The official story is that the United States is supporting Saudi Arabia in a two-front war in Yemen against both a group called al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Houthis (Iranian-backed Shiite rebels). But a blockbuster report from the Associated Press Tuesday contradicts this official story. Instead, the AP reports, Saudi Arabia regards the Houthis (and Iran) as a far bigger threat, so have adopted the policy of co-opting al-Qaida fighters and forming a de facto alliance with AQAP. The American military is well aware of this alliance but has decided to ignore it.
According to AP, the Saudi-led coalition “cut secret deals with al-Qaida fighters, paying some to leave key cities and towns and letting others retreat with weapons, equipment and wads of looted cash.” Also, hundreds of al-Qaida fighters “were recruited to join the coalition itself.” The report argues “These compromises and alliances have allowed al-Qaida militants to survive to fight another day — and risk strengthening the most dangerous branch of the terror network that carried out the 9/11 attacks. Key participants in the pacts said the U.S. was aware of the arrangements and held off on any drone strikes.”
Michael Horton, a fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, observes that “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.”
This is not the first time the United States has found itself supporting a de facto alliance with al-Qaida and Saudi Arabia. An earlier version of this alliance in the 1980s resulted in the Taliban take-over of Afghanistan, 9/11, and the Global War on Terrorism.