U.S. risks getting dragged into Yemen war

June 12, 2012 at 3:20 PM
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SANAA, Yemen, June 12 (UPI) -- Yemen's army claims it has recaptured the southern town of Jaar from al-Qaida in a U.S.-backed offensive to crush the jihadists and their allies in which the Americans risk being dragged into another war against militant Islam.

In recent weeks, Yemen forces, heavily backed by U.S. intelligence, Special Forces and airborne strikes, have claimed to have pushed back the forces of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula across the south.

On Tuesday, the Defense Ministry in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, announced the army had retaken Jaar, killing at least 20 militants and driving out others.

AQAP's local subsidiary, Ansar al-Shariah, captured Jaar in March 2011. In the months that followed, the jihadists had established six so-called caliphates in the ever-restive south, in Zinjibar, capital of Abyan province, Lawdar, Maudia, Shaqra, Azzan and al Houta.

Jaar, with a history of deep Islamic fundamentalism, was the centerpiece of Ansar al-Shariah's rise to power.

If the town has indeed fallen, it will mark a major -- and badly needed -- victory for Yemeni President Abdu Rabbo Mansour Hadi. But there's a long way to go yet.

Hadi, with U.S. and Saudi backing, replaced the Machiavellian Ali Abdullah Saleh, in February. Saleh, who had played both ends against the middle with the Americans and al-Qaida, had headed a brutal and corrupt dictatorship for three decades and eventually Washington decided he had to go.

Hadi has been trying to purge the military of Saleh's relatives, with some success, but the army is now divided.

Ultimately, Hadi is the Americans' creature and they have little choice but to back him and if that means bumping off his enemies as well as al-Qaida, Washington's primary target, so be it.

Hence the ever-growing involvement of U.S. Special Forces and the CIA in Yemen, where the Saudi and the Iranians are fighting their particular war as well.

It has got to the point that U.S. President Barack Obama has had to send in Special Forces teams to stiffen Hadi's forces.

Washington has tried to do this quietly but, as usual, such subterfuges are revealed and the growing U.S. involvement in Yemen, a country bound for economic and social collapse, has raised fears of U.S. involvement in yet another war.

The Americans see Yemen "as an incubator of transnational terrorist plots with AQAP being thought of as al-Qaida Central's most potent franchise," analyst Derek Henry Flood wrote in Asia Times Online.

The group has made at least three unsuccessful attempts to bomb the United States or blow up U.S. airliners in flight.

The Americans consider the key figure in all three attacks to be Ibrahim al-Asiri, a Saudi and AQAP's highly innovative bombmaker who in two instances was able to get his devices past all security controls onto aircraft.

A third bomb, constructed entirely out of materials unlikely to trigger alarms, was only found because the man chosen to carry it was an undercover Saudi intelligence asset who exposed the operation.

U.S. officials fear that one of these days, al-Asiri or another AQAP innovator, is going to get lucky and wipe out a lot of Americans.

Analyst Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations, a New York think tank, reported in early May that "there have been more drone strikes in the past month -- 17 -- than in the preceding nine years, since the first strike on Nov. 3, 2002.

"In the meantime, there have been between 10 and 50 other U.S. attacks on militants in Yemen using manned aircraft or naval platforms."

Zenko noted: "According to U.S, officials, there is no daylight between armed militants seeking to overthrow Hadi and terrorists working to strike the American homeland."

The CFR warned that "drone strikes could ultimately unite these disparate groups behind a common banner that opposes both the Hadi regime and … the United States.

"It would be easy for the U.S. military and CIA to become a Yemeni counterinsurgency air force for the Hadi regime …"

As has happened in Pakistan, "the average Yemeni will eventually come to resent a foreign military that repeatedly attacks its territory," Zenko wrote.

"The current eliminationist, uncompromising counterterrorism mission in Yemen is not delivering results, but it is unlikely that the Obama administration, in alliance with the Hadi regime, will change course anytime soon.

"In the words of President Hadi, the "hunting of terrorists is irreversible'."

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