Thursday, June 21, 2012

Yemen: America's Unadmitted War

Yemen Army celebrating capture of Al-Qaeda stronghold
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last week, after years of sending drones and special forces into Pakistan, finally admitted the obvious: America is “fighting a war” there. But our robots and special forces aren't just targeting militants in Pakistan. They're doing the same — with increasing frequency and increasing lethality — in Yemen. So far this year there have been 23 drone attacks in Yemen. In Pakistan, there have been only 22.

So, if America is at war in Pakistan, it’s at war in Yemen too. And it’s time for the Obama Administration to admit it. The undeclared, drone-led war in Pakistan has been eclipsed. Yemen is the real center of the America’s shadow wars in 2012. After the US killed al-Qaida second in command Abu Yahya al-Libi earlier this month, Pakistan is actually running out of significant terrorists to strike. Yemen, by contrast, is a target-rich environment — and that’s why the drones are busier there these days.

The White House has declared Al-Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen is the biggest terror threat to Americans today. The campaign to neutralize that threat is far-reaching — involving special forces, cruise missiles, and, of course, drone aircraft. It may also be backfiring. Since the US ramped up its operations in Yemen in 2009, the ranks of AL-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, have swelled from 300 fighters to more than 1,000.

The congressional foreign relations committees have had some briefings on the military and intelligence efforts in Yemen, but there’s been almost no discussion in public of the campaign’s goals, or a way for measuring whether those goals have been reached. Outside of the classified arena, there’s little sense of what our Yemen operations cost (nor of what the costs would be if they were discontinued).

Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations said: “What should be accompanied with any (even unofficial) declaration of war is a clearly articulated strategy of what America’s strategic objectives in that country are, a cogent strategy for how current US policies will lead to that outcome, how US airstrikes are coordinated with other elements of power, and how much it might cost and when we might expect that to occur, Unfortunately, none of that has happened.”

Mr. Zenko is exactly right. Look, I am not opposed to fighting Al-Qaeda in Yemen (or anywhere else for that matter) and the use of drones and special forces is a tactic I find both practical and a good use of resources. But, when the United States commits to any ongoing "war" or conflict several things must accompany that decision. Those things include informing the American people and explaining why it is necessary to U.S. interests. It also means seeking approval and support from Congress, estimating what it is going to cost in dollars and lives, and giving the military a clear strategy with specific goals and objectives.

Covert and secret operations are often necessary for many reasons (not the lest of which is the tactical advantage of surprise). But those should be limited in both scope and time frame. An "on-going" commitment of resources and materials -and endangering the lives of our service members-  should require the knowledge, approval and support of the American people. This is a democracy, the greatest of all time, and "We, the people" should be deciding when to go to war, not any single person or Administration!

I believe the "undeclared" war in Yemen is in our national interests and is necessary to fight and defeat al-Qaeda - and I think the majority of Americans would agree -if they were given the facts and asked. 

The US Constitution allows the President the authority to act to defend the country without seeking approval from Congress -but it specifically requires that approval before committing us to a war or on-going conflict. If the conflict in Yemen has now expanded from the occasional use of drones to assist the Yemen army to the semi-permanent use of drones plus committing American troops (special forces) in combat roles -well, the Administration needs to tell us that, explain why it is needed and ask for permission -it's the right way to do things and it is also the law.

Live Long and Prosper....

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