One American commando was killed and three others were wounded in a fierce firefight early Sunday with Qaeda militants in central Yemen, the military said on Sunday. It was the first counterterrorism operation authorized by President Trump since he took office, and the commando was the first United States service member to die in the yearslong shadow war against Al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate.There is a civil war in Yemen, in which the U.S. has no particular stake. The two sides are the government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, which we and most of the world recognized as legitimate, and the Houthi rebels who rose up against him, ousted him from the capital and seized much of the country. The Houthis practice a Shiite-related brand of Islam that the Saudis consider heretical, and they believe (or claim to believe) that the Houthis are Iranian proxies bent on weakening Sunni Islam through a sort of encirclement strategy. Most neutral observers say is nonsense, and that Yemen's war is over entirely Yemeni concerns.
Members of the Navy’s SEAL Team 6 carried out the surprise dawn attack, and the military said that about 14 Qaeda fighters were killed during a nearly hourlong battle. A Qaeda leader — a brother-in-law of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born cleric and top Qaeda leader in Yemen, who died in a drone strike in 2011 — was believed to have been killed. . . .
The military’s Joint Special Operations Command had been planning the mission for months, according to three senior American officials. Obama administration aides had deliberated extensively over the proposed operation, weighing the value of any information that might be recovered against the risk to the Special Operations forces plunging into hostile territory. But administration officials ultimately opted to hand the decision on the mission to their successors.
But anyway Saudi Arabia has intervened in the war, and their repeated bombing raids have weakened the Houthi side and kept them from winning the war and establishing order, besides killing hundreds of civilians and generally wrecking the country. The Saudis get their bombs from the U.S., which may also be sharing satellite data with them for targeting purposes; this has drawn the ire of anti-war activists who think the U.S. has no business supporting the Saudis' useless, deadly bombing campaign.
The power vacuum in Yemen has allowed both al Qaeda and the Islamic State to establish footholds in the country, zones where their armed followers are the effective government. This raid reveals that the U.S. is actively fighting those radical factions. I suppose that is natural, since we are fighting them everywhere else, and we have long considered al Qaeda in Yemen one of our bitterest enemies. But the obvious solution to the problem they present is to help the strongest faction in Yemen (the Houthis) win the civil war, which we could probably achieve just by getting the Saudis to step back. So once again we are intervening to put out fires spread by our own habits of arson.
War begets more war. Terrorists thrive on violence and instability, and the best way to combat them is to help create stability. That means accepting de facto governments even when we don't like them very much. We must stop believing we can solve all political problems with more violence.