It does not make much sense to talk about the terrorist groups in Yemen as if they represent some “new” front in the War on Terror. If you hear that, you’re listening to the Johnny-Come-Lately crowd pretending that they pay attention to counterterrorism.
The terrorists have been there for a while. They have been threatening to go global. The U.S. government has known about the threat. U.S. agencies have been operating in Yemen for some time — and, in part, the terrorist attempts to reach out and touch America are because we have been after them. There were at least two strikes last month going after al-Qaeda leaders in the country.
Our problem is bigger than Yemen. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has a presence in Saudi Arabia. Last August, they tried to assassinate the Saudi prince in charge of counterterrorism operations in his country. There is also the problem of al-Shabaab, the terrorist group based in Somalia. The have sworn allegiance to al-Qaeda. They definitely have links to Yemen, and they have threatened the United States.
It is another axis of evil, and you have to go after all three parts of the problem to take the network down.
The Saudis have actually been doing their part. That’s why they tried to kill the prince leading the counterterrorism effort.
Yemen’s government is a reluctant ally, more concerned about Houthi rebels and secessionists than al-Qaeda. It will take pressure and resources from the U.S. to get them to do more.
The third axis is the most troubling: Somalia is almost completely lawless and ungoverned. The Somali government is a government in name only. There the U.S. and other allies need to rely on the oil-spot strategy: Find bits of the country that are stable and with which we can work, support them, and grow from there.
In short: There is no silver bullet here. By having a strategy for each axis, we can take the fight to them and keep them on the defensive. In the meanwhile, we’ve got to crush al-Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan once and for all. That’s a blow that Bin Laden’s movement won’t survive.
— James Jay Carafano is senior research fellow for national security and homeland security in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation.