Our secret war in Yemen
We have the tacit approval of the Yemeni opposition to strike al-Qaeda and no doubt the government is secretly glad we are continuing a war that they have had to abandon because of the near civil war that has broken out in that country.
So striking al-Qaeda targets to keep them from consolidating their gains made during the chaos is probably good strategy - as long as we keep the civilian body count to a minimum.
The extent of America's war in Yemen has been among the Obama administration's most closely guarded secrets, as officials worried that news of unilateral American operations could undermine Mr. Saleh's tenuous grip on power. Mr. Saleh authorized American missions in Yemen in 2009, but placed limits on their scope and has said publicly that all military operations had been conducted by his own troops.
Mr. Saleh fled the country last week to seek medical treatment in Saudi Arabia after rebel shelling of the presidential compound, and more government troops have been brought back to Sana to bolster the government's defense.
"We've seen the regime move its assets away from counterterrorism and toward its own survival," said Christopher Boucek, a Yemen expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "But as things get more and more chaotic in Yemen, the space for the Americans to operate in gets bigger," he said.
But Mr. Boucek and others warned of a backlash from the American airstrikes, which over the past two years have killed civilians and Yemeni government officials. The benefits of killing one or two Qaeda-linked militants, he said, could be entirely eroded if airstrikes kill civilians and lead dozens of others to jihad.
It's going to be hard enough for whatever government emerges from the chaos to reestablish control over much of southern Yemen. By continuing to take the fight to the terrorists, we are making it a little easier for the future government to drive the jihadis back into the mountains.