David J. Puentes — Since 2001 when al-Qaeda brought itself to the forefront of publicity and dragged the word “terrorism” into the spotlight by its September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center towers in New York, factions have sprung into the limelight everywhere.
One of the most publicized of these factions, due to their continuing brutality, is ISIS, formerly known as al-Qaeda in Iraq. Although slightly overshadowed by ISIS, another faction, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has also been garnering international infamy. AQAP recently claimed responsibility for the Paris assault on Charlie Hebdo staff and has released magazine publications explaining how to manufacture bombs as well as how to avoid security in United States airports.
One major concern with regards to AQAP is the increasing instability in Yemen, from where the group primarily operates. In the last month, the Houthis, a minority group of Shia Islamists in Yemen, have rebelled in Yemen taking headlines as well as prisoners. They have occupied several intelligence and defense installations, occupied the presidential palace, and placed the Yemen president, prime minister, and cabinet members under house arrest. Despite demands by the U.N. Security Council that the Houthis withdraw from government institutions and warning of “further steps” if not heeded, the Houthis have not yet done so. Aside from the natural concerns that come along with such great political instability in any country or region, this conflict could have far reaching effects if not appropriately handled and resolved.
The installations occupied by the rebel Houthis were installations that cooperated with the United States and whose loss “[cut] off key sources of information for drone-missile attacks….” Further, the attacks in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, prompted the closure of the U.S. Embassy in Yemen and a withdrawal of State Department officials, CIA operatives and staff, as well as related military personnel.
While the White House Chief of Staff, Denis Mcdonough, was definitely correct in stating that “we can’t be responsible for every government in the region.” But we must also be aware that AQAP does seem to be a direct threat to the United States and major impediments to the U.S.’s ability to combat that threat can and likely will directly affect our ability to protect the homeland. U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, namely Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D), California and Sen. John McCain (R), Arizona, have expressed a belief that one preferred course of action would be to employ special operations in Yemen and other such countries to assist the combat against AQAP.
The United States has been utilizing secret raids against terrorists for a long time. There is also little doubt that these special operations can be and are effective. A special operations attack was what led to the death of Osama Bin Laden in 2011 as well as the capture and deaths of other ranking officials in terrorist organizations.
President Obama, despite having submitted a draft Authorized Use of Military Force drafted by his administration, also acknowledged in his letter to Congress that he already has authority under existing statutes to take action against ISIS/ISIL. Despite his admitted authority, President Obama states in his letter a desire to eventually repeal the 2001 AUMF which he considers over-broad in favor of a more narrowly tailored AUMF applicable only to ISIL/ISIS. This authority was also analyzed in an earlier article published by this Journal.
An apparent problem with that, however, is that it could hogtie the United States in situations such as this by removing the authority to act against a specific organization which has repeatedly proven its danger to the US when there is no direct accord between Congress and the incumbent President.
Al-Qaeda is a proven threat against the United States and many of the world’s nations. The very authority being used by the present administration in defense of the United States against the many parts of this organization is the same “overbroad” authority he wishes to dismantle.
It only follows, then, that the President already has the authority necessary to take action against a group well known to not only have been a faction of al-Qaeda, but to still be one. The question is, what action will the United States government take with regards to AQAP and the current instability in Yemen, or shall it take an ill-advised wait-and-see approach?