The strikes have ended a period in which U.S. drone activity in the Arabian Peninsula has been relatively rare, with a seven-week stretch with no strikes. The latest strike, in southern Yemen on Wednesday, killed seven alleged militants, the Associated Press reported. A strike on Tuesday reportedly killed four militants in the impoverished nation’s Marib province, a Yemeni security official said.
Although the BBC reported Wednesday that the terror plot had been disrupted,citing statements by Yemeni government officials, U.S. intelligence officials remain skeptical that the danger has passed. One intelligence official said the plot as described by the Yemenis — involving blowing up pipelines and taking over oil and gas facilities — may have been only one component of a broader plan to hit Western targets.
Officials said Tuesday there is no indication that senior al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen have been killed in the drone strikes.
“It’s too early to tell whether we’ve actually disrupted anything,” a senior U.S. official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. The official described the renewed air assault as part of a coordinated response to intelligence that has alarmed counterterrorism officials but lacks specific details about what al-Qaeda may target or when.
“What the U.S. government is trying to do here is to buy time,” the official added.
The State Department underlined that approach on Tuesday, announcing that it had ordered the evacuation of much of the U.S. Embassy in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa and urged all Americans to leave the country immediately.
In a global travel alert, the State Department said that all non-emergency U.S. government personnel would be removed “due to the continued potential for terrorist attacks.” It described an “extremely high” security threat level in Yemen.
Yemen is the home base of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the branch of the terrorist group thought to be the most likely to attack U.S. or Western interests. The U.S. Embassy in Yemen was among 19 that were closed through Saturday, as were embassies in Yemen representing several European nations. The British Embassy said Tuesday that it had removed its staff.
The State Department’s decision drew a sharp rebuke from the Yemeni government, which said the evacuation “serves the interests of the extremists and undermines the exceptional cooperation between Yemen and the international alliance against terrorism.”
“Yemen has taken all necessary precautions to ensure the safety and security of foreign missions in the capital,” the Yemeni Embassy in Washington said in a statement.