Nearly two years into the Saudi invasion of Yemen, the United States has struggled with its role in a conflict that has been much longer, and far bloodier, than anyone imagined. President Trump’s early interest in Yemen risks doubling down on already risky US entanglements in the conflict, and blundering even deeper into the war as a direct participant.
The Saudi invasion’s first immediate effect in 2015 was to dramatically increase al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP’s) territory, as they focused exclusively on fighting the Shi’ite Houthis early in the war, ceding whole cities to AQAP along the coast.
The US has always showed an interest in launching seemingly random airstrikes at AQAP, but the Trump Administration stuck its neck out with a major ground raid, targeting what was described as AQAP headquarters but later revealed to be the home of a “suspected collaborator.” The raid not only failed to kill its intended target, it virtually destroyed a village and killed dozens of civilians.
Such failures cannot be overstated, as the large civilian death toll, including an eight-year-old American girl, will add to anti-US sentiment within Yemen, making it easier for AQAP to recruit and allowing AQAP to position itself as a counter to foreign aggression.
Perhaps an even bigger risk was the administration’s response to an attack by the Houthis on a Saudi warship off the coast, which ignored the two sides being in open warfare with one another, accusing the Houthis of trying to attack a US ship, implying that Iran was behind the move, and deploying the USS Cole off the coast in response.
Though there’s never been serious evidence of Houthi ties to Iran, US hawks have long endorsed the idea, based on them both being types of Shi’ites. The Trump Administration appears to be buying in more completely, and that risks the US dragging itself deeper into the war on the false notion it would be a proxy war against Iran.
Even then, the decision to send the USS Cole, a ship famously attacked in Yemen back in 2000, appears ridiculously ham-handed as an attempt at symbolism, and it is downright foolhearty if they genuinely believe the Houthis wanted to target an American ship to send the Cole there to be a sitting duck.
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