Sana'a Center: US Military Policy Destabilizes Yemen

According to a report by the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, US military assistance and counterterrorism policies in Yemen have destabilized the country and produced effects counter to US interests. US military aid to the Yemeni government, under both President Saleh and President Hadi, has allowed the presidents to undemocratically consolidate power through appointing family members and allies to military positions. It has also contributed to the current war in Yemen; the Houthi-Saleh alliance use weapons that the US gave to Yemen previously, and counterterrorism military aid to the government is often used to maintain the government’s fight against the Houthis. Meanwhile, counterterrorism efforts against AQAP are undermined by the continuing chaos of the war and by the government’s prioritization of the fight against the Houthis which, at times, leads to cooperation between the government and AQAP.


The US has supported the government of Yemen with military and financial aid since its formation in the unification of North and South Yemen in 1990. In 2000 and 2001, when Yemeni nationals were involved in major terrorist attacks, the US increased its support for the Yemeni government after former President Saleh pledged his support for the US’ “War on Terror.” Although the US acted independently and often contrary to the Yemeni government’s interests, targeting and imprisoning Saleh allies for their involvement in terrorism, some of the US’ actions assisted Saleh in consolidating power. For example, the US supported the creation of the National Security Bureau (NSB), an intelligence agency, because of the Yemeni security establishment’s involvement in corruption and torture. However, Saleh filled leadership positions of the NSB with family members and political allies, strengthening his personal political control.


Throughout the 2000’s, the US conducted a targeted killings campaign against al-Qaeda (and, later, AQAP) in Yemen and increased its military aid to the government, despite its suspicions that the assistance was used against the Houthis instead. In 2011, protests against President Saleh led to his resignation; meanwhile, AQAP had made significant territorial gains. The diplomatic transition transferred power to Hadi, who cooperated greatly with US counterterrorism efforts and endorsed the US’ targeted killings campaign. However, President Hadi adopted undemocratic strategies for consolidating power by appointing relatives and allies to influential positions and monopolizing security contracts. AQAP’s opposition to US drone strikes increased its legitimacy, and the deteriorating economic and security situation further deepened Hadi’s unpopularity. In 2015, the Houthis overtook the capital, and Gulf Cooperation Council members formed an anti-Houthi coalition as a result. The ongoing war between the coalition and the Houthis has only intensified the destruction and destabilization of Yemen. The incapacitation of the Yemeni government has allowed AQAP to flourish in the vacuums of state control, and the government’s focus on the Houthis has generated cooperation between AQAP and government forces.  


There is little question that the ongoing war has led to a massive setback for key US interests in the country. Yemen has devolved into the scene of the world’s most severe humanitarian crisis. A multifaceted series of conflicts have ripped apart Yemen’s social fabric, leading to rampant destabilization, the evaporation of the government’s presence in much of the country and the absence of basic services...AQAP has managed to capitalize on the situation unleashed by Yemen’s collapse. Despite the loss of Mukalla in Spring 2015, AQAP remains stronger, wealthier and more powerful than any time in it or its predecessor groups’ history.


Yemen is one of the US’ most prominent fronts against terrorism. The US has conducted drone strikes and provided the Yemeni government with military assistance for years. However, the Yemeni government’s corruption and inability to address underlying economic issues has escalated into a devastating war that has fractured the country, crippled state functions, and enabled AQAP’s resurgence. The prolonged conflict in Yemen worsens the humanitarian and security conditions, subverting the US’ goals and interests in the region.