The link between attempted NW253-bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and Yemen has put the spotlight back on the country. That focus has also highlighted some interesting datapoints about U.S. engagement in Yemen during the past decade, suggesting parallels between Washington’s counter-terrorism focus in Afghanistan and Yemen.
Today, even many of those supportive of the 2003 invasion of Iraq will concede that it came with a cost: the situation in Afghanistan deteriorated as the U.S. was concentrating its efforts elsewhere.
The question is worth posing whether the story concerning Yemen’s deteriorating security situation is the same as that of Afghanistan. Distracted, the U.S. let Yemen go from bad to worse.
There’s little doubt that prior to the Iraq invasion, the U.S. kept a close watch on Yemen. After all, Yemen was the site of the attack on the USS Cole, it is Osama bin Laden’s ancestral home, and there were connections between individuals in the country and the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the U.S.
But then, it appears, the U.S. took its eyes off Yemen, even as the number of Yemeni individuals being detained at Guantanamo and other locations increased. The low-point may have been the 2006 Sana’a jail break when Al Qaeda operatives managed to escape in large numbers. The incident did not go unnoticed, but it didn’t trigger a massive rush to try to shore up Yemen’s security situation.
It seems that only once the focus started coming off Iraq, following the surge of U.S. forces there, Yemen was again recognized as a place requiring U.S. attention. That certainly has started to happen, as evidenced by intelligence, training and other support Washington now is extending to Yemen.
Still, whether the actions now are sufficient to reverse the inroads Al Qaeda made in the parts of the country the Yemeni government doesn’t control well is not certain.
So, did the security situation in Yemen suffer, as it did in Afghanistan, during the 2003-2008 period when the U.S. was principally focused on Iraq? It does seem so.