Obama's new secret war: the US unleashes a Pakistan-style campaign from the sky against Al Qaeda jihadists in Yemen, as that impoverished country teeters on the brink of civil war.

Author:Blanche, Ed
Position::Cover story
 
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In the aftermath of the May assassination of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, the Americans have sharply escalated their battle against Al Qaeda in Yemen and in Somalia, across the Gulf of Aden, as US President Barack Obama widens his clandestine war against terror with Special Forces operations, unmanned killer drones and air strikes largely conducted beyond any accountability.

"This marks a major escalation in Washington's fight against the group, widely considered the most threatening to the US homeland of all Al Qaeda's affiliate," observed Washington analyst Jim Lobe.

With Somalia reportedly getting its first drone attack in June, the Americans are now conducting clandestine air strikes in six countries, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

Security officials in Sana'a, Yemen's ancient capital, say there has been a sharp intensification of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) strikes in recent weeks, mostly targeting the oil-rich Shabwa province, east of Sana'a.

More than 18 strikes occurred in the first three weeks of June, with some 140 people killed. Six of these strikes were in Abyan province in the south on the Arabian Sea, where Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has flourished.

This accelerating tempo of attacks in a largely secret war indicates the US campaign will soon rival the highly controversial American offensive in Pakistan that has triggered a massive outcry against Washington for violating the country's sovereignty.

"It signals an additional all-out war conducted by the Obama administration, the secret nature of which will likely prevent any congressionally imposed limitations on the president's martial discretion," observed analyst John Glaser of the Washington-based Antiwar.com web site.

Edmund J. Hall, the US ambassador in Sana'a in 2001-04, said air strikes were "a necessary tool" to combat AQAP, but warned Washington to "avoid collateral casualties or we will turn the tribes against us".

The Obama administration believes AQAP poses a greater danger to the US than any other jihadist grouping because it has been behind at least three attacks against US targets in 18 months.

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Two failed, one didn't, but they displayed impressive planning capabilities as well as innovative bomb-making and operational skills that could well succeed one day.

In November 2009, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, an American Muslim and army psychiatrist, allegedly shot dead 13 people, mainly soldiers, at Fort Hood, Texas. On Christmas Day 2009, a would-be suicide bomber--using a Nigerian was a masterful stroke--failed to blow up a US airliner over Detroit because he could not detonate explosives impregnated in his underwear.

In late October 2010, British and United Arab Emirates security authorities found two explosive-packed ink cartridges for computer printers addressed to US targets aboard UPS and Fedex aircraft.

Dangers

"Given the centrality of Yemen as a hotbed of Islamic extremists and the unprecedented ability of a unitary executive in America to wage war at will and with total impunity, the fractured Arab country is likely to be the focus of national security policy in the coming years," Antiwar.com's Glaser noted.

"Yemen will be extremely influential not just in the trajectory of its future as an unstable Gulf state with a population yearning for reform, but also as the first American drone war initiated in isolation and kept secret, under the authority of only one man."

In recent weeks, there have been indications of growing links between AQAP and the Al Shabaab Al Islamiya (Islamic Youth) in Somalia, on the Horn of Africa.

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