Yemen to US: No more ground raids on our turf; Update: Yemen denies

Update: CBS now reports on the same link as below that the Yemeni government denies having changed its policy:

“Yemen continues to cooperate with the United States and continues to abide by all the agreements,” Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdul-Malik al-Mekhlafi told The Associated Press, saying it was “not true” that his government had asked U.S. forces to cease ground operations in Yemen.

He added that the government was “involved in talks with the U.S. administration on the latest raid,” and had requested a “reassessment” of a deadly raid by U.S. Special Operations forces in al-Bayda province on Jan. 29.

There was certainly some question as to how much the Yemen government could do without the US, as I noted originally. Looks like they understand those limitations after all.

Original post follows …

The US may have complicated its efforts to fight one of the most dangerous al-Qaeda offshoots with a mission to make those efforts easier. After a Special Ops ground raid ran into trouble and air strikes called in to protect American soldiers killed civilians, the beleaguered government of Yemen has publicly withdrawn its permission for such operations in the future. That may put high-value targets from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) out of reach, at least temporarily. CBS News has the report from the Pentagon:

The government of Yemen has withdrawn permission for the U.S. to launch Special Operations ground missions inside the country. The rebuke comes after a raid against an al Qaeda compound in Yemen’s al Bayda province. At least 30 people were killed, including civilians and American Navy SEAL Ryan Owens also died. …

This is a major setback for a planned military campaign against the branch of al Qaeda officials consider to be one most likely to launch terrorist attacks against the U.S., reports CBS News correspondent David Martin.

Pictures from the aftermath bore signs of an operation gone wrong. Fourteen al Qaeda operatives were killed in the January 29 raid, but also at least 15 civilians.

The Yemeni government is outraged about the civilian casualties.

Some of the dead were children, and pictures of their corpses contributed to the outrage in Yemen. The Yemeni government has enough problems without defending their partnership with the US; they have Sunni extremists in the AQAP network and Iranian-backed Shi’ite Houthi rebels arrayed against them at the same time. They need to protect the political support they have now, so this move by the government makes sense politically in the moment.

It’s untenable for them in the long run, though, for the same reasons. They need help fending off the Houthis and AQAP. The Saudis are taking on the Houthis, while the US has focused on AQAP — except for the couple of occasions where Houthi positions tried attacking the US Navy. (Those attempts didn’t work out so well for the Houthis.) Yemen’s recognized government is caught between a rock and a hard place, and the US will want to give them as much leeway as possible. Expect future actions to be even more discreet, and probably farther off in the future too.

Speaking of leeway, the New York Times reports that Trump might be reconsidering the leeway he gives to the Pentagon on approving these raids:

The raid, in which just about everything went wrong, was an early test of Mr. Trump’s national security decision-making — and his willingness to rely on the assurances of his military advisers. His aides say that even though the decision was made over a dinner, it had been fully vetted, and had the requisite legal approvals.

Mr. Trump will soon have to make a decision about the more general request by the Pentagon to allow more of such operations in Yemen without detailed, and often time-consuming, White House review. It is unclear whether Mr. Trump will allow that, or how the series of mishaps that marked his first approval of such an operation may have altered his thinking about the human and political risks of similar operations.

Not every military operation goes off as planned; in fact, probably fewer do than don’t. Things do go wrong even when sufficient planning has taken place. Trump will have to determine whether that’s what happened here or whether the Pentagon didn’t plan and prepare fully for all the reasonable contingencies — and that will determine whether he chooses to put the tighter leash back on the military for these Special Ops raids, whenever we get back to conducting them.