen model appears to have limited value fighting extremists, and even less establishing democracy.,,17910953_302,00.jpg

From Noah Rothman via

On Monday afternoon, an AP report highlighted the sectarian nature of the apparently successful Shiite coup-like insurgency in Yemen.

In a stunning sweep of the Yemeni capital, the country’s Shiite rebels seized homes, offices and military bases of their Sunni foes on Monday, forcing many into hiding and triggering an exodus of civilians from the city after a week of fighting that left 340 people dead.

It was the latest development in the Hawthi blitz, which has plunged volatile Yemen into more turmoil, pitting the Shiite rebels against the Sunni-dominated military and their Islamist tribal allies.

The heavily armed Hawthi fighters on Monday seized tanks and armored vehicles from military headquarters they had overrun, and raided the home of long-time archenemy Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, the commander of the army’s elite 1st Armored Division and a veteran of a series of wars against the Shiite rebels, as well as residences of top Sunni Islamist militiamen or the fundamentalist Islah party.

Yemen followed a similar trajectory as Libya, which is now a failed state in the midst of a civil war. In 2011, the nation celebrated the toppling of the country’s dictator of 33 years, Ali Abdullah Saleh by protesters animated by the successes of the Arab Spring in places like Egypt and Tunisia. A provisional government apologized to the Hawthi group for the years of war Saleh had waged against them, but did not acknowledge what The New York Times calls the “historical grievances” that led to the violence in the first place.

“The international community should have supported Yemen to ensure its successful transition to stability and development,” The Times observed. “Instead, the international community largely turned its back on Yemen as it sank further into poverty, chaos and extremism.” 

The Times also noted that the U.S. focused only on its counterterrorism interests in the region rather than nation building. Along with Somalia, President Barack Obama said America’s counterterrorism strategy in Syria will resemble the years-long air campaign over Yemen which primarily targeted al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Let’s hope the war in Iraq and Syria doesn’t look exactly like the campaign in Yemen, or the United States will still be dealing with chaos and violence in those countries for years to come.

If this is what President Obama considers to be a 'successful' strategy, I'd hate to see what he considers to be a failure. - SoRo

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