Top foreign policy experts have warned US President Barack Obama that his Yemen policy, steeled by lethal drone strikes on terror suspects, is not sustainable and could harm long-term US security.
In a letter fanning debate on US policy towards a hot front in the campaign against al-Qaeda, the experts said on Wednesday that Yemenis perceived the US as almost purely concerned with ruthless anti-terrorism operations.
The Obama administration pushed back strongly, highlighting a recently announced new US$52 million aid increase to tackle Yemen’s humanitarian crisis and insisted the US approach towards the country was “balanced.”
“We believe the current US strategy jeopardizes our long-term national security goals,” said the letter, signed by 27 bipartisan experts under the auspices of the Atlantic Council and the Project on Middle East Democracy.
A strategy that emphasizes economic and political concerns would better serve Yemeni stability and US interests, “rather than a primary focus on counterterrorism efforts and direct military involvement,” the letter said.
“We accept that the US will take action against those who plot attacks against Americans when there is actionable intelligence,” the experts said.
“However, removing members of militant groups with targeted strikes is not a sustainable solution and does not address the underlying causes that have propelled such forces to find fertile ground in Yemen,” they said.
Washington was a key player in a political transition that saw president Ali Abdullah Saleh step down this year after an Arab Spring-inspired uprising, ceding power to President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi.
Yemen, the base of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), was the locus of several thwarted terror plots against US targets, including a bid to bring down a US airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day in 2009.
Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Kurbi said on Wednesday in Dubai that the Sanaa government had asked in some cases for drone strikes to target al-Qaeda leaders, lifting the veil on US attacks.
Obama said at the NATO summit in Chicago last month he was “very concerned” about al-Qaeda in Yemen, after an AQAP suicide bomber killed 100 Yemeni troops.
The experts, however, called on Obama to shift from a “narrow focus” on counterterrorism and prioritize social, economic and political development.
“The Yemeni people need to know that their country is more than a proxy battleground,” the experts wrote.
Obama aides insist their strategy, highlighted in a visit to Sana’a by US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton last year, is already broad and balanced.