Why Did Obama Refer to Anti-Terror Campaigns in Somalia and Yemen as Successes?

Monday, September 15, 2014
President Obama speaks to the nation about ISIS (AP Photo)

President Barack Obama proclaimed this week that the United States will take care of the growing ISIS threat in the Middle East, pointing to the counterterrorism successes in Yemen and Somalia as examples of what America can achieve in neutralizing Islamic extremists. 


But many have taken issue with the president’s claim of success in Yemen and Somalia, which raises questions about how effective the U.S. military and intelligence operatives will be against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS).


“Very few people who are not part of the administration consider either of those cases a success,” Spencer Ackerman wrote at the Guardian. “Less subjectively, neither has finished, years later, and it is unclear what success in Yemen and Somalia even is.”


The U.S. has already spent several years in Yemen trying to wipe out al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), employing numerous drone strikes that have killed both combatants and civilians. But the administration is nowhere near declaring “mission accomplished” there, The Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor wrote.


Gregory D. Johnsen, a scholar and journalist who has written about AQAP, said last year, according to Think Progress: “The question I have is, if the Obama administration is confident that its strategy in Yemen is correct, then why is Al Qaeda growing in Yemen and why is the group still capable of forcing the United States to shut down embassies in more than a dozen countries?”  


Tharoor added, “Somalia remains the global euphemism for a failed state.” The U.S. may have “chased the al-Qaeda-linked militant group al-Shabab from the capital of Mogadishu,” but it is still operating effectively from other parts of the country, and even exporting its terror campaign to neighboring Kenya, Tharoor pointed out.


However, Middle East scholar Juan Cole wrote that Obama might have been giving clues as to how he thinks the fight against ISIS will turn out; that it will be a long struggle, as it has been in Yemen. “He is telling those who have ears to hear that he is pulling a Yemen in Iraq and Syria,” Cole wrote. “He knows very well what that implies. It is a sort of desultory, staccato containment from the air with a variety of grassroots and governmental forces joining in. Yemen is widely regarded as a failure, but perhaps it is only not a success. And perhaps that is all Obama can realistically hope for.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Yemen and Somalia are Examples of U.S. Mission Creep, Not Success (by Ishaan Tharoor, Washington Post)

The Most Discouraging Sentence in Obama’s Entire ISIS Speech (by Hayes Brown, Think Progress)

Obama’s ISIL Actions are Defensive, Despite Rhetoric of Going on Offense (Juan Cole)

Obama’s New Strategy still Misses Islamic State’s Weakest Link (by Denis Dragovic, The Conversation)

Six Steps Short of War to Beat ISIS (by Phyllis Bennis, The Progressive)

Yemen Parliament Demands an End to U.S. Drone Strikes (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Former U.S. Official Says Every Drone Attack in Yemen Creates 40 to 60 New Enemies (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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