That al-Qaeda now appears to be using Yemen, of all places, as their newest home base illustrates a fundamental flaw of the War on Terror: they can’t hide, but they can run. OK, one of them can hide. But let’s not get into that.
At the same time, Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) seems very eager to conduct U.S.-led operations against al-Qaeda members in the country. He didn’t mention anything about ground troops, but “armed drones, air strikes, [and] covert operations” are all on his table. These would be tolerable if their targeting capabilities were very specific. Who doesn’t love a good smart bomb?
Yemen came up following the failed attack on Flight 253. Apparently, while studying Arabic there, Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab attended an al-Qaeda camp that gave him his pants bomb. I’ll assume the camp won’t like to admit that it couldn’t fucking detonate; it’s not good for company morale.
We can now craft a step-by-step guide to U.S. counter-terrorism operations:
1. Disenchanted young guy visits terrorist training camp in small Arabic country that a) nobody cares about or b) doesn’t want to care about anymore.
2. Camp supplies guy with bomb.
3. Guy gets on U.S.-bound plane and tries to make it go boom.
4. Badass passenger subdues guy.
5. Training camp takes credit.
6. U.S. government deliberates military activity in training camp’s country against any terrorist who can be found there.
7. Congressional committee chairman questions that country’s “capacity to combat extremism” suggests aiding and training that their military instead.
More steps will be added as the story unfolds; I imagine they’ll include “8. People at training camp taunt U.S. and stir up extremist sentiment based in religious fundamentalism” and “9. Defense jays demand action, like, now.”
One set of plans that we are sure about is those of the U.S. and the U.K. to “fund counter-extremism police in Yemen.” At this point in time, that and simply thinking about military involvement are the most the U.S. should do. A justification for involvement may come up later, and they’d want to be prepared, but making it a reality before it’s necessary won’t do anyone any good. The U.S. response to Yemen must be kept proportional all the way through.