Monday, September 30, 2013


Do you favor targeted drone against terrorists in Yemen and the FATA regions of Pakistan? (Comments allowed) free polls 
CNN news announced today that U.S. drone strikes in Yemen killed six militants, including two senior leaders of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Qaed al-Thahab, the top AQAP leader in the country's Baitha province was a CIA  "high-profile target" and was among those killed.
 Eight missiles were launched by two unmanned drone planes targeting vehicles. There was no immediate comment about the attack from the United States. As I watched the news report, I remember visiting Creech AFB, the home of the drones, and attending seminars there. The program was sponsored by the Association Of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO). One presentation showed a video of actual drone using surveillance. The UAV was hovering over the Afghanistan landscape, inspecting the area just ahead of a Marine patrol. It spotted a dozen al Qaeda warriors running into an abandoned warehouse, which the patrol would come upon in about 4 minutes. The Marine patrol was alerted and all the terrorists were captured without a shot being fired.  Five of the al-Qaeda warriors ran warehouse just before the Marine patrol arrived, and hid in the brush a short distance away. Fortunately, the drone recorded their location and instead of a group of Marines walking into the apparent trap, the brush site was surrounded by 3 armored vehicles. All five of the terrorists stood up with their hands raised. Thatpredator drone saved the lives of U.S. Marine's that day!
Creech AFB is home of the drones

There are numerous reports of drone strikes killing al Qaeda warriors in Yemen. A year ago Yemeni security officials reported four al Qaeda terrorists were killed by a drone strike. The  attack came around dawn in the Deyfa area in Abyan, a southern province. Drone tactical use calls for taking advantage of the low sun in the sky, which blocks their approach; i.e., the drone remains unseen as it approaches the target from the direction of the blinding early morning sun. 

Yemeni forces conduct large-scale operations throughout Abyan, going after terrorists from major cities that they took over during the country's 2011 political turmoil. The militants have since fled to surrounding mountainous areas. Simulta- neously, the news media, including the Associated Press,  reported dramatic increases in drone strikes in Yemen. This is not new news. The CIA has been, and will be, operating in Yemen for the long haul. At the time of Yemen's political turmoil, a drone targeted a vehicle in Hadramawt, in eastern Yemen. Eight militants were killed and it marked the third such strike in a week. 

The U.S. considers the Yemen al Qaeda branch extremely dangerous and has used drones in the past to go after its members. Hopefully, the UAV assault will continue. A week after the Hadramawt drone attack, seven other militants were killed by drone strikes. The Yemeni government continues to intensify its campaign against militant groups and the U.S. offers advice and logistical support. As expected, al Qaeda warriors have carried out several attacks in retaliation. 
 The U.S. and CIA terrorist battle in Yemen highlights a new asymmetrical warfare strategy and I hope we ramp up our operations there. Here's eight reasons why we should:

1. We made a commitment. Several years ago, Gerald Feierstein, the new U.S. ambassador to Yemen, said the U.S. was  committed to support the Yemeni army and security forces in their efforts to combat the burgeoning al Qaeda force- "There is a deep concern that al Qaeda could work freely in Yemen. We understand that fighting extremism cannot be through security only and it should include economic and development reforms. This is what America is committed to directly or through the Friends of Yemen Group.”

The Friends of Yemen Group is comprised of nations looking to help stabilize Yemen so al Qaeda and other terrorist groups will fail to develop a lasting stronghold there. They voiced their support for the security and stability of the Arabian Peninsula nation.

Feierstein went on to say, “America emphasizes its commitment to supporting the Yemeni Government and its people to overcome al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, to secure Yemeni borders, continue to train Yemeni anti-terrorist forces in addition to the provision of necessary equipment to get rid of the immediate threats posed by al Qaeda.”

At that time, Yemen’s President Saleh’s ensured that his government would take all necessary measures against terrorists and extremists and he welcomed Feierstein’s statement. Saleh added that he will support all measures mentioned by President Obama. A roughly $1.2 billion assistance bundle was being considered by Washington at that time. Feierstein said much will go to establishing a security department not to fight terrorists directly but to revitalize Yemeni forces and to battle the fight against drugs.

2. We must persist, despite casualties of war. Currently, the CIA has expanded the number of case officers collecting intelligence in Yemen. These intelligence officers, along with special ops and military intel, are brave souls. Al Qaeda in Yemen injured 10 intelligence officers, 3 seriously, on September 25, 2009 in the capital, Sana’a. The attack came just after American instructors finished a training course on fighting terrorism. An intelligence officer, Abdullah Ba Sharaheel, was murdered when two gunmen opened fire on him in the city of Al Mukalla. He was on his way home with his family when the Al Qaeda gunmen attacked on motorcycles and shot him.

3. The Arabian Peninsula is where al-Qaeda fled. Little wonder CIA analysts are focusing more on al Qaeda’s offshoots, in addition to the small, inner core group, which remains housed in the tribal areas of Pakistan (Although, maybe not, after bin Laden's death). These offshoots are becoming more of a threat to America’s national security and have influenced President Obama’s tactical measures in Yemen. Thus, clandestine U.S. military strikes and armed CIA drone attacks on terrorists intensifies to this day.

