Log in / Register
Home arrow Political science arrow Cycles in US Foreign Policy since the Cold War

Iraq’s Implications for Afghanistan and Yemen

The third American conflict in Iraq, however much smaller than the preceding two, held implications for the US withdrawal from the Middle East and Afghanistan. Since his circumscribed US forces build-up in Afghanistan was announced in late 2009, President Obama planned on a phased pullout of US Army and Marine troops beginning by mid-2011 from the Central Asian nation. But the Islamic State’s unexpected terrorist rampage deep into Iraq, in part, delayed the US pullout from Afghanistan. In May 2014, the president called for substantial withdrawals of US regular forces and an end to combat operations by the end of the year within the Afghan theater. Afterward, the remaining American military forces would switch to training and mentoring missions, except for counterterrorism operations. The Pentagon mapped out a reduction in the US footprint to just 9800 troops by the end of 2014; some 5500 by the end of 2015; and only a standard embassy staff (plus a small, an extra security detail) as President Obama left office in early 2017. Thus, the United States would have zero regular combat units stationed within the country as a new American leader stepped into Oval office.

The deteriorating state of affairs in Iraq caused the White House to backtrack on its withdrawal schedule from Afghanistan. The Pentagon convinced its commander-in-chief to reverse course or face an emerging terrorist state A la Iraq. Afghanistan’s new president, Ashraf Ghani, also requested the White House to reverse its withdrawal plans.109 Thus, the prospect of a similar Iraqi fate befalling the Central Asian nation modified the Oval Office’s abrupt plans for total exfiltration, especially as the Taliban mounted attacks in areas heretofore peaceful. But the American president never bought into the general’s recommendations to leave 20,000 or more military personnel in the distraught country. At the tail end of his presidency, Obama announced that he would leave 8400 troops in the Afghan warzone after he left office. His July 2016 decision was recognition of Taliban gains in the embattled country.

Yemen also felt political tremors from the violent upheavals in Iraq and Syria. On the bottom tip of the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen had drawn US concern even before the Arab Spring ignited the Islamic State scourge. Western apprehensions mounted after the founding of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) out of splinter jihadi groups in 2009. AQAP aroused concern mainly from the incendiary preaching of American- born Anwar al-Awlaki whose charismatic appeals motivated US Army Major Nidal Hasan to kill 13 people in Fort Hood and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to try to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner with a bomb in his underwear. Even after the Obama administration killed al-Awlaki with drone-fired missiles in 2012, it continued its involvement in the increasingly chaotic Yemen.

Not long after the formation of AQAP, Washington reinforced its ties to President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a former Yemeni army general, to combat the shadowy terrorist network before it struck American targets. The Pentagon assigned SOF to help train Yemen’s security forces. But the American train and equip program stumbled in fending off both AQAP and a rebellious faction known as the Houthis. The Houthis took their name from their onetime leader, Hussein al-Houthi. Comprised mainly from the Zaidi sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, the Houthis started an Iranian-backed insurgency in 2004 against the central government for greater autonomy in their northern homeland. Washington took aim at the al-Qaeda branch rather than Saleh’s other enemies. The CIA, operating from a secret air base in Saudi Arabia, launched deadly drone air- strikes on several AQAP leaders as part of the American counterterrorism strategy.

Yemen fell into nationwide turmoil with the onset of the Arab Spring. Its strongman, Ali Abdullah Saleh, succumbed to the chaos and mayhem perpetrated by the Houthi rebels and AQAP after ruling the impoverished country for three decades. Sana’a’s army and police, no matter how much US mentoring they received, were unable to cope with the double threat posed by the Houthis and AQAP fighters. Trying to calm his rebellious countrymen, Saleh picked his vice president to succeed him when he vacated the presidency in 2012. But Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi fared no better. Indeed, Saleh executed an abrupt U-turn and made common cause with the Houthis against Hadi in a desperate comeback bid as the new president fled to Saudi Arabia.

So chaotic had Yemen become that Washington yanked out its embassy staff and even the Special Forces contingent, together with the CIA field operatives in spring 2015 (small military teams were re-inserted in 2016). The Arabian Peninsula country’s debacle cast doubt on President Obama’s counterterrorism tactics of kinetic drone operations and Special Forces to professionalize indigenous security forces. Since its application failed in Yemen, how could it be used proficiently in Iraq, Syria, Somalia, or elsewhere?110 The tentative answer came with the realization that the White House offered no alternative solution.

Given its deep aversion to sliding into another Mideast war, the Obama presidency stuck to its overall disengagement policy. Getting governments in Riyadh, Baghdad, Erbil, Tripoli, or Kabul to pull the laboring oar in their own defense, by Obama’s reckoning, spelled success for the United States. Skeptics assessed the US detachment as an abdication of leadership and a diminution of American power, influence, and prestige. They also perceived the wages of Washington’s policies as a welter of future challenges as radical Islamist movements made territorial advances, sparked a spate of deadly terrorist attacks, and refugees flooded Europe. The unraveling of nations in the Middle East, nevertheless, was not the only active crisis begging for Washington’s strategic attention.

Found a mistake? Please highlight the word and press Shift + Enter  
< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >
Business & Finance
Computer Science
Language & Literature
Political science