Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

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How to Grow Terrorists in Yemen

by Micah Zenko
May 17, 2012

A drone circles the skies (Courtesy Reuters/Andy Clark). A drone circles the skies (Courtesy Reuters/Andy Clark).


The Obama administration’s strategy against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), as articulated by White House counterterrorism czar John Brennan, is to assure that it is “destroyed and is eliminated.” In January 2010, Brennan warned: “We’ve seen over the past several years in Yemen is increasing strengthening of Al Qaida forces in Yemen. There are several hundred Al Qaida members there.”

In response, then-commander of U.S. Central Command, General David Petraeus, developed a comprehensive strategy, which he termed Preventive Counterinsurgency Operations: “Our efforts not only help develop key security forces in Yemen, they also contribute to the overall effort to help Yemen deal with challenges that could become much more significant if not dealt with early on.”

Shortly thereafter, the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism, Daniel Benjamin, emphasized: “The Obama administration has made the issue of radicalization a centerpiece of its concern, and we are eager to ensure that whatever policies we pursue do not result in one terrorist being taken off the street while ten more are galvanized to take action.”

At the time, there had been a total of four U.S. airstrikes in Yemen. Since then, the U.S. military and CIA have conducted between forty-five and one hundred additional airstrikes against suspected AQAP members, both prominent and anonymous.

Last month, in a speech at the New York Police Department, Brennan stated that AQAP’s ranks had swelled to “more than a thousand members in Yemen.” By Brennan’s own accounts, since the implementation of Patraeus’s strategy, as well as an exponential increase in naval and air strikes, AQAP has more than tripled in size.

Obviously, Yemen faces a number of challenges on its own: sustained political turmoil that deposed the former president and installed the nascent Hadi regime; armed insurgent groups that seek independence from the central government; and a worsening humanitarian crisis (with the UN humanitarian response plan funded at only 20 percent). Nevertheless, AQAP’s expansion should throw serious doubt on the efficacy of the Obama administration’s current strategy, and on the logic of dropping even more bombs and deploying more special operations forces.

Post a Comment 5 Comments

  • Posted by Don Bacon

    Recruiting resistance.
    People are the same the world over in many respects.
    Why did 9/11 occur? Blowback for U.S. foreign policy.
    GWOT? Payback for 9/11.
    Resistance in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, etc? Attacks on people in those countries. Also, in Iraq and Afghanistan, house raids have been a significant factor.

    People like Brennan don’t seem to get that. They think that when people are attacked, innocent or not, they will hide under the bed. Well maybe Brennan would, and Bush, and Cheney, and the other chicken-hawks would. But real men don’t. You would think that they might have learned that by now.

    Another factor, of course, is that the State Department has no power in foreign affairs compared to the Pentagon. So Daniel Benjamin can emphasize until he’s blue in the face, the Pentagon will have their way.

  • Posted by Peter Duveen

    A number of recent stories in the press have highlighted the plight of former Americans who have renounced their citizenship and settled outside the United States. But Sen. Chuck Schumer is pushing legislation that would prevent those who do so from visiting the United States. Yes, the Pentagon has its wars, but in order to perpetuate them, it seems to be attempting to restrict the mobility of the population, which is increasingly inclined to flee in the face of deteriorating economic conditions.

  • Posted by Javed Mir

    It will be a sad repetition of history if the native Americans start migrating to other countries because there was a time when people from every corner of the world, wanted to migrate to USA and settle there. Apparent this is due to economic meltdown caused by waging avoidable wars. Wherever the Pentagons dominate, the countries suffer irreparable losses.

  • Posted by William deB. Mills

    The War on Terror is alive, well, and expanding. The basic strategy is pretty clear: following defeat, move elsewhere, and repeat. This policy guarantees full employment and a steady flow of recruits for all the world’s jihadis, while offering endless profit for the military-industrial complex. Whether or not, way down the road, it leads to profiling and shooting from drones of Americans who “drive in the wrong neighborhoods,” remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: this is “change” all neo-cons can applaud.

  • Posted by Barb

    It’s easy to call the US military “neocons” but the world LOOKS to the US to solve its problems.

    So when we go in Somalia, etc, Vietnam, we are defeated and criticized. When we don’t do anything, we are criticized.

    So should the U.S. just look the other way when other countries are in trouble? When decent people are being overthrown? Maybe we should and let the bad guys take over everywhere…. I mean, who cares if they get nukes, right?

    Just asking.

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