The article referred incorrectly to the presence of U.S. citizens on a CIA list of people the agency seeks to kill or capture. After The Post's report was published, a source said that a statement the source made about the CIA list was misunderstood. Additional reporting produced no independent confirmation of the original report, and a CIA spokesman said that The Post's account of the list was incorrect. The military's Joint Special Operations Command maintains a target list that includes several Americans. In recent weeks, U.S. officials have said that the government is prepared to kill U.S. citizens who are believed to be involved in terrorist activities that threaten Americans.
U.S. military teams, intelligence deeply involved in aiding Yemen on strikes
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
U.S. military teams and intelligence agencies are deeply involved in secret joint operations with Yemeni troops who in the past six weeks have killed scores of people, among them six of 15 top leaders of a regional al-Qaeda affiliate, according to senior administration officials.
The operations, approved by President Obama and begun six weeks ago, involve several dozen troops from the U.S. military's clandestine Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), whose main mission is tracking and killing suspected terrorists. The American advisers do not take part in raids in Yemen, but help plan missions, develop tactics and provide weapons and munitions. Highly sensitive intelligence is being shared with the Yemeni forces, including electronic and video surveillance, as well as three-dimensional terrain maps and detailed analysis of the al-Qaeda network.
As part of the operations, Obama approved a Dec. 24 strike against a compound where a U.S. citizen, Anwar al-Aulaqi, was thought to be meeting with other regional al-Qaeda leaders. Although he was not the focus of the strike and was not killed, he has since been added to a shortlist of U.S. citizens specifically targeted for killing or capture by the JSOC, military officials said. The officials, like others interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the operations.
The broad outlines of the U.S. involvement in Yemen have come to light in the past month, but the extent and nature of the operations have not been previously reported. The far-reaching U.S. role could prove politically challenging for Yemen's president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who must balance his desire for American support against the possibility of a backlash by tribal, political and religious groups whose members resent what they see as U.S. interference in Yemen.
The collaboration with Yemen provides the starkest illustration to date of the Obama administration's efforts to ramp up counterterrorism operations, including in areas outside the Iraq and Afghanistan war zones.
"We are very pleased with the direction this is going," a senior administration official said of the cooperation with Yemen.
Obama has ordered a dramatic increase in the pace of CIA drone-launched missile strikes into Pakistan in an effort to kill al-Qaeda and Taliban members in the ungoverned tribal areas along the Afghan border. There have been more such strikes in the first year of Obama's administration than in the last three years under President George W. Bush, according to a military officer who tracks the attacks.
Obama also has sent U.S. military forces briefly into Somalia as part of an operation to kill Saleh Ali Nabhan, a Kenyan sought in the 2002 bombing of an Israeli-owned resort in Kenya.
Republican lawmakers and former vice president Richard B. Cheney have sought to characterize the new president as soft on terrorism after he banned the harsh interrogation methods permitted under Bush and announced his intention to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Obama has rejected those two elements of Bush's counterterrorism program, but he has embraced the notion that the most effective way to kill or capture members of al-Qaeda and its affiliates is to work closely with foreign partners, including those that have feeble democracies, shoddy human rights records and weak accountability over the vast sums of money Washington is giving them to win their continued participation in these efforts.
In the case of Yemen, a steady stream of high-ranking officials has visited Saleh, including the rarely seen JSOC commander, Vice Adm. William H. McRaven; White House counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan; and Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command.
A Yemeni official briefed on security matters said Tuesday that the two countries maintained a "steadfast cooperation in combating AQAP, but there are clear limits to the U.S. involvement on the ground. Information sharing has been a key in carrying out recent successful counterterrorism operations." AQAP is the abbreviation for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the affiliate operating in Yemen.