Archive for the ‘Operations in Yemen’ Category

AFIO Weekly Intelligence Notes #42-10 dated 9 November 2010

US Involvement in Yemen Edging Toward ‘Clandestine War.’ President Obama is pledging stepped-up military and economic cooperation with Yemen in response to last week’s foiled terrorist operation aboard cargo planes that originated in the country.

An initial response to Mr. Obama’s promise to step up the fight against Yemen’s Islamist militants may have come Tuesday, when an oil pipeline running through a militant stronghold in Yemen was blown up.

The pipeline attack was a reminder that the two-track approach for fighting Islamist terrorists in their strongholds – covert military and intelligence operations and “hearts and minds” development programs to reach the public and deny terrorists their havens – faces a steep climb to success in Yemen.

Some regional analysts are already calling Yemen Obama’s “next Afghanistan,” a weak state where anti-Western extremists have been able to take root. But a comparison to Obama’s approach for the militant havens of Pakistan’s northwest may be more apt.

No one expects large numbers of US troops to be deployed in Yemen. Instead, the administration is quietly discussing ramping up covert operations by the Central Intelligence Agency – adding special-operations units and strikes by unmanned drones to what some analysts already call a “clandestine war.” At the same time, the president is talking publicly about increased assistance to Yemen to build up its institutions and reach a poor population.

But some Yemen specialists worry that Obama’s talk of ramping up development assistance will remain just that – talk – while what they call a “militarization” of US relations with Yemen continues unabated.

“If there only were a genuine two-track approach to Yemen: That would be a good thing, but unfortunately, whatever economic aid and attempts to persuade the Yemeni public there have been have been dwarfed by the money and attention going to military options,” says Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen expert and doctoral candidate at Princeton University’s Department of Near Eastern Studies.

Obama laid out his two-track approach to Yemen, though without the details, in his brief White House statement Friday where he discussed the suspicious packages from Yemen.

“Going forward, we will continue to strengthen our cooperation with the Yemeni government to disrupt plotting by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and to destroy this Al Qaeda affiliate,” Obama said. “We’ll also continue our efforts to strengthen a more stable, secure, and prosperous Yemen so that terrorist groups do not have the time and space they need to plan attacks from within its borders.”

Obama has spoken at least twice by telephone with Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh since the terror operation unraveled last Friday. Publicly, US officials paint a picture of a Yemeni government making promising strides against terrorist organizations like AQAP but lacking the means to defeat them and thus requiring US help.

“For consecutive years we [in the Obama administration] have significantly ramped up our attention to Yemen and our support from a bilateral standpoint, security standpoint, and development standpoint,” said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley on Tuesday. “Yemen is focused on the threat posed by Al Qaeda, and we will continue to work with Yemen, continue to build up its capabilities so that it can continue to take aggressive action.”

But behind the scenes, the administration is hearing the opinion of a growing number of military and intelligence officials that President Saleh may be losing his grip on the country. And concern is growing that he appears unable to handle an Al Qaeda affiliate apparently growing in sophistication and bent on striking the West.

The United States already has special forces in Yemen, in part to train Yemeni forces in counterterrorism functions and in part for intelligence purposes. The White House is considering expanding US operations in Yemen by a much broader use of unmanned drones or shifting command of Special Operations units to the CIA.

Such a shift would put the Yemen counterterrorism campaign more tightly under White House control. The advantage of such a move, officials say, would be to allow for operations more like those in Pakistan. There missile strikes by CIA-operated drones – against suspected terrorist targets, based on intelligence passed to the president – have proliferated in recent months.

But an increase in covert operations such as drone strikes also risks “mistakes,” some say. Exhibit A: the recent strike on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border that killed three Pakistani soldiers – and worsened already-tense US-Pakistan relations.

Such “mistakes” have already occurred in Yemen, says Mr. Johnsen of Princeton, with the effect of strengthening AQAP and boosting its recruiting efforts.

“Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has been around since 2006, but their argument that Yemen was under Western attack and that therefore it was a Muslim’s duty to strike back wasn’t really catching on,” he says.

