As Americans swarmed theatres on Friday, setting record-breaking sales to watch Captain America; Civil War, without warning or fanfare — much less, debate — the Pentagon announced ground troops have already been deployed in Yemen, ostensibly to reinforce the ongoing battle against al-Qaeda in the war-ravaged country. In fact, as typical for modern undeclared ‘warfare,’ Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said Friday that to back Saudi and Emirati forces, U.S. troops have been on the ground for two weeks now.
“We view this short term,” the Washington Post said Davis told reporters.
According to the Wall Street Journal, officials claimed ‘about a dozen or so’ special operations forces had been deployed over the two-week period to assist the United Arab Emirates fighting al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and had helped Saudi forces reclaim the port city of Mukalla.
“This is specifically about routing AQAP from Mukalla, and that has largely occurred, Davis said, noting that the mission isn’t one of “advise and assist,” but would instead “fall into the category of intelligence support.”
AQAP, Davis insisted from the Pentagon, “remains a significant security threat to the United States and to our regional partners, and we welcome this effort to specifically remove AQAP from Mukalla and to degrade, disrupt and destroy AQAP in Yemen.”
He emphasized al-Qaeda’s continuing threat to the region in destabilizing Yemen, in the group’s “using the unrest in Yemen to provide a safe haven from which to plan future attacks against the United States and its interests.”
In February 2015, the U.S. shuttered its embassy and abruptly evacuated personnel as the Yemeni civil war and other fighting quickly descended into chaos. Though officials have maintained a ‘tactical focus’ on AQAP, the news of troops on the ground comes as a bit of a surprise in the context of last year’s withdrawal.
However, operations by the U.S.-led coalition haven’t been free of controversy, despite the supposed previous absence of American troops. In March, the Saudis bombed a bustling marketplace in Yemen’s Hajjah Province — killing over 120 people, including 80 children, and wounding at least 80 others — using U.S.-supplied bombs.
Telling of the complex quagmire in the Middle East, the Yemeni civil war involves U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s fighting against an al-Qaeda faction, while at the same time, the Saudis back and support a separate al-Qaeda faction in Syria — Jabhat al-Nusra. Undeclared wars have allowed the U.S. to opportunistically support factions it otherwise claims to view as terrorists — all in the notorious and contentious name of regime change, whether or not that purpose is publicly stated.
As for such public statements, despite Davis’ claim the already burgeoning mission of the U.S. Yemeni front amounts to one of “intelligence” support, he also said the United States, itself, has conducted four strikes against AQAP since April 23.
“The bottom line here is that it means the U.S. is getting deeper and deeper in Yemen, and that really requires that we have a political process in Yemen that puts together a government that works,” explained Bruce Riedel, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, according to the Wall Street Journal. “Otherwise, we’re going to sink into yet another civil war in the Middle East with a weak partner.”
Such covert deployments of U.S. forces offer little chance for politicians or the American public to so much as protest ongoing and complicated military involvement. “Nonetheless,” Riedel said, “Americans found out this afternoon that American boots were on the ground in yet another country.”
That is, if they bothered to pay attention.
After all, despite mounting U.S. meddling in other countries’ affairs, the weekend brought a wholly different civil war for the American public to focus on — the debut of Captain America: Civil War. Hollywood’s timing couldn’t have been more of an opportunity for the Pentagon’s announcement if it tried.