The situation in a nation that President Barack Obama described as a success story in the war against terrorism as recently as September just keeps getting worse.
As the Western world rushes to abandon Yemen while spiraling violence and instability consumes that country, the ensuing power vacuum is being filled by a variety of distasteful actors. While ISIS has reportedly gained a foothold in that nation recently, the Tehran-backed Houthis militia group and al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula appear poised to battle for control of territory and influence in Yemen. In effect, that coming feud is an extension of the regional sectarian conflicts which have inflamed Sunni/Shia tensions, and this dynamic has put the West in a difficult position.
“If they say they want to be in charge of Yemen, they need to start,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Thursday when asked about America’s decision to back the Houthis who have recently taken control of the government in Sanaa. America’s dubious new allies in Sanaa will have their hands full in the effort to contain AQAP and the other Sunni Islamist militant factions active within Yemen.
According to a report via AFP, jihadists are actively making the most of the vacuum of power in Yemen. On Friday, a Yemeni air force colonel was assassinated by gunmen believe to be linked to al-Qaeda. That attack came just hours after jihadists executed a daring raid on a Yemeni military base, killing 12 soldiers and seizing a large cache of heavy weaponry.
Twelve soldiers and 15 militants were killed as Al-Qaeda seized the brigade’s camp at Baihan in Shabwa province and captured armour and heavy weaponry, a military official said.
Another official said the jihadists took “30 tanks, 90 military vehicles, 25 armoured vehicles and 28 artillery pieces”.
The militants later handed over the camp to tribes but kept the heavy weapons, officials said.
That’s a lot of gear, and the fact this group had no interest in holding this base is troubling. That indicates that this band of jihadists is not interested in capturing and holding territory, in the same way that ISIS is. It’s safe to assume that this newly acquired firepower is going to be directed exclusively at the Houthis in command of the levers of government in Sanaa, but that might only be true for the time being.
The closure of the American embassy in Yemen has made counterterrorism operations frustratingly difficult. “The closure of the U.S. Embassy in Yemen has forced the CIA to significantly scale back its counterterrorism presence in the country, according to current and former U.S. officials, who said the evacuation represents a major setback in operations against al-Qaeda’s most dangerous affiliate,” The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.
And now that dangerous al-Qaeda affiliate on which we no longer have eyes has acquired a small army’s worth of heavy weaponry and equipment. Swell.