Taliban fighters pose in Afghanistan's Farah province. (Courtesy)

Yemen and Afghanistan: Between Two Wars

Al-Sharq al-Awsat, London, August 10

There are no beautiful wars in the world – all are ugly. There are, however, wars of necessity, and Yemen is one of them. The militants there are directly on the Saudi border, equipped with ballistic missiles that can reach cities and towns even beyond Riyadh. But why compare the wars in Yemen and Afghanistan? While the two conflicts have different historical roots and political motives, they share a similar geography, circumstances and ongoing challenges. Is the war in Yemen a prolonged one? Yes, but wars have no age limit. The United States launched the war in Afghanistan in 2001, and has been fighting there ever since. Saudi Arabia has been in Yemen since 2015. Insurgents in both countries – the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Houthis in Yemen — are similar, with the exception that one consists of Sunni extremists and the other of Shiite extremists. The two countries are also similar in terms of geography, as they both have rugged, mountainous terrains. The lives of both peoples are difficult, most mired in poverty, a situation that has made fighting in both countries difficult for soldiers. What about alternative options for the two wars? Limited. Withdrawing from Afghanistan would lead to a takeover by the Taliban. But for the US, as a superpower located 11,000 kilometers from Afghanistan, a withdrawal would be less damaging. Withdrawing from Yemen would be even worse for Riyadh, because it would allow Iran to establish a base on Saudi Arabia’s southern border that would pose a direct threat while destroying the Yemeni republic. The US-led coalition in Afghanistan has 16,000 troops, twice the number of Saudi forces in Yemen. The cost of the war in Afghanistan is estimated at $45 billion, four times more expensive than in Yemen. And the war in Afghanistan has lasted 18 years, compared to four in Yemen. Politically, Washington has engaged in rounds of direct and indirect talks with the Taliban but has not yet reached an acceptable solution. Diplomacy in the Yemeni war, too, has not had the desired affects, although the door is still open to the Houthis to participate in a national government. But the Houthis are even more intransigent than the Taliban, since they follow the orders of the Iranian regime, which retains decision-making power. The war in Yemen is not an exceptional case. It is, like all wars, a result of to internal politics and external intervention. These politics must be discussed when talking about the outbreak, continuation, or call for withdrawal from this war. –Abd al-Rahman al-Rashed

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