Despite the growing reports of failure – and despite the death of a Navy SEAL, and the destruction of a $70 million Osprey aircraft – Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer has continued to insist that the mission was a “successful operation by all standards.”
by Namir Shabibi and Nasser al Sane
Part 6 - US counterterrorism ops in Yemen
The last time US special forces launched a ground operation like this one was in November 2014. It was a rescue mission, trying to spring an American and a South African taken hostage by al Qaeda. Tragically the mission failed and the hostages were killed.
Though US boots have been on the ground in Yemen off and on since 2002, drones and manned jets lead the hunt for AQAP.
More than 162 strikes have left 815 people dead, including 134 civilians (in the last three years of Obama’s presidency civilian deaths in drone attacks dropped considerably). Hundreds of al Qaeda fighters have been reported killed, including a succession of men chosen as the group’s emir.
In 2011, when the Arab Spring reached Yemen and unseated its dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh, al Qaeda took full advantage. It turned from a small terrorist group, focussed on blowing up airliners over the US, to an insurgent group governing a chunk of southern Yemen.
With this transition to insurgency, AQAP became the only group in Yemen to actually profit from the 2011 uprising, according to the recent International Crisis Group report.
In May 2016 US soldiers were deployed to an airbase in the south-western province of Lahj alongside Yemeni troops, coordinating US air strikes and Yemeni ground forces against AQAP.
Together Yemeni soldiers and US air power unseated AQAP from its stronghold but only succeeded in driving the terrorists into the mountains. It has become embedded in the ongoing civil war in Yemen, setting itself up as a Sunni bulwark against the Shia Houthi militias which have occupied the capital since 2014.
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