As Yemen Burns, White House Still Touting Country as Counter-Terror ‘Model’

In a statement ABC’s Jon Karl found “astounding,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest continued to call the United States’s activities in Yemen as a “model” for counter-terrorism — even as the Arabic nation’s government collapses and international terrorist groups move in.

As al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula gained power in Yemen’s north over the past few years, the Obama administration responded with a relatively hands-off approach. The U.S. government helped build up, support and train government forces fighting the terrorists while providing air reconnaissance and, occasionally, drone strikes against high-value targets in the country.

It was a plan that the Obama administration frequently held up as a successful example of U.S. counter-terrorism strategy. But as Shi’ite Houthi rebels continue to drive the Yemeni government from power, and fighters from the al-Qaida and the Islamic State conduct terrorist attacks and consolidate their forces, many have called the American strategy to help stabilize the nation fundamentally flawed. 

“Now that we have, essentially, complete chaos in Yemen, does the White House still believe that Yemen is the model for counter-terrorism strategy?” Karl asked Earnest on Wednesday.

“The White House does continue to believe that a successful counter-terrorism strategy is one that will build up the capacity of the central government to have local fighters on the ground to take the fight to extremists in their own country,” Earnest said, emphasizing the importance of supporting local security forces. “That is a template that has succeeded in mitigating the threat that we face from extremists in place like Yemen and Somalia,” he added.

“That’s astounding to hear,” Karl said. “You still see Yemen as a model? Building up a central government — a central government that has now collapsed? A president who has apparently fled the country? Saudi troops amassing on one border? The Iranians supporting the rebels? You consider this a model?”

Earnest conceded that the strategy may no longer work that well in Yemen, specifically, but claimed that “we do continue to enjoy the benefits of a sustained counter-terrorism/security infrastructure that remains in Yemen.”

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