ISIS, Yemen and the question of United States intervention


Yemen, along with Somalia, is a country oft-mentioned as an example of a failed state. Compared to Iraq or Afghanistan, Yemen gets quite an insignificant amount of news coverage.

As a result, many Americans are hopelessly ignorant to its conflict. However, Americans should be wary of Yemen.

While the country is incredibly impoverished, it is strategically important and has security implications for the region as well as the West.

Yemen is in the midst of a civil war, a war which has implications that extend far beyond its own border and peninsula.

However, the two most notable sides are those loyal to Saudi-backed President Abdrabbuh Hadi, as well as the Houthis, rebels who are allied to Zaidi Shia.

The Houthis have had some recent success, for in February they forced President Hadi to flee the capital.

While these two sides are constantly fighting, they are both opposed to al-Qaeda invading the Arabian Peninsula.

Furthermore, ISIS has become important, as they are seeking to gain a power position on the Peninsula.

Most recently, ISIS carried out a series of suicide bombings attacking Sana’a, the nation’s capital.

In the past few days Yemen has been back in the news.

As rebel Houthi forces were closing in the president’s Aden stronghold, Hadi sent an intervention request to his neighbor, Saudi Arabia.

A Saudi-led coalition including Jordan, Egypt, Morocco and Sudan responded with a series of air strikes on Houthi targets.

However, these air-strikes have had mixed success.

For example, Yemeni officials recently said that these strikes, originally aimed at military bases, instead hit a nearby school.

Furthermore, CNN is reporting that many Yemenis are crossing the Red Sea in order to escape these Saudi missiles.

It seems that Saudi-intervention has come in the form of poorly aimed, indiscriminate missile attacks.

This seems to not have been the original Saudi Arabian goal.

However, for reasons I will explain, the Saudi’s are strongly invested in preventing a Houthi victory.

“Having Yemen fail cannot be an option for us or for our coalition partners,” said Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi ambassador to the United States.

But Saudi motivations go deeper.

CNN military analyst Lt. Col. Rick Francona explains, “they [Saudi Arabia] look at the Houthis as nothing more than a proxy Iranian force, just like we can look at Hezbollah as a proxy Iranian force in southern Lebanon.”

Saudi Arabia is doing all it can to prevent a “Iranian-run state on their southern border, because they’ve got enough problems on the northern border,” said Francona, a retired U.S. Air Force intelligence officer.

According to analysts and Saudi Arabian officials, Iran is seeking hegemony in Yemen; a result which the Saudi-led coalition is vehemently against.

As expected, Iran has publicly condemned the intervention.

While the airstrikes appear to be a brutal form of intervention, they seem to only be the start of the campaign.

Saudi Arabia has pledged 150,000 soldiers to the coalition, as reported by the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV network.

Once again, according to analyst Francona, “the airstrikes will be the kickoff of the campaign.”

He goes on to make it clear that the Saudi-led coalition will, “want to knock down the air defenses and create a corridor with which they can move their troops in there.”

Beyond this military offensive, the Saudis, along with their allies, have pledged their involvement in finding a political solution for the rapidly declining Yemeni state.

A statement by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait have made it clear that their aim is to restore Yemen’s, “security and stability through establishing a political process.”

There are many reasons why this conflict is one which the United States would like to avoid becoming involved.

Regardless of one’s political opinion, it is clear that aiding Saudi Arabia in anti-Iranian force would complicate the recent Iranian-American nuclear agreement.

Al-Jubeir, Saudi ambassador the United States, made it clear that American forces are not involved in the airstrikes.

However, a CNN analyst hypothesized that the United States may have provided information needed to accurate pick out targets.

Thi is a troubling thought, considering how poorly aimed these missile strikes have been.

Arab and senior Obama administration officials have admitted to CNN that an interagency U.S. coordination team is in Saudi Arabia, although sources have said the Saudis has not specified exactly what they want yet.

“We can help with logistics and intelligence and things like that, but there will be no military invention by the U.S,” a senior Obama administration official said.

The violence, instigated by both rebel and terrorist forces, is worrisome for the Obama administration, as the U.S. counts on the Yemeni administration as a key Middle Eastern ally.

Secretary of State and former presidential candidate John Kerry has conceded that, “some institutions of government have broken down and are in trouble.”

Yemen is the al Qaeda safe house within the Arabian Peninsula, and is considered by US officials to be the most volatile branch of the network.

This affiliate, AQAP has enumerated both Houthis and the pro-US Yemeni government as their foes.

As if this terrorist entanglement wasn’t enough, according to a Yemeni official, there is a “real competition” between ISIS and AQAP.

While the presence of ISIS is worrisome, American intelligence has maintained that ISIS loyalists are likely “midlevel AQAP militants who are sympathetic to ISIL’s vision but haven’t broken ranks.”

However, many experts believe ISIS is attempting to gain control in Yemen as a result of its Islamic significance.

Katherine Zimmerman, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute explains that Yemen, “is a place where we’ve seen attacks against the United States,” and that, “there’s a recruiting pipeline that ISIS may try and tap into.”

The previously mentioned anonymous Yemeni official explained that AQAP is still dominant, although ISIS has made it clear that, “there’s a new kid on the block.”

However, officials and analysts theorize that AQAP and ISIS competition could result in a race to see who could strike the U.S. first and hardest.

Although ISIS’s presence is marginal, the human nature of competition is one which becomes chilling when discussing the involvement of two of the world’s most dangerous terrorist groups.


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