While President Obama says he will put no American "boots on the ground" in Yemen, NBC already has quoted one unnamed US official saying that the president personally ordered naval missile strikes in Northern Yemen on December 17. [NBC News, Dec. 18, 2009].
In addition, Gen. David Petraeus confirmed today that US aid to Yemen will double this year from the current level of $67 million, and the CIA and other agencies will focus on training, intelligence and equipment. [Philadelphia Bulletin, Jan. 12]. It is not clear how that support will arrive without boots.
Yemen thus becomes another front in the secret, spreading Long War, the US campaign to locate an elusive "al Qaeda central."
Islamic militants' training camps have existed in Yemen as early as 1982, and jihadist writings have warned against a perceived US strategy to acquire East African ports and bases in the Horn of Africa.
In October 2000, a suicide attack in Yemen's port of Aden blew up the billion-dollar US destroyer Cole. In November 2003, Yemen's government released 1,500 inmates, including 92 al-Qaeda suspects, in a Ramadan amnesty. In March 2006, Yemen released 600 Islamist militants after a rebellion. Three months later, Yemini courts released 19 inmates linked to al-Qaeda. In March 2008, the US embassy may have been targeted in a mortar attack which killed two and injured 13 students nearby. [See Scheuer, Marching Toward Hell, 2008].
Will we soon be hearing that our government took its eye off the threat in Yemen to invade Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan? Why not? Perhaps because our ground troops already are over-extended. Or because such a question reveals the flawed and false logic at the root of the Long War thesis, not unlike the "domino theory" that once led the US to chase communists in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos to prevent them from landing in San Diego.