But then, he says, “word spread” about a number of supposedly covert missile strikes – one in late 2009 that killed a number of women and children, and another in May of this year that killed a government official. “Al Qaeda has been able to say, ‘We’ve been telling you Yemen is under Western military attack,’ ” Johnsen says. “And it has been catching on.”

Saleh has shown in the past that he does not take kindly to unpopular US operations in his country, on several occasions responding by suspending security and counterterrorism training programs. But he may have no choice, some say, but to accept what Obama calls a strengthened US role in his country.

Any US role in Yemen will have to have some military component, Johnsen says. But, he adds, if it is not counterbalanced by more than lip service to the development and public-outreach side of the equation, “the US may be walking into a bit of a trap.” [LaFranchi/CSMonitor/3November2010]

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– The Wall Street Journal

– January 28, 2010

Pentagon to Send More Special Forces to Yemen

Officials say the additional troops could be a significant increase above the roughly 200 special forces personnel who are currently in Yemen at any one time.

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is assigning more special forces personnel to Yemen as part of a broad push to speed the training of the country’s counterterror forces in the wake of the failed Christmas Day attack on a crowded U.S. airliner.

Military officials familiar with the matter said the U.S. will begin rotating the same groups of special forces personnel through Yemen and keeping some of the elite troops there for longer tours, changes designed to help the American trainers develop closer relationships with their Yemeni counterparts.

The officials declined to specify how many new troops will be arriving in Yemen, but said it would be a significant increase above the roughly 200 special forces personnel who are currently in Yemen at any one time.

“The numbers are definitely going to grow,” said one military official familiar with the emerging plan, which is expected to be formally approved within weeks. “This will be a much more robust effort pretty much across the board.”

The moves come as the U.S. steps up its military and financial assistance to Yemen, the stronghold of the Al Qaeda affiliate that claimed responsibility for the attempted Christmas Day bombing. The sole suspect in the attack, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, is currently in U.S. custody awaiting trial.

The Obama administration plans to increase its counterterrorism support to the government of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh from $70 million in 2009 to roughly $190 million this year, and the U.S. and U.K. have agreed to jointly fund a new counterterrorism police force inside Yemen.

Continue reading at The Wall Street Journal

– FOXNews.com

– January 27, 2010

U.S. in Secret Joint Operations With Yemeni Troops

U.S. military teams and intelligence agencies are deeply involved in secret joint operations with Yemeni troops, Fox News confirmed.

U.S. military teams and intelligence agencies are deeply involved in secret joint operations with Yemeni troops, Fox News confirmed.

Yemeni troops in the past six weeks have killed scores of people — among them six of 15 top leaders of a regional Al Qaeda affiliate — according to senior administration officials.

The operations, which began six weeks ago, were approved by President Obama and involve several dozen troops from the U.S. military’s clandestine Joint Special Operations Command.

A Yemeni official told the Associated Press Tuesday that the U.S. military and intelligence agencies have been participating in joint operations for some time with Yemeni troops, and the two countries are currently in discussions to build a new aviation unit to help bolster Yemen’s counterterrorism forces.

Sources say that while the intelligence sharing has been critical, the Yemen military badly needs helicopters for its counterterrorism operations.

U.S. officials have said repeatedly that American advisers do not take part in raids in Yemen, but provide intelligence, surveillance, planning and other weapons assistance.

As part of the operations, Obama approved a Dec. 24 strike against a compound where a U.S. citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical American-Yemeni Islamic cleric, was thought to be meeting with other regional Al Qaeda leaders. He was not the focus of the strike and was not killed.

Al-Awlaki has been connected with the alleged perpetrators of two recent attacks on American soil: the Nov. 5 shooting rampage at the Fort Hood, Texas, army base and the Christmas airliner bombing attempt.

The broad outlines of the U.S. involvement in Yemen have been reported by the Associated Press and others, but the extent and nature of the operations have not.

A key U.S. complaint is that Yemen’s pursuit of Al Qaeda insurgents inside the country has been fitful at best. The low point was the deadly October 2000 Al Qaeda attack on the Navy destroyer USS Cole in Yemen’s Aden harbor that killed 17 American sailors.

