America embarked on a new war in the Middle East on Monday night against Islamic radical forces in Syria, but it feels in many ways as though the United States and the robust coalition of Arab partners combating fundamentalism in the region are only playing catch-up.
Following Libya’s lead, where Islamist militias have taken control of key portions of that country including the capital, the Yemeni capital of Sanaa was recently attacked by Shiite militia forces. After a bloody assault, AFP reports that the capital has largely fallen to the militants.
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.
#BREAKING Yemen capital under near-total control of Shiite rebels: AFP
— Agence France-Presse (@AFP) September 23, 2014
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.