January 28, 2010

US Special Forces to Yemen - the right strategy

According to recent reports, the U.S. Department of Defense has ordered the deployment of additional Army Special Forces troops to Yemen. Yemen has emerged as a key front in the war against al-Qa'idah and its affiliate organizations, in this case al-Qaidah in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). This augments an already fairly robust CIA presence in the country working with Yemeni intelligence and security forces. Yemeni air strikes (and at least one U.S. cruise missile strike) have relied extensively on American intelligence information.

Deployment of American special forces to Yemen is exactly the type of operations we should be mounting against al-Qa'idah and its affiliates. This is typical of a counter-terrorism strategy - train the local forces to go after the bad guys, as well as mounting your own finely-targeted operations. This requires excellent intelligence and close cooperation with the local military and intelligence services to be sure, but allows effective operations with a smaller, less-visible American presence on the ground.

It also allows the United States to tailor and somewhat limit how much aid goes to the corrupt government of 'Ali 'Abdallah Salih. We can provide the training and equipment necessary to achieve the goal of hunting down and killing al-Qa'idah members without creating a huge American footprint in the country.

Contrast this deployment to what the Obama Administration is doing in Afghanistan. Large deployments of mostly conventional U.S. Army and U.S. Marine ground forces is exactly the opposite of the counter-terrorism strategy in Yemen. This counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan may not be successful - the increased numbers of American and foreign forces in Afghanistan play right into the hands of the Taliban. It is an insurgent recruiter's dream.

The sad part about the choice of this strategy is the fact that the real enemy - al-Qa'idah - has no meaningful and certainly no threatening presence in Afghanistan. They have all moved to Pakistan (where they face CIA drone-launched missile strikes), Iraq (where they have all but been eliminated), Saudi Arabia (where they have all but been eliminated as well), Yemen and Somalia. Yet in his State of the Union address, the President still wants us to believe we are in Afghanistan to defeat al-Qa'idah.

Obama's words: "And in Afghanistan, we're increasing our troops and training Afghan security forces so they can begin to take the lead in July of 2011 and our troops can begin to come home... As we take the fight to Al Qaeda...."

We are not taking the fight to al-Qa'idah in Afghanistan. It is amazing that the same administration that seems to get the point about Yemen has completely missed it in Afghanistan. Mr. President, your Yemen strategy is good - do more of that. Your Afghanistan strategy, however, is way off base. Start taking the fight to al-Qa'idah where they are, not where they were.

Yemen is a good start.