This morning, a suspected U.S. aerial drone killed seven alleged al Qaeda members in Yemen. It was the latest in a series of five strikes that have targeted the terrorist group over the past ten days. Meanwhile, authorities in Yemen foiled what the New York Times labeled an “audacious” al Qaeda plot to seize a Yemeni port—which includes a Canadian-run oil field—to kill foreigners.
As political instability spreads through the region, the United States is peeling back its diplomatic presence and ramping up its military one. Five drone strikes were carried in Yemen in the last two weeks, at the same time that the U.S. closed 19 embassies and evacuated all nonessential personnel from the country.. President Obama tried to downplay the situation last night, telling Tonight Show Host Jay Leno, “Terrorists depend on the idea that we’re going to be terrorized. We’re going to live our lives.”
But the embassy closures have placed renewed attention on turmoil across the Arab world. Yemen, the ancestral homeland of Osama bin laden, has become the regional homebase for al Qaeda.
In 2000, al Qaeda attacked the U.S.S. Cole aircraft carrier in a Yemeni harbor, killing 17. In 2011, Robert Worth wrote an article in the New York Times that presaged the turmoil to come, titled “Yemen On The Brink Of Hell.” What Worth described was not simply that al Qaeda has become an inevitable presence in broken and failing states, but a source of leverage for weakened regimes.
Yemen is not alone. The civil war in Syria has attracted al Qaeda fighters from neighboring Iraq seeking to build power in a country located in the heart of the Middle East. Rising violence in Syria, where 100,000 have died since the war started three years ago, has in turn spilled back over into Iraq. More than 1,000 were killed in Iraq in July, making it the deadliest month since 2008.
For the most part, the violence has been intrastate. As Brookings Institute Senior Fellow and Former Clinton Administration Official Kenneth Pollack tells the Associated Press, the al Qaeda fighters in Iraq and Syria “have shown little interest in attacking Americans beyond the region.”