Yesterday, the New York Times had a story about huge proposed increases in military assistance to Yemen, framed around the “war on terror.” Since the Christmas day 2009 attempted airliner bombing that was linked to Yemen, the U.S. was allocated about $155 million in military aid for FY 2010 — up from about $5 million in FY 2006.
The Pentagon’s latest plan calls for $1.2 billion in the next six years, about $200 million annually. That’s nearly a 25% increase from 2010 and an enormous change in commitment over a short period of time.
Apparently, by comparison, Aghanistan is so 2009:
“Yemen is the most dangerous place,” said Representative Jane Harman, a senior California Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee who visited Yemen in March. “We’re much more likely to be attacked in the U.S. by someone inspired by, or trained by, people in Yemen than anything that comes out of Afghanistan.”
Since the Pentagon claims that there are only about 100 al Qaeda personnel in Afghanistan, this quote may well be literally true.
Of course, Harman says nothing about Pakistan, which has for some time been the real ground zero in the war on terrorism. The unpopular drone strikes demonstrate how that part of the AfPak war is being fought.
Daniel Benjamin, the State Department’s counterterrorism coordinator, said in a policy talk last week that American-backed assaults by Yemeni forces on Al Qaeda may “deny it the time and space it needs to organize, plan and train for operations.” But in the long term, he added, countering extremism in Yemen “must involve the development of credible institutions that can deliver real economic and social progress.”
There is another big problem with the Pentagon’s plan — Yemen’s relative disinterest in the mission:
Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen scholar at Princeton…said the priorities of President Saleh, an autocrat whose family has ruled [Yemen] for three decades, do not coincide with those of the United States.
“If we’re just pouring money and equipment into the Yemeni military in the hopes that it will be used against Al Qaeda,” Mr. Johnsen said, “that hope doesn’t match either with history or current reality.”
The whack-a-mole metaphor has been widely used by critics of U.S. foreign policy — to describe outcomes in both Afghanistan and Iraq.