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Al Qaeda Yemen new threat for CIA

For the first time since the September 11, 2001, attacks, CIA analysts see one of Al Qaeda’s offshoots - rather than the core group now based in Pakistan - as the most urgent threat to US security, officials said.

world Updated: Aug 26, 2010 00:25 IST

For the first time since the September 11, 2001, attacks, CIA analysts see one of Al Qaeda’s offshoots - rather than the core group now based in Pakistan - as the most urgent threat to US security, officials said.

The sober new assessment of Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen has helped prompt senior Obama administration officials to call for an escalation of US operations there — including a proposal to add armed CIA drones to a clandestine campaign of US military strikes, the officials said.

“We are looking to draw on all of the capabilities at our disposal,” said a senior Obama administration official, who described plans for “a ramp-up over a period of months.”

The officials stressed that that analysts continue to see Al Qaeda and its allies in the tribal areas of Pakistan as supremely dangerous adversaries. Indeed, officials said it was largely because Al Qaeda has been decimated by Predator strikes in Pakistan that the franchise in Yemen has emerged as a more potent threat. “We see Al Qaeda as having suffered major losses, unable to replenish ranks and recover at a pace that would keep them on offense,” said a senior US official familiar with the CIA's assessments.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as its Yemen-based group is called, is “on the upswing,” the official said. Al Qaeda in Yemen is seen as more agile and aggressive, officials said. It took the group just a few months to set in motion a plot that succeeded in getting an alleged suicide bomber aboard a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day.

More important, officials cited the role of Anwar al-Aulaqi, an American-born cleric has helped helped transform the Yemen organization into a transnational threat.

Yet some analysts argued that it is wrong to say that Al Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen has eclipsed the organization's core.

US officials said the administration's plans to escalate operations in Yemen reflect two aims: improving US intelligence in Yemen and adding new options for carrying out strikes when a target is found.

“We still do view Al Qaeda core as they view themselves,” a senior US counterterrorism analyst said, “which is the vanguard of the jihad, providing a lot of global direction and guidance.”


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