With each revelation that leaks to the mainstream media regarding United States intervention in the Middle East, it becomes clearer that virtually no conflict is off limits from U.S. military action. Still unsubstantiated chemical attacks in Douma, Syria, were used as the impetus to re-assert military might in a nation which America was seemingly primed to exit, and a recent report from the New York Times has now exposed an on-the-ground military presence at the border of another war-torn nation, despite the United States officially claiming to be uninvolved in that nation militarily, Yemen.
The report came on the eve of President Trump’s announcement that the United States would be withdrawing from the Iran nuclear agreement to stanch what the administration considers an undue facilitation of growing Iranian influence in the region. The report is fittingly timed, considering that Yemen has been in the throes of a bloody, ceaseless Civil War since 2011, the results of which will have consequences for the balance of power – namely between Saudi Arabia and Iran – in the Middle East.
Iran reportedly backs the supporters of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was forced to abdicate power to his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, in 2011 after demands from the Yemeni populace. The void of leadership left during the tenuous transition of power saw Shia Houthi rebels take control of the northern Saada province, and this Houthi group is the contingent that Iran has reportedly continued to support as the rebellion eventually mushroomed into a full-blown civil war. Seeing the intervention of Iran as a threat to the regional balance of power, Saudi Arabia entered the conflict in 2015, supporting the Hadi government which has international recognition, but has far from attained widespread support in its own nation.
Though an ally of Saudi Arabia with tangential stake in the outcome of the Yemeni civil war – especially considering territorial and influential advances made by Iran since the Arab Spring – the United States has maintained an official stance of military abstention with respect to the conflict in Yemen. The extent of their participation has been logistical as well as participation in rescue missions of Saudi forces stranded within reach of enemy forces. The Saudis have received great tactical advantages as the result of United States intelligence regarding strategic bombing targets as well as other intel. Relying heavily upon this intel, Saudi forces were able to help drive rebel forces from their positions encroaching upon Aden, where Hadi – though in exile – has made a temporary home.
Still, it was thought that the United States had not offered any boots on the ground to aid the Saudi efforts. That was, at least, the official narrative. But with the rebels maintaining a stronghold in their initial occupied territory, Sanaa, it appears that the strategy regarding United States intervention has changed. According to a report issued last week in the New York Times, America now has boots on the ground – Green Berets specifically – as close to Yemen as is possible, fighting alongside Saudi forces to directly influence the war in Yemen.
In fact, the Times report states that the troops have been in place since late 2017, despite no official report from the military making this fact public, or explaining the timing of such a policy change, until now. Not that the American public is owed such an explanation, prevailing sentiment likely dictates.
As the times writes, these recent reports ‘appear to contradict Pentagon statements that American military assistance to the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen is limited to aircraft refueling, logistics and general intelligence sharing.’
‘The Green Berets, the Army’s Special Forces, deployed to the border in December, weeks after a ballistic missile fired from Yemen sailed close to Riyadh, the Saudi capital. The Saudi military said it intercepted the missile over the city’s international airport — a claim that was cast in doubt by an analysis of photos and videos of the strike. But it was enough for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to renew a longstanding request that the United States send troops to help the kingdom combat the Houthi threat.’ (New York Times)
According to some of the NYT report, aside from troops being on the ground, the activities being carried out by the Green Berets are par for the course; training, intel, support. Not combat.
‘A half-dozen officials — from the United States military, the Trump administration, and European and Arab nations — said the American commandos are training Saudi ground troops to secure their border. They also are working closely with American intelligence analysts in Najran, a city in southern Saudi Arabia that has been repeatedly attacked with rockets, to help locate Houthi missile sites within Yemen.
Along the porous border, the Americans are working with surveillance planes that can gather electronic signals to track the Houthi weapons and their launch sites, according to the officials, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the mission publicly.’
Critics have claimed that such explanations are being used to intentionally blur the definition of what a training mission is, and what that definition means for the direct intervention of American forces on the ground. And, if this is the case – which I’m not saying it is – such a blurring of lines couldn’t have been tested on an uglier conflict.
It’s a war in which the United States cannot reasonably claim that a tyrant is threatening world or even regional peace, as was the case with Saddam Hussein. Unlike Syria, no reports of chemical attacks would allow for the argument that intervention is a moral imperative. It is, quite simply, one ally sending troops to fight on behalf of others – namely Saudi Arabia and, by extension of the Iranian influence in the war, Israel. It’s far from the type of conflict Americans would be likely to support, and that’s surely part of the reason it was left to the New York Times to report that American troops are, in fact, on the ground in one of the most dangerous countries on the face of the planet, five-plus months after they were deployed.
Depending on how you view a nation’s duty to aid an ally – Yemeni rebels have reportedly shot missiles into Saudi Arabia on several occasions – you either support or decry further American intervention in the region. But, of all the conflicts in which American troops have gotten involved in the Middle East to date, the war in Yemen is perhaps the least imminently threatening to United States interests of them all.
It’s a pattern of acting on behalf of regional allies in conflicts not directly related to America that seems to be escalating, and may even be the new status quo.