The steady weakening of Yemen’s pro-U.S. government over the past two months has exposed some of the same difficulties Washington faces in its efforts to battle extremist group Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
The Yemeni government, which had been a bulwark in the fight against the country’s potent al Qaeda offshoot, collapsed in September after Shiite-linked rebels known as Houthis attacked the capital San’a. Since then, Houthi rebels have taken control of towns and cities throughout Yemen and gained political power while the rival al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, mounted some of its deadliest attacks in an effort to thwart the Houthi advance.
The Pentagon’s strategy to counter Islamic State in Syria faces similar problems to those confronted in Yemen.
The U.S. attempted to weaken AQAP by focusing on airstrikes in the absence of a strong local power on the ground to partner with. But with only a remnant of the Yemeni government remaining in power—President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi —Washington is now at risk of losing a key counterterrorism partner at a time when it is trying to contain a new threat in the region.
Despite years of training and hundreds of millions of dollars invested, Yemeni troops have failed to develop into an effective fighting force that could fend off the double threat of AQAP and the Houthis.