ABC reporter Jon Karl pushed back hard on White House spokesperson Josh Earnest today, saying it’s “astounding that you say you still see Yemen as the model” for Obama’s counter-terrorism strategy.
Six months ago, President Obama heralded Yemen and Somalia as models for his strategy against ISIS, saying in August:
“This counter-terrorism campaign [against ISIS] will be waged through a steady, relentless effort … using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground. 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.”
Today, Karl asked Earnest: “I know you’re asked this every time something terrible happens in Yemen, but now that we have basically complete chaos in Yemen, does the White House believe that Yemen is the model for counter-terrorism strategy?”
“The White House does continue to believe that a successful counter-terrorism strategy is one that will build up the capacity of the central government to have local fighters on the ground to take the fight to extremists in their own country, and the United States can serve to diplomatically offer some political support to local governments, some very tangible support to security forces with training and equipping, and we can also support the operations of those forces… [like] in the case of Iraq, military airstrikes,” said Earnest, skirting Karl’s direct question.
“That is a template that has succeeded in mitigating the threat that we face from extremists in places like Yemen and Somalia and is a template that we believe can succeed in mitigating the threat we still see emancipating from Syria as well,” Earnest added.
“That’s astounding that you say you still see Yemen as the model [for] building up the central government which has now collapsed, a president which has apparently fled the country, Saudi troops amassing on one border, the Iranians supporting the rebels; you consider this a model for counter-terrorism?” queried Karl.
“Again Jon, what the United States considers to be our strategy in confronting the effort to mitigate the threat that is posed by extremists, is to prevent them from establishing a safe haven,” said Earnest, without the slightest hint of irony.
“Look, there’s no doubt that we’d like to see a functioning central government in Yemen – we don’t see that right now. And that is why we’re supportive of the U.N. led process to put an end to the violence and instability, to bring both sides to the table to try to resolve their differences… What I will say is we have not seen that kind of progress in terms of strengthening the central government, I think you could make a pretty strong case that we’ve seen the opposite of that,” said Earnest in the understatement of the year.
Bafflingly, Earnest added: “But, we do continue to enjoy the benefits of a sustained counter-terrorism security relationship with the security infrastructure that still remains in Yemen.”
“Security infrastructure still remains in Yemen?” said Karl.
Earnest asserted that “there are elements” of the Yemeni government “that we continue to be in touch with.”
The U.S. government itself called the security situation in Yemen “deteriorating” and relocated its last remaining personnel from Yemen over the weekend. “We are concerned that the well-being of all Yemenis now stands threatened by increasing instability, with extremists trying to capitalize on growing volatility as witnessed in the unconscionable March 20 attacks that killed over 130 Yemeni men, women, and children,” the State Department said in a release.