The curious case of the supposed failure of a January raid in Yemen continues to get … curiouser. Initial leaks from sources in the intel community have called it a bust, but subsequent leaks have called it a major success that could lead the US to uncover the whole apparatus of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Which are we to believe?
Perhaps actions speak a little louder than leaks in this instance:
The United States conducted a series of airstrikes on al-Qaeda targets in Yemen on Thursday, the Pentagon said, in another sign of the Trump administration’s expanding counterterrorism campaign there.
Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement that the air attacks targeted “militants, equipment and infrastructure” associated with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in three Yemeni governorates: Abyan, Bayda and Shabwah.
A defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss information that has not officially been made public, said there was a total of 25 strikes by manned and unmanned aircraft, far more attacks in a single night than the United States has conducted in recent history.
CBS notes that these strikes started the day before, and may have taken out a regional leader for AQAP:
For the second night in a row, U.S. aircraft have hammered suspected al Qaeda targets in Yemen, U.S. officials confirm to CBS News’ David Martin.
Tribal sources in Yemen told the French news agency AFP that three homes in the southern Shabwa governate were targeted in the strikes, including one belonging to the terror group’s leader in the region, Saad Atef. …
The Thursday strikes targeted al Qaeda positions, weapons systems and equipment in a remote and mountainous area in central Yemen.
Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said the strikes were aimed at degrading the group’s ability to “coordinate external terror attacks” and to limit its use of Yemen as a “safe space for terror plotting.”
There are two possibilities for this juxtaposition. One: The January 28th raid in Yemen was an abject failure, and these raids are merely coincidental using other intelligence. If the initial raid was such a failure, though, it would have itself been predicated on faulty intelligence. That would normally cause a cautious approach to the use of other intelligence for offensive operations such as we have seen in the previous couple of days. The US and its partners would have to reassess sources and data, perhaps waiting until an opportunity arose to seize better intelligence, unless coincidentally they already had the intel necessary to conduct these attacks. But if that were the case, why would James Mattis have signed off on a covert and dangerous mission that used US troops on the ground in a country with which we are not at war? Why not launch those attacks first, and then seek out subsequent intel, especially since launching the raid first would have tipped off the later raids that used independent intel?
Two: The subsequent leaks were correct, and the January 29th raid turned out to be an intelligence bonanza. If so, then the US would have to act quickly to take advantage of the opportunities that intel afforded. Knowledge of the raid would have AQAP covering its bases (unless they thought the raid was a flop, too). If we did get good data, it would take some time to analyze it and locate targets, especially for leadership. That might take a few weeks, which would fit directly into the new offensive launched over the last two days.
The Trump administration has insisted all along that the raid was a success. It may take years for us to know the full story of the January 29th raid, and until then all we have to judge are the actions that resulted from it. One would have expected a pause after a failure, and offensive action after a major intelligence haul. At least for now, the sequence of action points more to success than failure.