At Psaki’s final daily press briefing before moving to a White House post, Fox News reporter Lucas Tomlinson asked her whether Yemen was “still a model for counterterrorism operations for the United States.”
“I think we still have a number of successes to point to in terms of our efforts to push back on al-Qaeda and our successes in doing that in coordination with authorities,” she replied.
“We’re continuing to work to push back on counterterrorism threats that we face. Now, we’ve never said – or I don’t believe we’ve said that – or held up Yemen as a country where a political transition has been an easy road,” Psaki continued.
“But we have had success working on counterterrorism operations and we expect and hope that will continue.”
“The president in September mentioned Yemen as a successful counterterrorism operation,” Tomlinson said.
“Correct,” said Psaki, “And we stand by that.”
Hours after the briefing, Saudi Arabia announced that a coalition of Sunni states had launched a military offensive targeting Houthi militia as well as al-Qaeda and Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorists in Yemen, at the request of ousted President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
The White House said the U.S. was providing “logistical and intelligence support,” but not taking direct military action as part of the operation.
Laying out his plan to tackle ISIS in Syria and Iraq last September, Obama said it would involve attacks from the air, and actions by partner forces on the ground, and cited Yemen and Somalia as conflict zones where the strategy has been used successfully.
“This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years,” he said at the time.
But Hadi, Washington’s partner in carrying out that strategy in Yemen, resigned under duress in January, after Houthi militia seized the presidential palace in Sana’a. In February he fled to a presidential compound in Aden in the south, where this week he fled for a second time, this time to an undisclosed location, as Houthi forces advanced.
After evacuating the U.S. Embassy in February, last weekend the State Department announced the U.S. was withdrawing all remaining personnel from Yemen, but said the U.S. would “continue to actively monitor terrorist threats emanating from Yemen and have capabilities postured in the area to address them.”
Psaki said Wednesday that the U.S. continues “to have means of pushing back on al-Qaeda in Yemen. We’re continuing those efforts. We typically can’t outline those efforts publicly.”
She conceded that the situation in Yemen had changed in the last six months, but said that “we have continued to have a range of means of not only monitoring the threat on the ground but continuing to work on counterterrorism operations in Yemen.”
“Is it more challenging because we don’t have a diplomatic presence on the ground? Of course it is, but we continue to have means to do that. There are also other places around the world where we certainly have counterterrorism operations from. Yemen is not the only place.”