Fourteen years after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center the U.S. still has “no comprehensive strategy to defeat radical Islam” in Yemen, Iraq, Syria or any other place,” one of the key figures in the development of the 2007 surge strategy in Iraq said Thursday at the American Enterprise Institute during a roll out of a new report from the think tank.
“Your strategy cannot just be kinetic,” even in the limited form of counterterrorism drone strikes, said Retired Army Gen. Jack Keane developing a new model to defeat al Qaeda in Yemen,
“It is not a strategy; it is a military tactic,” he said.
“Unless you address the grievances [people have against oppressive governments] you cannot succeed,” he said citing the Arab Spring demonstrations that toppled regimes in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.
The people demonstrating in the streets in those countries and across the Middle East saw it “as a chance for a better opportunity for themselves and their kids.” Al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists “saw it as opportunity.”
Now the U.S. needs to do more to develop a plan to take on the radical Islam, Keane said.
“We need new thought leaders” in developing this strategy in academia as it was during the Cold War and among the community of Muslim clerics and scholars in turning back “what is now a global problem, a global jihad.”
Katherine Zimmerman, who wrote the report, said what is clear in Yemen is the situation on the ground in the fighting between Saudi-backed coalition of Persian Gulf States and the Houthis, originally a political movement of a sect that grew out of Shi’ia, has stalled. While the Sunni al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula has gained ground, it is now in a truce with the Islamic State. The al Qaeda affiliate and the Islamic State are Sunni.
The conflict “is not one where one side will conquer the other.” To reach a political solution and cobble together” some type of central a governmentthe al Houthis must be at the table.”
Frederick Kagan, the moderator, said the Houthis “are not an organization like Hezbollah,” Iranian proxies — even though they are supported by Teheran.
Zimmerman said the United States needs to play a leading role in working toward the political solution but also in aiding tribal that are fighting or willing to take on al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula. The United States pulled its diplomats and special forces conducting the counterterrorism drone campaign from Yemen earlier this year when the government of Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi collapsed. Hadi took refuge in Saudi Arabia.
After a long history of conflict, 20 million Yemenis are facing a humanitarian crisis.
“Water is hard to find; food is scarce,” Zimmerman said. Because of the Saudi air campaign and the Houthis mine-laying tactics, roads and bridges are destroyed making it almost impossible to deliver even medical supplies to hard-hit regions.
Kagan added, “We keep coming back to the humanitarian crisis” that is larger than Yemen. “These people are fleeing a holocaust.”
The air campaign also targeted military sites that the Houthis took over from fleeing Yemeni forces. The military sites included those once used by the Americans. The Houthis withdrew to industrial sites that have not been targeted.
Mohammed Albashi, a Yemeni now working for the Navanti Group, said, “We need to start talking about post-conflict.” He estimated damage to infrastructure at more than $30 billion with only $1.7 billion in the national treasury.
Albashi said, “Yemen is a wounded society” where people live in fear for their lives. “We need to figure out a social contract” to restore a sense of security.