|Map Courtesy of The World Factbook|
The U.S. has been in Yemen since the early 2000s, conducting counterterrorism operations through UAS operations and other missions. U.S. forces also have been training Yemeni forces and letting the Yemeni government lead the fight against Sunni terrorists when possible, attempting to make their presence as minimal as possible. The goal of this strategy is to make the Yemeni government capable of creating and maintaining a stable nation that will no longer be a safe haven for terrorists. Many Sunni terrorists have been killed during this time and this, in turn, has made many Yemeni Sunnis unhappy. Furthermore, terrorism has not abated and the government has not stabilized.
Things took a significant turn for the worse in 2014 when Iranian-backed Houthi rebels began achieving significant victories against the Sunni government while they also battled Sunni terrorists. This made Yemeni Sunnis even angrier.
Houthis have now become so successful that they appear to have taken over Sana’a after launching an assault against it during President Obama’s State of the Union address. They already captured many other parts of the nation as well.
These successes have been exploited by AQAP, with the terrorist group going so far as to urge Yemeni Sunnis to unite with them. AQAP even views the situation as a recruiting boon. AQAP ultimately wants to force the Houthis to overextend themselves at which time they plan to reverse their gains.
In short, there is a full-fledged Sunni-Shia / Saudi-Iranian war going on in Yemen, with the U.S. counterterrorism and overall “light footprint” strategy now a flat-out failure.
The Houthi attempt, whether successful or not, at taking over the government won’t be the last battle in the growing Sunni-Shia war in Yemen. AQAP recently conducted two high-profile IED attacks, proving the terrorist group is still capable even as the Houthis achieve victories of their own. The only group of Yemenis that seem like they might be on their way to defeat is the U.S.-backed Yemeni government.
What the U.S. plans to do to attempt to roll back this losing effort remains to be seen. But what is certain is that if the U.S. doesn’t change something, it will be yet another clear and voluntary defeat in the wars it fought since September 11, 2001.