The terror incubator in Yemen, birthplace of the Christmas Day airliner attack, is forcing the U.S. and allies to pour millions of dollars into a shaky government that officials suspect won’t spend the money wisely and isn’t fully committed to the battle against Al Qaeda.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other world leaders meet in London on Wednesday to hash out a plan. Efforts to stabilize the impoverished nation, where the government is battling Al Qaeda strongholds with American help, are suddenly urgent after years of faltering.

“Clearly December 25th had an electrifying impact,” said Daniel Benjamin, State Department coordinator for counterterrorism. The failed attempt to bring down the Detroit-bound airliner by a Nigerian tied to Yemen’s radicals made “many members of the international community think that this was a time to get past the excuses and get back to work.”

U.S. officials are uneasy, however, about Yemen’s government. President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s army has only sporadically pursued the growing Al Qaeda threat in Yemen’s vast tribal territory. The United States wants its aid to be closely monitored, and tied to economic and political reforms.

American worries about Yemen’s commitment heightened last year after several Yemeni detainees who had been released from Guantanamo Bay prison resurfaced as leaders of the country’s growing Al Qaeda faction.

At the same time, the Yemeni government can be undermined by appearing too close to the Americans. The Yemeni people are virulently anti-Israel, and by extension anti-American. Sensitive to that concern, U.S. officials have played down the Pentagon’s efforts to provide intelligence and other assistance to the Yemeni military.

The effort, Benjamin acknowledged, will have to overcome a history of failed commitments on all sides.

“The international community made a number of commitments to Yemen and they haven’t always been delivered, and Yemenis, as we know, have also sometimes made commitments and haven’t always followed through,” he said. “The important thing is that the (Yemeni) government’s doing the right thing now.”

U.S. officials say they want to combine a deeper involvement with the Yemenis on the counterterrorism front with programs designed to alleviate poverty, illiteracy and rapid population growth.

Much like the effort with Pakistan’s Frontier Corps, the U.S. military has boosted its counterterrorism training for Yemeni forces, and is providing more intelligence, which probably includes surveillance by unmanned drones, U.S. officials and analysts have told The Associated Press. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the secretive nature of the operations, say the support comes at the request of Yemen.

The Yemeni government largely defeated Al Qaeda forces in 2003, but the terror group was able to rebound more as the government turned its focus to flare-ups by other insurgents. Then, early last year, Al Qaeda groups in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, Yemen’s northern neighbor, merged, and turned their efforts toward Islamic jihad beyond those countries’ borders.

In the wake of the Christmas attack, Yemen’s military has struck repeatedly at Al Qaeda sites. On Tuesday, a Yemeni security official said that 43 people, including several foreigners, are being interrogated there for links to the failed attempt to blow up the Detroit-bound airliner.

Last week, after a meeting in Washington with Clinton, Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi stressed “our commitment to continue the fight against terrorism and against radicalization.”

Clinton praised Yemen’s recent military actions against the Al Qaeda faction there but insisted that extremism could not be rooted out without a focus on economic development, something Saleh has yet to push to U.S. satisfaction.

“Our relationship cannot be just about the terrorists,” she said. “As critical as that is to our security and our future … the best way to really get at some of these underlying problems that exist is through an effective development strategy.”

The Yemeni foreign minister praised the American effort, saying that “with the new administration, we have seen a greater understanding to the challenges faced by Yemen and the willingness to help Yemen.”

The U.S. currently has a three-year, $121 million development and economic assistance program with Yemen. Separately, it is providing nearly $70 million in military aid this year.

Those numbers are likely to increase, but throughout the past decade, Washington’s annual assistance to Yemen hovered in the low $20- to $25-million range.

“Yemen is often overlooked by U.S. policy makers,” said Jeremy Sharp, author of a Congressional Research Service report on the country. He described the U.S.-Yemeni relationship as “tepid” with a lack of strong military-to-military ties, commerce and cross-cultural exchanges.

