Counterterrorism operations in Yemen have ground to a halt, allowing al Qaeda’s deadliest branch outside of Pakistan to operate more freely inside the country and to increase plotting for possible attacks against Europe and the United States, American diplomats, intelligence analysts and counterterrorism officials say.
In the political tumult surrounding Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, many Yemeni troops have abandoned their posts or have been summoned to the capital, Sanaa, to help support the tottering government, the officials said. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group’s affiliate, has stepped in to fill this power vacuum, and Yemeni security forces have come under increased attacks in recent weeks.
A small but steadily growing stream of Qaeda fighters and lower-level commanders from other parts of the world are making their way to Yemen to join the fight there. Taken together, these developments have raised increasing alarm in the Obama administration, which is in the delicate position of trying to ease Saleh out of power, but in a way to ensure that counterterrorism operations in Yemen will continue unimpeded.