Al Qaeda aspired, but failed, to create a safe haven in the beginning, that is.  From 2001 to 2004, when Edmund J. Hull was the American ambassador to Yemen, U.S. and Yemeni counterterrorism efforts defeated al Qaeda at every turn, severely degrading its capabilities. During this period, al Qaeda mounted no successful operations against U.S. interests in Yemen and suffered the loss of its top leadership and cadres.

Unfortunately, things have changed. Their influence there is boiling over today. CIA analysts believe effective drone strikes in Pakistan have kept al Qaeda from recovering the offensive game. So, they migrated to the Arabian Peninsula and spawned the Yemen-based group "Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula" (AQAP).

AQAP succeeded in getting the Xmas day suicide bomber aboard the plane bound for Detroit and analysts believe the deceased Anwar al-Awlaki transformed the AQAP into a transnational threat. I foresee the CIA having more agents on the ground in Yemen than in Pakistan than it does in Yemen. After all, several years ago the National Security Council met with White House officials and the decision was made that the CIA will play a major operational role in Yemen.

4. We're not battling nation states anymore; we're fighting small, fluid, highly-adaptable terrorist networks. Yes, terrorist cells are sprouting up around the world faster than McDonald's franchises. That's why the fight in Yemen is critical for the U.S.; the region is a pilot be expanded, globally. And, we will fight the battle with the asymmetrical tactics they do. Armored marine divisions and huge masses of ground troops will be replaced with small, covert operations that will act globally upon good intelligence- all source HUMINT and technical intelligence collection and rapid analysis across cooperative IC agencies, followed by lightening strikes, in/out, inexpensive operations using spec ops, drones attacks, etc.  

I remember talking to Philip Mudd, on C-SPAN. Mudd is a former senior official at the CIA and the FBI, and believes that a Sept. 11-style attack has been supplanted by a proliferation of plots by AQAP and other affiliate networks. He stated, "The sheer numbers suggest that one of the plots in the United States will succeed. In the future the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region will not be the sole, or even primary, source of bombing suspects" (CTC Sentinel). He's right, and Yemen and AQAP is an example. Mudd's observation is another reason why I often state on this site that the U.S. should adopt Britain's MI5 model in its counterterrorism and counterintelligence efforts here at  home.

5. Yemen needs stabilization. The reasons behind Yemen's political turmoil several years ago, which continues today. The political and social chaos in Yemen is complex, with much historical causation's that are an expression of authoritarian rule. And, al Qaeda takes advantage of chaos. 
Unrest continues to boil. While I researched Yeman unrest last year, a gunmen killed a senior Yemeni intelligence officer in the main southern city of Aden. It was the latest in a spate of assassinations to hit the south. Lieutenant Colonel Ali Ahmed Abd Rabbo was driving along the main coast road when protesters blocked his way.

"As soon as his car stopped, gunmen opened fire, riddling the vehicle with bullets and killing the colonel" (Yemeni News). It was unclear whether the gunmen were from among the demonstrators or militants who had infiltrated the protest.

Several days later, army Colonel Naji Aitha escaped with minor injuries when militants detonated explosives outside his home. At the time, fighting raged for the Abyan provincial capital of Zinjibar, where troops had been trying to dislodge al Qaeda linked militants.

During this period of political chaos, 30 Yemeni soldiers and 50 tribal auxiliaries had been killed in the battle for Zinjibar. Today, Yemen has grown more stable, but the killings continue on both sides.

6. Anwar al-Awlaki resided there. Yemen is the new terrorist base to plan global attacks. Al-Awlaki's role in the global al Qaeda jihad continues to be real, and just because a drone attack killed him, he remains the "who's who" of jihadi attackers against the West. His DVDs and taped sermons on jihad were found in the computers of the US army officer responsible for the Fort Hood shootings, Major Nidal Hassan; were read by the underpants bomber Abdulmuttallab, by the Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, and by the Boston Marathon bombers. These DVDs and taped sermons still emanate from Yemen and are used to perpetuate hatred against the West, particularly the U.S.

7. AQAP expanding operation there; so should the CIA. Al Qaeda swarmed to Yemen. So, we should, too. From a dozen OSINT sources, it's clear that the CIA uses a Saudi Arabian airbase to target al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Hopefully, it will stifle AQAP attacks, like the Delta Christmas attack, attempted assassination of Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, etc. Item 4 above jokingly stated al Qaeda networks and cells are springing up globally faster than McDonald's should CIA operations!

8. America is justified justified to be in Yemen. And why not? Virtually every attempted terrorist attack against the West by Salafist jihadis since 2009 has had some association with AQAP or with the deceased and incredibly influential Islamic cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki. AQAP is the most internationally active of the various al Qaeda branches and, as mentioned previously, has been involved in the 2009 attempted ''underpants'' bombing by Umar Farouk Abdulmuttallab, as well as the 2010 cargo bomb plot.

For these 8 reasons, I believe the Intelligence Community (IC) should conduct a robust, global battle against al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. Let's continue to expand our operations in Yemen- let it be our asymmetrical pilot project and research base to battle radical Islam globally.
Robert Morton, M.Ed., Ed.S. is a member of the Association Of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO) and writes about the online spy series "Corey Pearson- CIA Spymaster in the Caribbean." The views expressed on this site do not represent those of any organization he is a member of. Contact him on the Secure Contact Form

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