Yemen’s government has been perpetually in a state of unrest–especially since the Arab Spring protests in 2011–and while it’s the poorest country in the Middle East, it has significant geopolitical implications.
On Thursday, Yemen’s Prime Minister Khalid Bahah and President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi resigned after several days worth of attacks on the presidential palace at the hands of Shiite Houthi militants. The Houthis also reportedly welcomed concessions by the government but the group still controls a huge chunk of the country.
So who cares? Yemen is thousands of miles from the United States and Europe.
“Death to America, death to Israel, curses to the Jews and victory to Islam” is a slogan used by the Houthis, according to the Brookings Institution, a think tank that specializes in foreign policy. The fall of the U.S.-backed government in Yemen means Washington has even less say over what happens in the country, as the Houthi militants are aligned with Iran and are anti-American.
“Hadi was our best bet. But it is indicative of the complex challenges America faces in the Islamic world and the urgent need for a smarter strategy to deal with it,” the think tank said.
So why does it matter what happens in Yemen?
One of the suspects in the Charlie Hebdo shooting that killed 12 people–Cherif Kouachi–was reportedly trained by al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP. A leader of the group claimed the shooting took years in the making and said U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki was behind it. A U.S. drone strike killed him in 2011.
Yemen is the home of the notorious terrorist organization, which has been targeted by the U.S. for years. There’s also been recent reports that the Islamic State–the terror group known as ISIS or ISIL that controls chunks of Iraq and Syria–has been gaining a foothold in the country.
Starting with AQAP, the group publishes popular jihadi publications “Inspire” and “Voice of Jihad.” AQAP has increasingly called for more “lone-wolf” terrorist attacks around the world in recent years.
The organization has even launched attacks on the Yemeni Defense Ministry and has claimed responsibility for a number terrorist attacks around the world.
And according to a CNN report on Thursday, ISIS is now competing with the al-Qaeda affiliate group in Yemen, which makes the country’s security situation even more perilous.
“Yemen is significant in Islam,” said Katherine Zimmerman, who is a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, reported CNN. “It is a place where we’ve seen attacks against the United States. It also has been a major feeder for foreign fighters into Afghanistan, into Iraq, and now into Syria,” Zimmerman noted. “There’s a recruiting pipeline that ISIS may try and tap into.”
The U.S. has used drones to carry out targeted killings of terrorist operatives namely in southern Yemen. Al-Qaeda and terror organization Ansar al-Sharia control several provinces, while the government controls parts and the Shiite Houthis control the west and northwest.