The U.S. is participating in two wars in Yemen: Supporting and aiding a Saudi-led effort to defeat the Iran-backed Houthi Shiite rebels and an older push to eliminate al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the terrorist organization's most dangerous surviving branch. The latter mission seems to take precedence, because the U.S. has frequently looked the other way as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and their Yemeni allies secretly pay al Qaeda militants to leave occupied areas, declare victory, and recruit AQAP militants to fight alongside their common enemy, the Houthis, The Associated Press reports.
"These compromises and alliances have allowed al Qaida militants to survive to fight another day," and "key participants in the pacts said the U.S. was aware of the arrangements and held off on any drone strikes," AP reports, citing interviews in Yemen with two dozen security officers, militia commanders, tribal mediators, and AQAP members. The U.S. has given billions of dollars in weapons, aircraft refueling, and military intelligence to the Saudi anti-Houthi coalition, but "there is no evidence that American money went to AQAP militants," AP says.
A Pentagon spokesman told AP that the U.S. has "conducted more than 140 strikes to remove key AQAP leaders and disrupt its ability to use ungoverned spaces to recruit, train, and plan operations against the U.S. and our partners across the region" since early 2017. Meanwhile, AQAP says it's using the Saudi and UAE money, equipment, and conferred legitimacy to recruit new members, AP reports.
"Elements of the U.S. military are clearly aware that much of what the U.S. is doing in Yemen is aiding AQAP and there is much angst about that," says Michael Horton at the Jamestown Foundation, a U.S. terrorism analysis group. "However, supporting the UAE and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia against what the U.S. views as Iranian expansionism takes priority over battling AQAP." Read more about the complicated Yemen entanglement at AP. Peter Weber