Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Is It Such A Secret That The U.S. Has The C.I.A. Involved In Yemen? Then Why Is It All Over The News?

U.S. Is Intensifying a Secret Campaign of Yemen Airstrikes

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has intensified the American covert war in Yemen, exploiting a growing power vacuum in the country to strike at militant suspects with armed drones and fighter jets, according to American officials.
The acceleration of the American campaign in recent weeks comes amid a violent conflict in Yemen that has left the government in Sana, a United States ally, struggling to cling to power. Yemeni troops that had been battling militants linked to Al Qaeda in the south have been pulled back to the capital, and American officials see the strikes as one of the few options to keep the militants from consolidating power.
On Friday, American jets killed Abu Ali al-Harithi, a midlevel Qaeda operative, and several other militant suspects in a strike in southern Yemen. According to witnesses, four civilians were also killed in the airstrike. Weeks earlier, drone aircraft fired missiles aimed at Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American-born cleric who the United States government has tried to kill for more than a year. Mr. Awlaki survived.
The recent operations come after a nearly year-long pause in American airstrikes, which were halted amid concerns that poor intelligence had led to bungled missions and civilian deaths that were undercutting the goals of the secret campaign.
Officials in Washington said that the American and Saudi spy services had been receiving more information — from electronic eavesdropping and informants — about the possible locations of militants. But, they added, the outbreak of the wider conflict in Yemen created a new risk: that one faction might feed information to the Americans that could trigger air strikes against a rival group.
A senior Pentagon official, speaking only on condition of anonymity, said on Wednesday that using force against militants in Yemen was further complicated by the fact that Qaeda operatives have mingled with other rebels and antigovernment militants, making it harder for the United States to attack without the appearance of picking sides.
The American campaign in Yemen is led by the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command, and is closely coordinated with the Central Intelligence Agency. Teams of American military and intelligence operatives have a command post in Sana, the Yemeni capital, to track intelligence about militants in Yemen and plot future strikes.
Concerned that support for the campaign could wane if the government of Yemen’s authoritarian president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, were to fall, the United States ambassador in Yemen has met recently with leaders of the opposition, partly to make the case for continuing American operations. Officials in Washington said that opposition leaders have told the ambassador, Gerald M. Feierstein, that operations against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula should continue regardless of who wins the power struggle in Sana.
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.
Edmund J. Hull, ambassador to Yemen from 2001 to 2004 and the author of “High-Value Target: Countering Al Qaeda in Yemen,” called airstrikes a “necessary tool” but said that the United States had to “avoid collateral casualties or we will turn the tribes against us.”
Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen is believed by the C.I.A. to pose the greatest immediate threat to the United States, more so than even Qaeda’s senior leadership believed to be hiding in Pakistan. The Yemen group has been linked to the attempt to blow up a transatlantic jetliner on Christmas Day 2009 and last year’s plot to blow up cargo planes with bombs hidden inside printer cartridges.

CIA Building Secret Mideast Base to Launch Drone Attacks in Yemen
The CIA is building a secret air base in the Middle East to serve as a launching pad for armed drones to strike Yemen. Since December 2009, U.S. strikes in Yemen have been carried out by the U.S. military with intelligence support from the CIA. Now, the spy agency is preparing to carry out drone strikes itself alongside the military campaign. The Wall Street Journal reports the CIA, in coordination with Saudi Arabia, has been ramping up its intelligence gathering efforts in Yemen in recent months to support a sustained drone campaign. We speak with Gregory Johnsen, a former Fulbright Fellow in Yemen and now a graduate student in Near Eastern studies at Princeton University. [includes rush transcript here...

CIA Plans Yemen Drone Strikes

Covert Program Would Be a Major Expansion of U.S. Efforts to Kill Members of al Qaeda Branch

