For years, the US has engaged in a counter-terrorism strategy in Yemen involving aggressive drone strikes and the donation of over $500 million in weapons and equipment to Yemen’s US-backed government. However, these moves aimed at defeating al-Qaeda in Yemen have produced an array of unintended consequences, which appear to be spiraling out of control.
First, local anxiety over US drone strikes led to a January 2015 uprising by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, who toppled Yemen’s government suddenly, taking US officials by surprise. The fall of Yemen has been compared to ISIS’ taking of Mosul in that, in both cases, US-trained-and-funded soldiers refused to fight as rebels launched their attacks. Additionally, al-Qaeda has reportedly seized some of the collapsed Yemeni government’s bases. In February, the US closed its embassy in Yemen, and rebels stole vehicles that were left behind during the evacuation.
Meanwhile, according to The Washington Post, Pentagon officials recently admitted that they have lost track of the over $500 million in military assistance that the US has given to Yemen’s failed government. The lost equipment includes M-16 and M-4 rifles, over a million rounds of ammo, Glock pistols, night vision goggles, drones, helicopters, surveillance aircraft, and patrol boats. US officials planned to send $125 million in additional aid, including ScanEagle drones, but instead redirected the shipments to other Middle Eastern and African nations following Yemen’s collapse.
An anonymous legislative aid told The Washington Post, “We have to assume [the weapons are] completely compromised and gone.” Though Pentagon officials say that there is no specific evidence demonstrating that al-Qaeda or Houthi rebels have obtained the US-donated weapons and equipment, the Department of Defense has admitted that it has lost track of the items. Given the fact that both al-Qaeda and the Houthi rebels have seized many Yemeni bases, the prevailing logic in Washington DC is that the shipments have likely been claimed by the anti-US groups.
In 2014, President Barack Obama pointed to his counter-terrorism strategy in Yemen as an example of a War on Terror foreign policy success story. “The administration really wanted to stick with this narrative that Yemen was different from Iraq, that we were going to do it with fewer people, that we were going to do it on the cheap,” said Congressman Mac Thornberry (R-TX).