How the War on Yemen Helps al-Qaeda

Originally appeared on The American Conservative.

The Associated Press reports on the Saudi coalition’s cooperation with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen:

A military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and backed by the United States has cut secret deals with al-Qaida fighters, paying some to leave key cities and towns the militants had seized across Yemen and letting others retreat with weapons, equipment and wads of looted cash, an investigation by The Associated Press has found. Hundreds more were recruited to join the coalition itself.

It isnot news that the Saudi coalition has sometimes worked with and fought alongside AQAP, but it is good to see more coverage of this important aspect of the war. The AP previously covered this in May 2017. The coalition’s war has wrecked Yemen and empowered AQAP, and the two have been on the same side in the war. Because the U.S. has backed the coalition from the start, that puts our government in the absurd position of supporting the governments and proxies working with AQAP at the same time that it is combating AQAP. The report states:

The AP found that coalition-funded militia commanders actively recruit al-Qaida militants – considered to be exceptional fighters – or fighters who until very recently were members of the group.

Abdel-Sattar al-Shamiri, a former adviser to the governor of Taiz province, said he recognized al-Qaida’s presence from the start and told commanders not to recruit members.

“Their response was, ‘We will unite with the devil in the face of Houthis,’” al-Shamiri said.

Insofar as the US has any security interests in Yemen, supporting a war that strengthens and relies on the local Al Qaeda affiliate damages and undermines those interests. The governments and their proxies that pay off and recruit Al Qaeda members are not our allies in any meaningful sense, and we shouldn’t pretend that they are. This is just one more reason why the US should have nothing to do with the coalition’s war on Yemen.

The report quotes TAC contributor Michael Horton to explain how our government is rationalizing this awful policy:

“Elements of the US military are clearly aware that much of what the US is doing in Yemen is aiding AQAP and there is much angst about that,” said Michael Horton, a fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, a US analysis group that tracks terrorism.

But supporting allies against “what the US views as Iranian expansionism takes priority over battling AQAP and even stabilizing Yemen,” Horton said.

The problem here should be obvious. The Iranian “expansionism” that the US and coalition government claim they are fighting in Yemen is illusory, but the security threat to US and Western allies from AQAP is limited but real. US foreign policy should be focused on advancing the interests and security of the United States. It should not be concerned with indulging the paranoia of despotic clients. Giving priority to opposing Iran with its negligible role in Yemen at the expense of empowering jihadists for years to come is a terrible tradeoff that will haunt the US and other Western governments that support this war.

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at The American Conservative, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and is a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Dallas. Follow him on Twitter. This article is reprinted from The American Conservative with permission.

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