Defense Secretary Ashton Carter says the Obama administration failed to anticipate that Iranian-backed Houthis rebels could, or would, oust the Yemeni government which had been a strong U.S. counter-terrorism ally.
“With respect to the Houthis in Yemen, I think our assessment is that no one anticipated, probably even the Houthis themselves, the success that they had, success defined from their point of view, in causing the toppling of the government and the subsequent humanitarian disaster that has occurred in Yemen,” Mr. Carter said, after meeting this week with Saudi Arabian rulers as part of a Middle East tour to ease concerns about the new nuclear agreement with Iran.
The U.S. had to make a hasty retreat from Yemen, with images of U.S. military personnel boarding rushed flights to safety.
Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Muslim state, says the Shiite Muslim Iran is trying to dominate the region, including Yemen on its southern boarder and the gateway from the Red Sea to the Persian Gulf. The kingdom has launched air strikes against Houthis targets and condemned Iran’s interference.
Republicans have charged that the fall of the Yemen government is another case of President Obama underestimating threats from Islamic extremists.
Mr. Obama called the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, the “JV” team, compared to al Qaeda, as it invaded Iraq. The president also referred to Yemen, which is infested with al Qaeda operatives, as a counter terrorism success a few months before the government fell last January. He has referred to Iran as a potential great regional power, as his intelligence services says Tehran is bent on hegemony and the destruction of Israel.
Said Mr. Carter, “The Iranian influence with the Houthis is real, and we have taken steps to check Iranian, for example, resupply of the Houthis, and emphasized the need for a political settlement there, so I think that we and the Saudis share a concern about malign influence by Iran, but we also both share an assessment that it’s a complicated situation.”
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