- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Yemen is veering closer toward the abyss of failed statehood amid violence that has surged just as European, American and Arab counterterrorism officials refocus their attention on the strategically positioned Persian Gulf nation — where at least one of the gunmen responsible for this month’s Paris terrorist attacks received training.

The escalation of violence in Yemen undermines the Obama administration’s military and intelligence operations against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which claimed last week to have ordered the Jan. 7 attack on a French satirical magazine, adding a fresh layer of complexity to the already-thorny aftermath of the attack in the heart of Europe.

The presidential palace of President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi in Sanaa was sacked Tuesday by Shiite Muslim militants battling for influence among a host of armed and extremist factions in Yemen, including the Sunni Muslim AQAP, which already controls key territory in the nation’s south.

U.S. officials say the Shiite Houthis haven’t taken total control, but they acknowledge that the Yemeni government of Mr. Hadi — a key ally in the fight against al Qaeda — is more focused now on preserving its power than on running operations against al Qaeda.

The violence unfolding in Yemen also points to potential holes in the administration’s overall counterterrorism approach. President Obama himself had touted Yemen as a model for effective U.S. counterterrorism strategies — including against the rising threat posed by the Islamic State movement in Syria and Iraq.

In September, following a yearslong barrage of U.S. drone and fighter jet strikes on suspected terrorists in Yemen, Mr. Obama asserted that the “strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.”

Some of the more vocal critics of the president’s counterterrorism strategy homed in on that claim Tuesday. Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and the newly appointed chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, offered the follow sarcastic tweet: “The ‘success story’ of Yemen continues to unfold.”

The increasing unrest in Yemen is raising concerns the strategically important nation, which borders oil-rich Saudi Arabia and is on key Gulf shipping routes, will become a failed state similar to Somalia.

EU foreign and security policy chief Federica Mogherini is expected to push for renewed and deeper cooperation from the U.S. intelligence community in the EU-driven alliance during a visit to Washington that began Tuesday and will carry on through Wednesday.

The alliance aims to boost the sharing of “intelligence information not only within the European Union but also with other countries around us,” Mrs. Mogherini said following a meeting Monday in Brussels, where EU foreign ministers called for the creation of a program that will embed security officials into EU delegations across the Middle East.

It remains to be seen how eager the Obama administration will be to participate. The U.S.-Europe intelligence relationship has been strained during recent years following former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s leak of documents exposing certain U.S. surveillance operations in Europe.

The Snowden leak triggered the scandalous allegation that the operations included eavesdropping on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone.

More recently, in the aftermath of this month’s Paris terrorist attacks over negative depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, the Obama administration drew heated political criticism last week from Republicans in Washington for not sending a top-level U.S. official to an anti-terror solidarity rally that drew leaders from across Europe and the Middle East to France.

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough took the blame for the move Tuesday, saying during a nationally broadcast interview that the decision “rests on me, that’s my job.”

With such theatrics as a backdrop, intelligence sources told The Washington Times Tuesday that Mrs. Mogherini’s visit to the U.S. this week is being coordinated by the State Department and is unlikely to involve major participation from American intelligence officials.

One official, who spoke anonymously with The Times, said a general consensus within the U.S. counterterrorism community is that Washington is already sharing information with Europe, and that it is the Europeans who could do better at reciprocating.

While U.S. officials are currently engaged in a highly secretive policy of unleashing drone strikes against suspected terrorists — including against AQAP targets in Yemen — the current posture of the administration is to lean heavily on local partners to provide security against extremists on the ground, while also emphasizing the need for long-term terrorism prevention programs.

The assault by Shiite militants in the nation’s capital is triggering specific speculation over how AQAP may respond to the situation. Intelligence officials generally regard the group as the most capable of al Qaeda’s affiliate organizations around the world of carrying out external attacks on U.S. and European targets.

U.S. officials claim to have disrupted several AQAP plots during recent years, and on Tuesday the Justice Department charged two Yemeni citizens with conspiracy to murder U.S. nationals abroad and providing material support to al Qaeda.

A complaint and arrest warrant were unsealed in federal court in the Eastern District of New York charging Saddiq Al-Abbadi, also known as “Sufiyan al-Yemeni,” and Ali Alvi, also known as “Issa al-Yemeni.” Officials said both men were arrested in Saudi Arabia and expelled to the U.S. to face charges.

Yemen became a base for AQAP during the years following 9/11, when many of the group’s operatives streamed into the nation following a crackdown against them by the government of Saudi Arabia.

The Shiite rebels took over the capital Sanaa in September as part of a long power struggle with Mr. Hadi and effectively govern several other cities as well.
It was unclear whether they intend to seize power altogether or allow the internationally backed president to remain in office.

In a lengthy speech aired by the group’s TV network, rebel leader Abdel-Malik al-Houthi said that “all options are open” and that the escalation “has no ceiling” if Mr. Hadi does not speed up implementation of a U.N.-brokered peace deal.

That deal would grant the Houthis greater power over a commission that has been assigned to draft a new constitution and outline a new federal system. Critics of the Houthis say they are using the U.N. deal as a pretext to seize more power.

This article is based in part on wire services.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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