HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: The American military is ramping up operations in the war-torn country of Yemen, where a Saudi- led coalition of mostly Sunni countries supports Yemen’s president against Shiite Houthi rebels. The U.S. is also allied with the Saudis and Yemen’s president. Since Thursday, U.S. warplanes have carried out more than 30 air strikes in Yemen using aircraft and drones to target the Islamic militant group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
This follows the January 29 Special Forces raid on the group in Yemen that killed Navy SEAL Ryan Owens and several dozen Yemenis.
For more analysis of the U.S. role in Yemen, I am joined from Washington by Gordon Lubold, a reporter for “The Wall Street Journal”.
So, why this sudden interest in Yemen?
GORDON LUBOLD, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: I think the interest actually began certainly within the U.S. military prior to President Trump taking office in January. The proposal had been kind of in the works, but the Obama administration had decided to allow Mr. Trump to make the decisions about how to proceed in Yemen. As you know, AQAP is seen really — and the Pentagon would tell you — is potentially even more of a threat to the U.S. homeland than Islamic State is.
But — so these proposals were kind of under way, and then Mr. Trump acted on them, essentially granting the Pentagon broader authority to go after AQAP in Yemen.
HARI SREENIVASAN: It seems like there are almost two wars going on — the Saudis and Iranians fighting each other as the proxy war, there’s the Houthi rebels and so forth. And then there’s this fight against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
GORDON LUBOLD: Yes, there’s kind of as a defense official was explaining yesterday, kind of a civil war within a civil war. But what the U.S. is really concerned with primarily is fighting AQAP in central Yemen and along the coastal Yemen. That includes the area where the January 29th raid was.
There’s about maybe upwards of 3,000 known al Qaeda fighters in this area. So, the idea is to kind of — somebody in the Pentagon said kind of get after it, but use indigenous forces and Emiratis and Saudis to do it.
U.S. forces are kind of — they’re involved on the ground. The Pentagon’s loathe to kind of acknowledge that, but there is some presence there. But they don’t appear to be doing a lot of ground combat right now.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Did anybody from the Pentagon say that the intelligence gathered from the raid on January 29th is contributing to any of these airstrikes?
GORDON LUBOLD: Right, they’ve actually made a point of saying that the intelligence from that raid did not drive these strikes over the last few days. They’re kind of separate and distinct. That intelligence gathered there is really — they’re still assessing it, and these targets that have been hit the last couple, few days, were also entrained prior to the 29th raid. So, really not.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Basically, the al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has flourished in the middle of this active war.
GORDON LUBOLD: The chaos in that country, you know, kind of breeds the terrorism that U.S. and allies are concerned about, and it’s, you know, obviously a very poor country, large youth bulge, as they say, not a lot of water, resources. It’s kind of ripe for growing terrorism, and I think that what we’re seeing and why we’re seeing this now is, you know, the Trump administration has a desire to accelerate the fight against the Islamic State, but really also other militant groups. And this one, as I say, is seen as potentially more of a threat to the American homeland.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. Gordon Lubold of “The Wall Street Journal,” joining us from Washington — thanks so much.
GORDON LUBOLD: Thank you.