The United States used the Pakistan playbook on Yemen’s terrorists. It didn’t work.
For much of the past four years the United States has been firing missiles into Yemen. Drones, ships, and planes have all taken part in the bombardment, carrying out at least 75 strikes — including an alleged drone attack that killed five on the night of Monday, Aug. 5, bringing the death toll to a minimum of 600 souls, according to the best estimates.
But for all that, for all the strikes and all the dead, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) continues to attract more members, growing from 300 in 2009 to well over a thousand today. U.S. officials almost invariably refer to it as the most dangerous branch of al Qaeda’s network, a designation that has remained constant since the United States started bombing Yemen in 2009. And the group, as the ongoing terrorism alert that has closed U.S. embassies has shown in dramatic fashion, remains capable of paralyzing U.S. diplomatic efforts across an entire region.
All this raises a rather simple question: Why? Why, if the U.S. counterterrorism approach is working in Yemen, as Barack Obama’s administration claims, is AQAP still growing? Why, after nearly four years of bombing raids, is the group capable of putting together the type of plot that leads to the United States shuttering embassies and missions from North Africa to the Persian Gulf?
The answer is simple, if rather disheartening: Faulty assumptions and a mistaken focus paired with a resilient, adaptive enemy have created a serious problem for the United States.