Friday, June 10, 2011

Re: “We’re doing airstrikes in Yemen?”

Over at Best Defense, Thomas Ricks asks, “We’re doing airstrikes in Yemen?” Inexplicably, Ricks missed out on 2009-2010 and the Wikileaks scandal. Yet, in the sea of overheated commentary since the United States launched an airstrike in Yemen last Friday, Ricks is perhaps the least objectionable. Since then, the majority of comment has fallen along the lines of “the U.S. is ramping up operations in Yemen.” The commentators rely on two data points for this assessment: Friday’s airstrike and the May 5 drone strike that targeted Anwar al-Aulaqi.

By in large ignored, however, is that the drone strike came nearly a year since the last U.S. airstrike in Yemen. Moreover, that previous strike—and the two U.S. airstrikes that occurred six months earlier—were launched by regular U.S. military assets. The May 5 drone strike was likely the work of the Central Intelligence Agency—as was the drone strike Ricks references; one that occurred in November 2002 and was the first ever use of an armed predator drone outside of Afghanistan. Even taken together, the U.S. operations are too infrequent, too sporadic to qualify as armed conflict.

So, despite the recent breathless rhetoric, U.S. operations in Yemen do not (yet) seem to be ramping up. And to answer Ricks, no, the United States is not engaged in a war in Yemen—at least, not its own war there. Of course, this may all well change the further into chaos Yemen descends.

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