Even as President Barack Obama touts his progress in extracting the U.S. from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, his administration appears to be deepening its covert and military involvement in strife-torn Yemen.
Washington is worried about recent advances by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), particularly in the southern part of the country.
Since the failed “Christmas Day” bombing by an AQAP-trained Nigerian national of a U.S. airliner over Detroit in December 2009, the group has been regarded here as a greater threat to the U.S. homeland than its Pakistan-based parent.
Quoting senior officials, the Wall Street Journal and other major U.S. publications reported Thursday that the administration has relaxed constraints on both the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Pentagon in conducting drone strikes against suspected AQAP- affiliated militants in the Arab world’s poorest nation.
Henceforth, the CIA and the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which conduct parallel counterterrorist campaigns in Yemen, will be able to strike suspected militants whose precise identity may not be known but whose “behaviour” suggests that they are either “high-value” operatives or engaged in plots to strike U.S. interests.
“There is a dangerous drift here, and the policymakers in the U.S. don’t appear to realize they are heading into rough waters without a map,” wrote Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen specialist at Princeton University and editor of the Waq Al-Waq blog.
“In Yemen, drones and missile strikes appear to have replaced comprehensive policy,” he noted. “…Since late 2009, the number of U.S. strikes in Yemen have increased and, as the strikes have grown in frequency, AQAP has grown in recruits.”