US to increase attacks on al Qaeda in Yemen
The United States will likely increase strikes against Al-Qaeda in Yemen, seeking to apply the same degree of pressure there as covert drone attacks in Pakistan have had on the core group, US officials said on Wednesday.If attacks against al Qaeda in Yemen do not get stepped up, that operation will only get bigger as the operatives avoid the unsafe areas of Pakistan. The Yemen government is going to have to lift restrictions on the use of drones to attack the terrorist.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and one of its leading figures — American-born Muslim cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki — have increasingly become priority US targets since the group took responsibility for a failed plot to blow up a US passenger jet on Christmas Day.
Awlaki has also been tied to an Army psychiatrist charged with killing 13 soldiers in a November 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas.
"They're not feeling the same kind of heat — not yet, anyway — as their friends in the tribal areas. And everyone involved on our side understands that has to change," a US counter-terrorism official said.
Admiral Mike Mullen, who as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the top US military officer, acknowledged on Wednesday that while Al-Qaeda in Pakistan had suffered setbacks, its affiliates in Yemen and North Africa had become "more robust" in recent years.
Still, US officials stressed that increased attention to Al-Qaeda in Yemen did not mean less concern about Al-Qaeda in Pakistan, described by military and intelligence officials as the core of Al-Qaeda operations.
"They remain extremely dangerous and they are still the hub to all the spokes, the heart of Al-Qaeda," the US official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "No one's even close to saying it's over in Pakistan - not at all. In fact, we not only have to keep up the pressure there, we have to spread it to Al-Qaeda's nodes and affiliates elsewhere."