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June 08, 2011

In Saleh's Absence, Yemen, US Step Up al-Qaida Fight

Yemen authorities said Thursday that government troops have killed at least suspected 10 al-Qaida members in a troubled southern region as the nation struggles with an Islamic militant insurgency in the wake of the departure of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Meanwhile, a major American newspaper reports that the U.S. government has intensified its covert war in Yemen in recent weeks, deploying armed drones and fighter jets to attack militant suspects seeking to exploit Yemen's turmoil.

Citing U.S. officials, The New York Times says that after nearly a year-long pause in American airstrikes, the U.S. has accelerated its campaign in an attempt to keep militants linked to al-Qaida from consolidating their strength. The paper says the attacks are being led by the U.S. Defense Department's Joint Special Operations Command, in close coordination with the CIA.

The report published Thursday said American jets last Friday killed a mid-level al-Qaida operative, Abu Ali al-Harithi, and several other militant suspects in a strike in southern Yemen.

Weeks before, drones fired missiles aimed at Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American-born Islamic cleric who the U.S. has been trying to kill for more than a year. But he survived the attack.

The heightened campaign comes during a perilous period for Yemen, with Saleh going to Saudi Arabia for treatment of severe burns he suffered in last week's bomb attack on his presidential compound.

Saleh authorized American missions in his country in 2009, but placed limits on their scope, and publicly has said that all military operations have been conducted by Yemeni troops.   

U.S. and Yemeni officials say Saleh's injuries from the bomb attack at the presidential compound are far more severe than first disclosed, raising doubts about his return to power.

Saleh was initially said to have received a shrapnel wound. But diplomatic sources say he has burns on his face, neck and chest. He also is believed to have suffered a serious head injury.

Yemen's prime minister, his two deputies, the heads of the two houses of parliament and the head of the ruling party's legislative bloc all were evacuated to Saudi Arabia with severe injuries.

Nearly 400 people have been killed since a popular uprising against Saleh began in January.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP.

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