Yemeni residents pointed in order to spot a U.S. drone in October. The CIA has aided military drone strikes in Yemen, and plans to begin its own.
WASHINGTON—The Central Intelligence Agency is preparing to launch a secret program to kill al Qaeda militants in Yemen, where months of antigovernment protests, an armed revolt and the attempted assassination of the president have left a power vacuum, U.S. officials say.
The covert program that would give the U.S. greater latitude than the current military campaign is the latest step to combat the growing threat from al Qaeda's outpost in Yemen, which has been the source of several attempted attacks on the U.S. and is home to an American-born cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, who the U.S. sees as a significant militant threat.
The CIA is launching a covert operation whereby drones will be sent over Yemen to kill al Qaeda operatives. WSJ Washington Bureau Chief Jerry Seib reports. Photo: REUTERS/Ammar Awad
The CIA program will be a major expansion of U.S. counterterrorism efforts in Yemen. Since December 2009, U.S. strikes in Yemen have been carried out by the U.S. military with intelligence support from CIA. Now, the spy agency will carry out aggressive drone strikes itself alongside the military campaign, which has been stepped up in recent weeks after a nearly yearlong hiatus
The U.S. military strikes have been conducted with the permission of the Yemeni government. The CIA operates under different legal restrictions, giving the administration a freer hand to carry out strikes even if Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, now receiving medical treatment in Saudi Arabia, reverses his past approval of military strikes or cedes power to a government opposed to them.
The CIA program also affords the U.S. greater operational secrecy, and because CIA drones use smaller warheads than most manned military aircraft, U.S. officials hope they will reduce the risk of civilian casualties and minimize any anti-American backlash in Yemen.
The Yemen program is modeled on the agency's covert program in Pakistan, which has killed 1,400 militants but is also unpopular in the country, where it is seen as a violation of sovereignty that costs civilian lives. Some U.S. diplomats and military officials have begun questioning whether the pace of Pakistan drone strikes should be slowed to ease the backlash.
President Barack Obama secretly approved the new Yemen program last year. It has been under development for several months because of the complicated logistics required to set up a major intelligence operation in an unstable corner of the world.
The program is authorized under the same broad 2001 presidential finding that created the legal underpinnings for the program in Pakistan. That secret finding, signed by President George W. Bush shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, directed the CIA to find ways to kill or capture al Qaeda leaders.
The Yemen program had been slated to begin in July, but the launch time may be moved back a few weeks to accommodate planning and logistical needs, U.S. officials said. The last known CIA strike in Yemen using an unmanned aircraft was conducted in 2002.
The CIA declined to comment. "As a rule, the CIA does not comment on allegations of prospective counterterrorism operations," said CIA spokeswoman Marie Harf.
White House National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor declined to comment on the program or any shift to the CIA.
The U.S. is increasingly concerned about the deteriorating security situation in Yemen, worries heightened by signs that Islamist militants are trying to seize control of towns in southern Yemen.
"They're looking to take advantage of an opportunity that has arisen," a U.S. intelligence official said of the recent movements in the south. "Whether they're going to succeed or not is an open question."
The CIA has been ramping up its intelligence gathering efforts in Yemen in recent months in order to support a sustained campaign of drone strikes. The CIA coordinates closely with Saudi intelligence officers, who have an extensive network of on-the-ground informants, officials say.
The new CIA drone program will initially focus on collecting intelligence to share with the military, officials said. As the intelligence base for the program grows, it will expand into a targeted killing program like the current operation in Pakistan.

The US in Yemen: drone war

Jun 15, 2011 18:17 Moscow Time

Drones. Photo: EPA
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The US plans to set up a new air base in the Gulf targeting  Yemen, while American servicemen are already engaged in a secret anti-Al-Qaeda operation in the south of the country.
The location is kept secret but some say this might be Bahrain as it already has  a US base and provides the safest route to Yemen for US drones through American ally-Saudi Arabia.
Recently, drones have been actively involved in regional conflicts, a drone expert Denis Fedutinov told the VoR:
"The US used drones already in the Balkans Campaign, then in Iraq and Afghanistan and now in Libya. The US and Israel are the world drone leaders. Now America has several thousands of drones of different classes."
Russia is also working on its own drones, says a military expert Andrey Fomin:
"The leading Russian drone developer is the IRKUT plane maker, together with the Kamov and Mile helicopter manufacturers. Russia has various types of jets, but no mass production of drones. Recently the country purchased several items from Israel to launch domestic drone-making."
US servicemen in Yemen are using drones for intelligence and aiding jet fighters. Recently, drones destroyed several insurgent camps in southern Yemen and eliminated Al-Qaeda warlords. The country’s President Abdullah Saleh has given the US carte blanche for using any means to combat insurgents.
However, US drones have a bad reputation in the Arab world as they often strike civilians in Pakistan and Afghanistan and are considered sovereignty-breakers. Pakistan’s parliament even demanded that the US stopped using drones in the country.

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