Obama’s secret war in Yemen

Ryan Goodman writes: No act of government calls for greater debate and deliberation than the decision to commit the country to war. The recent civil war in Syria sparked a national conversation in the United States about the direction of American foreign policy, and rightly so. But Syria was not the only civil war preoccupying the administration. While orchestrating the drawdown in Afghanistan and openly contemplating intervening in Syria, the president appears to have secretly inserted the United States in Yemen’s civil war.

Today, US forces conduct operations alongside the Yemeni army as it battles a domestic insurgency. The troubling details of some of those operations were revealed Tuesday, in a major report by Human Rights Watch on the scope of US military strikes in Yemen. The picture that emerges is grim: the president is waging a secret war in Yemen, and it’s time for him to come clean.

Administration officials have long assured the public that America’s involvement in Yemen was extremely circumscribed, and for good reason. According to a leading account of the inner workings of the administration, the president was resolute in targeting members of al-Qaida’s affiliate group in Yemen, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a decision that his lawyers concluded Congress had clearly authorized following 11 September 2001.

But expanding the target set to include AQAP’s rebel forces threatening the Yemeni government was a wholly different matter.

The State Department reportedly expressed reservations about pursuing such a course in June 2011. And in May 2012, the National Security Council spokesperson publicly affirmed:

We’re pursuing a focused counter-terrorism campaign in Yemen designed to prevent and deter terrorist plots that directly threaten US interests at home and abroad … We have not, and will not, get involved in a broader counter-insurgency effort. That would not serve our long-term interests and runs counter to the desires of the Yemeni government and its people.

In August 2012, John Brennan, then the White House counter-terrorism tsar, assured an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations that although the US would continue to aid and build Yemen’s counter-insurgency capacity, “we’re not involved in working with the Yemeni government in terms of direct action or lethal action as part of that insurgency.”

Tuesday’s report by Human Rights Watch calls those claims into question. [Continue reading…]

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