The White House denied reports that all of its counterterrorism operations in Yemen were suspended last week after Shiite rebels deposed the U.S.-backed government — and indeed, they’re apparently not stopped completely. The Times:
A C.I.A. drone strike on Monday on a car in eastern Yemen, the first since the resignation of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, killed three suspected Qaeda fighters, American officials said, in a signal that the United States will continue its targeted killing operations in the country despite the apparent takeover by Houthi fighters.
The strike took place in the central province of Marib, where a missile hit a vehicle carrying three men near the boundary with the province of Shabwa, which is believed to be a stronghold of Al Qaeda. The Central Intelligence Agency operates a drone base in southern Saudi Arabia, which borders Yemen.
The Saudi government is a strong supporter of American strikes against the group Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
A senior American official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, declined to confirm the names of the three people hit. The Associated Press quoted a Qaeda member who identified the three killed fighters as Awaid al-Rashidi, a Saudi, and Abdel Aziz al-Sanaani and Mohammed al-Jahmi, both Yemeni.
As long as we have intelligence, which can be obtained through routes other than the Yemeni government, of course, these drone strikes, and perhaps some limited Special Forces raids, can happen. There just presumably won’t be too much intelligence to go on. That doesn’t just, as one has to assume, raise the chances of horrific, deadly drone-stike mistakes and decrease the strikes’ effectiveness.
More important, the “Yemen model” that the president touted last September as the model for his campaign against the Islamic State was dealt a serious blow last week. It can work without cooperative governments on the ground in the short term — in Syria, for instance, we have Kurdish partners and who knows who else — but it doesn’t have any long-term promise.
You have to be working with, and bolstering, a government with at least a modicum of competence and trustworthiness. The White House says it’s hoping for a political settlement between the Shiite rebels (known as Houthis) and the existing government, but the Yemeni government just got a whole lot less trustworthy and competent, and it seems unlikely the Obama administration will want to invest anything significant in changing that balance.