More than 7,000 miles from Washington and far from America’s headlines, a war in Yemen is rewriting America’s strategy against Iran and terrorism.
The three-sided civil war pits two radical Islamist forces — Al-Qaeda’s largest surviving army and Iran’s biggest proxy force — against each other and six of America’s Arab allies. U.S. Special forces carry out covert raids and CIA drones rain down missiles on terror leaders.
The outcome of the Yemen war matters: U.S. forces are fighting there and a new strategy against terrorism is now being tested in the Middle East’s poorest nation.
Since Britain’s Royal Marines marched out of their Aden Protectorate in November 1967, Yemenis have killed each other over nearly every international ideology: colonialism, communism, and radical Islamism. Add in the tribal rivalries and the religious divides between competing versions of Sunni and Shia Islam — and the stage is set for perpetual war. Indeed, Yemen, in every decade since the 1960s, saw bombings, bloodshed and barbarism.
Iran has also seemingly been trying to form a “Shi’ite Crescent” across the Middle East, through Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to the Mediterranean.
According to nearly half a million computer files released by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency late last year, captured from Osama bin Laden’s compound, Iran had also offered “support to al-Qaeda in exchange for targeting the Gulf.”