Dem: US must ensure that Yemen 'does not disintegrate'

Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden to make voting rights play in Atlanta Democrats eager to fill power vacuum after Pelosi exit Overnight Health Care — Insurance will soon cover COVID-19 tests MORE (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said the United States and its allies should be doing "whatever possible" to ensure that Yemen doesn't disintegrate.

Yemen appeared on the brink of a coup this week, after Shiite rebels known as the Houthis surrounded the presidential compound of Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.

"Our ability to influence events in Yemen is limited, but it is in the paramount interest of the United States and our coalition partners to do whatever possible to ensure that Yemen does not disintegrate and that the vital counterterrorism mission that we have with Yemen continues," he said in a statement Wednesday.

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While the Houthis opposed Al Qaeda, Hadi's ouster would disrupt U.S. military efforts in Yemen against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is seen by U.S. officials as the terror group’s most dangerous affiliate.

The U.S. Navy on Tuesday moved two amphibious ships into the Red Sea to assist with a potential U.S. embassy evacuation in Yemen, according to ABC News.

Public attention shifted back to Yemen after it was discovered that at least one of the attackers of the Paris newspaper Charlie Hebdo had trained in the country with AQAP.

The U.S. has opted for a "light footprint" approach in countering AQAP in Yemen, consisting of targeted special operations raids, drone strikes and training local Yemeni forces. In September, President Obama touted Yemen as a model for the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Critics of the administration's strategy against AQAP say it is not enough.

"While the Iranian-backed al Houthis may well be creating more space for Al Qaeda, the truth is that the much-touted 'Yemen' model' for fighting terror was broken long ago," Katie Zimmerman, research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote Wednesday.

"P.S. Yemen was not mentioned once in last night's State of the Union," she added.

Schiff stopped short of criticizing the U.S. relationship with Yemen, although he noted it has been "at arms' length."

He said AQAP has focused its efforts on attacking Western targets, attempting several times to conduct attacks, and has inspired lone-wolf attackers such as the Boston Marathon bombers.

Schiff said although there was news of a ceasefire between the Houthis and Hadi, it would not provide a "lasting solution to the instability that lies at the heart of Yemen's myriad economic and social problems."