The U.S., which has all but ignored the catastrophic humanitarian aspects of the Yemeni conflict, is now stepping up its involvement by sending troops to the war-torn nation. Masked as an extension of the fight against al-Qaeda, the deployment is about the Saudis, Iran, and building U.S. regional power.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Despite facing one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises in decades in the Middle East, the U.S. has remained decidedly silent on the critical situation in Yemen. Washington’s silence, however, is hardly surprising, given that the United States has supported the Saudi-led war against the Yemeni Houthi movement since it began in early 2015, offering logistical support and reconnaissance, along withweapon shipments worth billions, to the Saudi-led coalition.
Now, U.S. involvement in Yemen is set to increase drastically.
The Pentagon announced last Friday that, for the first time, U.S. boots are officially on the ground on Yemen. According to Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis, a “small” contingent of U.S. troops is involved in a “Yemeni” operation to push al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) out of a key stronghold in the heart of the country. Davis claimed that the troops were engaged only in “intelligence sharing” and pointedly declined to state whether more U.S. forces would be sent to Yemen within the coming weeks.
Motives behind expanding U.S. involvement in Yemen
Though the stated purpose of the U.S. troop deployment is to fight al-Qaeda, such a claim is dubious, given not only the U.S.’ involvement in the Saudi-led war but also the U.S.’ geopolitical goals in the region.
For starters, the Pentagon was not entirely honest in calling the operation targeting AQAP a “Yemeni operation.” The U.S. recognizes the government of Yemen as that led by President Abed Mansur Hadi, a figure largely perceived within Yemen and abroad as a puppet of Saudi Arabia and the United States. Hadi’s current “government” is largely propped up by these same foreign actors, not popular Yemeni support.
In 2015, Hadi was ousted by the Houthi political movement, causing a shift in the regional power balance that led Saudi Arabia and its allies to launch their brutal war against Yemen.
Over two years later — despite tens of billions of dollars spent, military superiority, and bringing the country to the brink of collapse — the Saudis have yet to defeat the Houthis. While mainstream media, along with the Saudi-led coalition, blame Iran for the Houthis’ ability to resist foreign efforts to destroy them, Iran’s involvement has been proven to be minimal. Rather, it is clear that the Houthis’ strong popular support has allowed them to be so resilient.
In addition, according to the Pentagon and mainstream media reports, U.S. military action in Yemen has always “remained focused on striking al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” beginning long before the current conflict arose.
However, this too is dishonest.
Prior to the current conflict, the U.S. had already been involved in Yemen for years, beginning with counter-terrorism operations in 2001, which were followed by a drone war championed by former President Barack Obama.
The U.S. began directly supporting the Saudi-led coalition, both logistically and through “intelligence sharing,” just weeks after the Saudis began bombing Yemen in 2015. This assistance has been critical to the Saudi-led war targeting the Houthis.
Suite of U.S. actions consistent with “secret war”
Other U.S. actions also suggest the existence of a secret war against the Houthis: the Pentagon has bombed Houthi-held locations in Yemen, claiming it was retaliation for an attack that never happened; U.S. military officers were discovered aiding forces of the United Arab Emirates, a Saudi-led coalition member, in the running of secret torture prisons throughout the Yemeni countryside; and the U.S., this year alone, has conducted an estimated 80 airstrikes in Yemen and carried out counter-terrorism operations that were later found to have claimed numerous civilian lives.
Fighting al-Qaeda, aiding al-Qaeda, as it suits U.S. agenda
Also suspect are the U.S.’ claims that it is committed to rooting out al-Qaeda at the behest of the Hadi-led and Saudi-backed government.
The U.S., though it has named al-Qaeda an enemy for decades, has nonetheless aided and abetted al-Qaeda in other countries in the Middle East in recent years, particularly in Syria, as well as being responsible for al-Qaeda’s existence in the first place. Indeed, it is known that even the U.S.’ longstanding drone war in Yemenhas actually worked to strengthen al-Qaeda’s presence in the country.
Furthermore, Saudi Arabia – whose war in Yemen the U.S. is supporting – is known to actively support al-Qaeda through both funding and weapons shipments, including to AQAP. Indeed, even Hadi’s Saudi-backed government has sent al-Qaeda members to represent it in peace talks held in Geneva. If the U.S. is currently supporting the Saudi-led war in Yemen, why would it also be attacking a group that the Saudis directly support?
It makes much more sense that the U.S. is involved in Yemen to target the groups that the Saudis don’t support. Much like the game plan in Syria, the presence of AQAP in Yemen is likely being used to justify a slow build-up of U.S. military assets and troops in Yemen that will later be used to aid the Saudi-led coalition, all in the name of “fighting terrorism.” Defense Secretary James Mattis alluded to this in April when he stated the U.S. was considering ramping up its involvement in the Saudi-led war. According to Mattis, the main reason for wanting to increase involvement in the war was not countering terrorist groups but instead targeting Iran.
Though Iran is minimally involved in Yemen’s conflict, Mattis’ words speak to the U.S.’ broader geopolitical goals in the region — goals which have much more to do with regime change, and weakening Iran’s and other nations’ resistance to U.S. meddling, than with fighting terrorism.