U.S. strikes back at Yemeni rebels
The U.S. was dragged deeper into Yemen’s civil war last week when a U.S. warship fired Tomahawk missiles at three radar installations in territory controlled by Iran-backed Houthi rebels, shortly before the start of a 72-hour cease-fire in the country. The strikes were in retaliation for failed missile attacks launched from rebel-held areas against the USS Mason in the Red Sea, and they marked the Pentagon’s first direct bombing in Yemen since the conflict began 19 months ago. Until now, the U.S. has limited itself to providing logistical support to a Saudi-led coalition of Sunni Arab countries, which are waging a bombing campaign against the Shiite Houthis in a bid to restore Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi to power. Hadi fled to the southern port city of Aden last year after the Houthis seized the capital of Sanaa. At least 4,000 Yemeni civilians have been killed since the war began.
Aid groups said they hoped this week’s cease-fire would help alleviate a growing humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where 2 million people have been displaced and 80 percent of the population relies on aid. Days before the cease-fire, the U.S. said it was reviewing its “already significantly reduced support” to the Saudis after coalition aircraft targeted a Sanaa funeral hall and killed 140 people. Coalition officials later blamed “bad information” for the strike.
What the columnists said
“What if the U.S. went to war and nobody here even noticed?” said Moustafa Bayoumi in TheGuardian.com. That’s exactly what happened last week in “divided and desperately poor” Yemen when the Obama administration ramped up America’s military involvement without so much as a policy debate or public discussion. Actually the U.S. has been embroiled in Yemen’s chaos for months, thanks to its appalling role in Saudi Arabia’s “utterly vicious” bombing campaign, said Zack Beauchamp in Vox.com. Using U.S.-sold weapons, U.S.-provided jet fuel, and U.S.-collected intelligence, the Saudis have been destroying hospitals, water-bottling factories, and now funeral homes. They have also imposed a blockade on a country that imports 90 percent of its food—leaving children “literally starving to death.”
Obama had every right to launch missile strikes, said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. The attack on the USS Mason from Houthi-controlled territory was no laughing matter: The warship “had to use active defense, including interceptor missiles, to prevent a strike that could have killed dozens of sailors.” Besides, Obama must send a signal to the Houthis’ Iranian masters. As in Syria, Tehran is using Yemen’s civil war as another front in its campaign “to become the dominant power in the Middle East.”
There’s one clear winner in this mess: al Qaida, said Barbara Slavin in VOANews.com. Although ISIS gets the headlines, al Qaida’s Yemeni offshoot, AQAP, “has been a major source of terrorist plots” against the West, including the 2009 underwear bomb plot and the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Now the group has capitalized on the chaotic fighting to seize territory it can use as a base for new attacks. As a recent Jamestown Foundation study concluded, “The future for AQAP has rarely looked brighter.”