In my latest piece for LobeLog, I look at the comprehensive failure of the Saudi-led intervention (call it “Operation Decisive Edge,” or “Operation Restoring Hope,” or both, or neither — it’s all been one big mess) into Yemen, and wonders how much longer the US plans to keep supporting this catastrophe:
In the meantime, the main effect of Saudi efforts has been to turn what was already a critical humanitarian situation into an outright “catastrophe.” Thanks to reckless conduct on both sides of the conflict, thousands of Yemeni civilians have been killed or wounded, and millions are either displaced or otherwise lack access to clean water, food, and healthcare. Speaking on Tuesday at a conference held by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Beirut, European Council on Foreign Relations analyst Adam Baron called the war “unprecedented in Yemen in its level of destruction and its scope.” He added that “facts on the ground point to an extended conflict,” which means that most Yemenis have little to look forward to apart from further misery. It appears, actually, that the Saudi campaign has not weakened the Houthi position within Yemen in any significant way. On the contrary, according to Baron, Yemenis who had been ambivalent or even opposed to Ansar Allah’s takeover have, in the face of the bombing campaign, adopted the phrase “kullna Ansar Allah”—“we are all Ansar Allah.”
The one group in Yemen that has seen its fortunes improve under Decisive Storm and Restoring Hope has been al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which of all the regional affiliates of al-Qaeda U.S. officials consider “by far the most dangerous to the West because it has both technical skills and global reach.” In the chaos created by the civil war and the Saudi intervention, AQAP has been able to take control of the important seaport of Al-Mukalla—one of AQAP’s top commanders, Nasser al-Ansi, was killed in a drone strike on Al-Mukalla in early May—as well as a nearby airfield and oil terminal. Of potentially greater concern is that AQAP has made inroads into eastern Yemeni tribes that have opposed Ansar Allah’s takeover. Because the Saudi coalition has focused all of its attention on Ansar Allah, AQAP has been able to strengthen these ties without fear of pushback. As Baron put it, at this point “al-Qaeda and extremist groups in Yemen are stronger than they’ve ever been in their history.”
Whatever the Saudis’ goals are in Yemen (the official “countering Iranian aggression” has never been totally believable), they are a) not being achieved and b) not America’s. Yet Washington has been giving targeting information to the coalition, and is now “expediting” weapons deliveries to Riyadh. There may have been some value in going along with the Saudis on this operation just to keep that relationship from cracking any more than it already has over Iran, but at this point that value has been more than outweighed by the fact that what the Saudis are doing in Yemen runs directly counter to US national security interests.