The push for closer ties are also tempered by concerns about Saleh’s rule, which has been punctuated by severe disagreements over how Yemen has handled terror suspects, including several detainees implicated in the Cole bombing and detainees released from Guantanamo Bay.

Terrorists from both of those groups have reportedly become leaders of the new Al Qaeda offshoot in Yemen.

But the Yemeni government’s response to the terror threat was “basically catch-and-release and that needs to change,” said one U.S. official familiar with counterterrorism cooperation with Yemen. “We need to have confidence that the bad guys are locked up.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

– The Wall Street Journal

– January 28, 2010

Pentagon to Send More Special Forces to Yemen

Officials say the additional troops could be a significant increase above the roughly 200 special forces personnel who are currently in Yemen at any one time.

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is assigning more special forces personnel to Yemen as part of a broad push to speed the training of the country’s counterterror forces in the wake of the failed Christmas Day attack on a crowded U.S. airliner.

Military officials familiar with the matter said the U.S. will begin rotating the same groups of special forces personnel through Yemen and keeping some of the elite troops there for longer tours, changes designed to help the American trainers develop closer relationships with their Yemeni counterparts.

The officials declined to specify how many new troops will be arriving in Yemen, but said it would be a significant increase above the roughly 200 special forces personnel who are currently in Yemen at any one time.

“The numbers are definitely going to grow,” said one military official familiar with the emerging plan, which is expected to be formally approved within weeks. “This will be a much more robust effort pretty much across the board.”

The moves come as the U.S. steps up its military and financial assistance to Yemen, the stronghold of the Al Qaeda affiliate that claimed responsibility for the attempted Christmas Day bombing. The sole suspect in the attack, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, is currently in U.S. custody awaiting trial.

The Obama administration plans to increase its counterterrorism support to the government of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh from $70 million in 2009 to roughly $190 million this year, and the U.S. and U.K. have agreed to jointly fund a new counterterrorism police force inside Yemen.

Continue reading at The Wall Street Journal

Yemeni Prime Minister: International Media Exaggerating Terrorist Threat from Yemen
Thursday 28 January 2010
By Ali Ibrahim and Raghida Bahnam

London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Yemeni Prime Minister, Ali Mohamed Mujawar said that the international media is exaggerating the recent events and terrorist threat from Yemen. In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat Mujawar said “Yes, Al Qaeda is present in Yemen as it is present in all advanced industrial countries.”


He also told Asharq Al-Awsat that poverty is the cause of all problems in Yemen, and he called for international effort to aid Yemen with a comprehensive development plan, saying that his country is in need of a “Marshall Plan” which can reach up to 40 billion dollars. Mujawar also pointed to the problem of high unemployment among young people in Yemen, saying that the solution to this in the short and medium term is to open the door to Yemeni employment in Gulf States.

The London conference on Yemen, which was attended by 20 countries and ended yesterday concluded with a mutual agreement between Yemen and its international partners to cooperate in order to address the roots of terrorism.
British Foreign Minister David Miliband also announced that Riyadh will host a conference on 27 – 28 February on Yemen which will be attended by Gulf States and other Yemeni partners.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi welcomed the support expressed by fellow attendees for Yemen’s unity and sovereignty. “What we have achieved today does indeed achieve the results (wanted) by Yemen,” he said.

For her part, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said that Yemen’s problems cannot be solved via military operations, but through supporting Yemen’s development efforts to achieve stability. As for Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, he said that there is foreign interference “from some regional powers that desire control and which seek to sow destructive conflicts and instability among the Yemeni people.”

London has warned that unless Yemen is stabilized, it could become a “failed state”, like its lawless neighbor Somalia.
Yemen’s troubles sprang to prominence when 23-year-old Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab allegedly tried to detonate explosives in his underwear on a plane approaching the US city of Detroit on Christmas Day.

US President Barack Obama has accused Al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen — Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula — of training, equipping and directing the suspect. Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden claimed responsibility for the plot in an audio message broadcast this week and vowed further strikes would follow.

Yemen has ruled out allowing the United States to set up military bases on its soil and stepped up its own campaign earlier this month with a military crackdown against Al-Qaeda.