US conducting airstrikes against Al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen

Service members from the U.S. Air Force, Army and Marine Corps participate in a sustainment training at Grand Bara, Djibouti, Jan. 5, 2017. During the exercise U.S. Air Force Joint Terminal Attack Controllers, Soldiers from the 101st Infantry Battalion and Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit conducted a sustainment training utilizing MV-22 Ospreys and F-16 Fighting Falcons. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua J. Garcia)

U.S. Central Command announced the U.S. military is continuing airstrikes against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula operatives.

A USCENTCOM press release said a strike Dec. 29 killed two Al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP) operatives in the al-Baydah Governorate, and a Jan. 8 strike killed an AQAP operative in the al-Baydah Governorate.

“Strikes against Al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen put consistent pressure on the terrorist network and prevent them from plotting and executing attacks against the U.S. and our allies,” said Army Maj. Michael N. Meyer, a U.S. Central Command spokesman. “AQAP remains a significant threat to the region, the United States, and beyond.”

According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, both the Pentagon and CIA have been operating drones in the skies above Yemen. But the U.S. has also launched strikes with other weapons systems, including conventional jet aircraft and cruise missiles.

Fighting in Yemen can be traced back to the handover of power from longtime autocratic President Ali Abdullah Saleh to his deputy and current president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi in Nov. 2011.

The handover was forced to occur in a bid to return stability to the country following the Arab Spring in early 2011.

This prompted the rising of the Houthi movement, championing Yemen’s minority Shia community.

They had launched a series of rebellions against the former president during the last 10 years but took advantage of Hadi’s weakness claiming control of the northern Saada province.

Frustrated by the lack of reform following the removal of Saleh, many ordinary Yemenis joined the Houthis.

During the Arab Spring, Ali Muhsin and the al-Ahmar family deserted Saleh, effectively splitting the inner core of Saleh’s regime into two warring factions in Sana’a.

Fearing Yemen’s slide into uncontrollable chaos, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council helped broker a negotiated settlement between the various factions of Yemen’s elite. Saleh stepped down in exchange for immunity for crimes committed during the Arab Spring and retention of his leadership role in Yemen’s ruling party.

Saudi’s role is a double-edged sword. The Saudis see Yemen as a potential threat, both as a strong state and as a failed state.

As a strong state, a hostile Yemen threatens the Saudis. As a weak state, the Saudis fear Yemen’s descent into chaos, thus destabilizing the entire region. Forces hostile toward Saudi Arabia, such as al-Qaeda, find Yemen as a safe haven when the Yemeni state cannot control its own territory.

According to an article published by Al-Monitor in 2016, U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, has visited the area several times to push a plan for a political settlement. Initially, both sides rejected Kerry’s suggestions, but pressure from the British and Americans on the Saudis has forced the parties to reconsider.

Unfortunately, the war has inserted deep divisions of mistrust between Yemen’s multiple centers of power, and Yemen may be de facto divided into mutually hostile camps that will have a difficult time forming an effective state.

A report by Public Radio International alleges that when the U.S. fired cruise missiles to defend its ships in the Red Sea this past October, it was drawn deeper into Yemen’s civil war.

A U.S. Navy warship, the USS Mason, was fired at — twice — in international waters off the coast of Yemen. The missiles didn’t hit the ship, and no one was hurt.

The Navy responded, firing cruise missiles at radar installations on Yemen’s western coast, where the original fire came from.  Which happens to be an area held by the Houthi rebels, whose takeover of much of Yemen set off the civil war in late 2014.

This was the first time the U.S. itself has fired on the Houthis, deepening American involvement in the war. Since March 2015, the U.S. has supported the Saudi campaign to defeat the Houthis by arming, guiding and assisting the Saudi-led air campaign and naval blockade against them.

USCENTCOM is steadfast in its position toward the conflict saying in its release that CENTCOM’s mission is to direct and enable military operations and activities with allies and partners to increase regional security and stability in support of enduring U.S. interests.

“U.S. Central Command remains committed to defeating AQAP and denying it safe havens in Yemen,” Meyer said.

An infographic from the Council of Foreign Affairs illustrates Yemen’s front lines.

The U.S. insists its position on Yemen is to find a political solution. The U.S. State Department said that it has maintained a firm stance toward the need to reach a political solution to the war in Yemen, based on the outcome of the national dialogue, the Gulf Initiative and U.N. Security Council Resolution 2216.

Last week, an official at the U.S. State Department told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that the U.S. position on Yemen has not changed and stressed the need to implement the relevant international resolutions in this regard.

Until a political solution reaches fruition, the U.S. is determined to keep extremist factions at bay through continued military intervention.

“AQAP is a foreign terrorist organization with a history of attacks against the United States and its allies, including the Christmas Day 2009 attempted bombing of a commercial airliner in the U.S., and the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo office massacre in Paris,” said CENCOM spokesman, Army Maj. Josh T. Jacques in a Dec. 2016 release.

“Strikes against AQAP in Yemen pressure the terrorist network and hinder their ability to attack the U.S. and our allies,” he said.

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  • Jim Verchio is a staff writer for Popular Military. As a retired Air Force Public Affairs craftsman, Jim has served at all levels. From staff writer to Editor-In-Chief, he has more than 30 years experience covering military topics in print and broadcast from the CONUS to Afghanistan. He is also a two time recipient of the DoD’s prestigious Thomas Jefferson Award for journalism excellence.

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