Q Josh, just a quick one first on Yemen. I know you’re asked this every time something terrible happens in Yemen. But now that we have essentially complete chaos in Yemen, does the White House still believe that Yemen is the model for a counterterrorism strategy?
MR. EARNEST: Jon, the White House does continue to believe that a successful counterterrorism strategy is one that will build up the capacity of the central government to have local fighters on the ground to take the fight to extremists in their own country, and the United States can serve both to diplomatically offer up some political support to central governments. We can offer very tangible support to local security forces in the form of training and equipping, and we can also support the operations of those security forces through whether it’s the deployment of ISR capability, or even in the case of Iraq, military airstrikes.
And that is a template that has succeeded in mitigating the threat that we face from extremists in places like Yemen and Somalia, and is a template that we believe can succeed in mitigating the threat emanating from Syria as well.
Q I mean, that’s astounding. You’re saying that you still see Yemen as the model? That building up the central government, which has now collapsed; a President who’s apparently fled the country; Saudi troops amassing on one border; the Iranians supporting the rebels — you consider this is a model for counterterrorism?
MR. EARNEST: Again, Jon, what the United States considers to be our strategy when confronting the effort to try to mitigate the threat that is posed by extremists is to prevent them from establishing a safe haven. And certainly, in a chaotic, dangerous situation like in Yemen, what the United States will do and has done is worked to try to support the central government, to build up the capacity of local fighters, and use our own technological and military capabilities to apply pressure on the extremists there.
The success story continues. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the terrorism group that had been the focus of that policy, has taken advantage of the vacuum to grab territory — and begin offensive terror operations around the world. Now that the Hadi government has fled, the CIA can’t do much about it, either:
Agency and U.S. military personnel have been pulled out of Yemen amid escalating sectarian violence in recent weeks. Elite Yemeni units that the United States trained to hunt al-Qaeda have been scrambled by the government’s collapse. And millions of dollars’ worth of U.S.-provided military equipment has been destroyed in a span of days by Saudi airstrikes aimed at rendering those arms useless to the Iran-backed rebels who control the capital. …
The chaos would appear to give AQAP a major opening, a chance to ramp up terrorist plotting against the West while also asserting itself as the defender of Sunni Muslims across Yemen who are threatened by advancing Shiite-dominated Houthi militias.
Before the Thursday prison raid, though, AQAP had been relatively inactive. Aside from claiming credit for a series of small-scale attacks against Houthi fighters — who see Sunni-dominated al-Qaeda as an adversary — the group has avoided exposure to more direct confrontations or lingering American drones.
“The initial evidence is actually that the Houthi advance has caused [AQAP’s] external plotting to be sidelined while they figure out how they’re going to deal with . . . what appears to be an emerging civil war,” said a senior U.S. military official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee has taken notice of this, too (via Katie Pavlich):
California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff said Sunday that Al Qaeda is having a “resurgence.”
“In Yemen the news is really all bad,” Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told ABC’s “This Week.” “Just as we feared in the chaos … Al Qaeda has had a resurgence.”
The Al Qaeda offshoot group in the Arab Peninsula has taken advantage of the turmoil in Yemen since it started several weeks ago, using the chaos and deteriorating government to expand its foothold in southwest Asia.
Schiff still insists that the Obama counterterrorism policies are better than the alternative, but that’s a little difficult to sustain. Schiff sniffs at the heavy-footprint model, but Obama’s alternative has resulted in four failed states — Syria, Iraq, Libya, and now Yemen — and an explosion of terrorist-network growth in all four countries. Yemen is no exception, as this video report from Reuters makes clear. AQAP has now seized towns in eastern Yemen, and staged a prison break that freed 300 of its fighters.
Syria probably would have collapsed anyway, even absent any pressure from the US. The same cannot be said of the other three countries. We had influence in Iraq and acted to keep the Sunnis and the Kurds within the coalition until Obama refused to seriously negotiate for an extended American presence, leading to the collapse of the Iraqi military and the rapid sweep of ISIS and their genocidal army. We deliberately undermined Ali Saleh in Yemen even though he had been cooperating in our counterterrorism strategy against AQAP, and we literally bombed Moammar Qaddafi out of power despite his cooperation on counterterrorism. In all three instances, those interventions without boots on the ground ended up leaving huge vacuums for terrorists to fill, and in Yemen a gap for Iran’s regional ambitions as well. Egypt nearly had the same outcome until the military seized power again.
Schiff may try to defend the Obama administration’s inept foreign policy, but the results — and the chaos in the region — speak for themselves.