Friday, May 11, 2012

Analysts: Post-Saleh Yemen Boosts Intelligence, Anti-terrorism Cooperation

May 11, 2012 by Middle East Voices in Analysis
Yemen’s improved counterterrorism cooperation was a key to the thwarted plot to bomb a U.S.-bound airliner, analysts say. The scheme, confirmed by U.S. officials this week, was hatched in Yemen where political and social unrest has allowed a particularly lethal faction of al-Qaida to find sanctuary, much as the original al-Qaida arm did in Afghanistan.
But counterterrorism experts say the fight against al-Qaida has gained some traction in recent months after the departure from office of longtime Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
During the protests calling for his ouster last year, President Saleh presented himself as an indispensable bulwark against jihadist terrorism.
Sebastian Gorka, military affairs fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, says the former Yemeni leader, however, was more talk than action.
 Saleh may have said some things about being America’s last great hope against the Salafists, the fundamentalists, in his part of the world,” Gorka said.
 But it is well-known, even just from media reports and unclassified analyses that this man, whilst he was preaching one thing to Washington and to the West, he was playing footsie under the table [cooperating] with the jihadists and the Salafists in his country in his efforts to remain in power,” he said.  “So Saleh played many countries, not just the United States, like a fiddle.”
Cooperation Improving
Michael Hayden, former director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, says the intelligence relationship between Saleh and the West was a difficult one.
 I would never classify President Saleh of Yemen as being an easy counterterrorism partner,” Hayden said. “You always seemed to be involved in almost endless negotiations of things he demanded for frankly what I would characterize mostly as minimal performance on his part.”
Many of the original core al-Qaida members were from Yemen’s neighbor to the north, Saudi Arabia, and analysts say there was an implicit understanding that the group would not attack inside that country.
But starting around 2003, al-Qaida began hitting Western and Saudi targets inside the oil-rich kingdom, infuriating the Saudi royal rulers and sparking a crackdown on the group.
Former CIA director Hayden says the tactical switch by al-Qaida took intelligence analysts by surprise, but that it has proved to be a costly mistake for the terrorist group.
 Frankly, we were a bit surprised that they would do it,” Hayden said. “If you’re asking me in just a pure objective sense was this tactically sound, I would say no.  But the results were very clear, and they’ve suffered for their mistake.”
When Saudi Arabia took a tougher line against al-Qaida, many of its members fled south across the porous border to Yemen, where they regrouped under the banner of “Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula,” or AQAP.
Terror threat
U.S. officials say AQAP has now surpassed the original Pakistan-based al-Qaida as the most lethal terrorist threat against the West and its allies.
The U.S. entered into closer intelligence cooperation with the Saudis, ratcheted up drone strikes against AQAP targets in Yemen, and gave the Saleh government security assistance.
President Saleh was already fighting a separatist insurgency in the south and a rebellion by Shi’ite Muslim insurgents known as Houthis in the north when demonstrations against his rule erupted in 2011. He finally transferred power to Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi in November but retained his title until he was officially voted out of office in February.
Sebastian Gorka says the counterterrorism cooperation has markedly improved since his departure.
 With his being gone, it seems as if the new administration is not as hypocritical as he was, to put it mildly,” Gorka said. “And as a result this crucial country is producing some cooperative attitude that is significantly different from the era of Saleh.”
AQAP, which holds swaths of territory in Yemen, appears to be now taking the fight directly to the Yemeni military.
On May 7 AQAP, fighting under the banner of “Ansar al-Sharia,” attacked two military bases in southern Yemen, killing an estimated 32 troops and overrunning the outposts.
A missile strike, believed to be by U.S. armed drone aircraft, killed eight suspected AQAP fighters Thursday in the southern town of Jaar.

Gas pipeline attacked in Yemen's Mareb

By Fatik al-Rodaini
SANA'A, May 11, 2012- A gas exporting pipeline was attacked by a saboteur on Friday in Yemen's eastern province of Mareb.
Security sources in Mareb said that a saboteur blew up a gas pipeline in al-Dmashiqa district of al-Wadi city.
Friday's attack is the newest of series sabotages conducted by tribesmen in Mareb province, which targeted the vital facilities within the province.
Al-Qaeda militants blew up a gas exporting pipeline for the second times during the last month in Yemen's southeast province of Shabwa.
The sources reported that the pipeline transferring liquefied natural gas from Yemen's Mareb province to Belhaf terminal was bombed in al-Akla district of Shabwa province, stopping the country's export of gas.

Southern Movement militants attack military bases in Dhale

By Fatik al-Rodaini
SANA'A, May 11, 2012- Gunmen believed to be Southern Movement militants assaulted on Friday morning two army bases in the Yemeni city of Dhale, southern Yemen.
Firs attack took place in the central of Dhale city, when tens of gunmen controlled Dar al-Hed position without any resistance from the Yemeni troops, while the second attack took place at the entrance of Dhale city, when the militants assaulted al-Aerashi base.
According to a resident in Dhale, the group controlled al-Aerashi base after they traded fire with the troops within the position, killing 2 gunmen.
Private sources stated that gunmen looted military equipment from the two bases.
Sporadic clashes have been erupted between soldiers within the military bases and armed men belonged to southern movement militants.
Analysts considered the latest attacks by southern movement militants as new challenges add to the challenges that face Yemen newly elected President Abdu Raboo Mansour Hadi along with the presence of al-Qaeda militants in southern provinces, and Shi'ite Muslim rebels in the north.

Al Qaeda down in Yemen, but not out

May 11, 2012 
 (CBS News) -- It has been a remarkable couple of weeks for terrorists and those who hunt them.
On May 2, administration officials did a victory lap around the one-year anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden.
The next day, the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, answered with a double issue of their slickly produced "Inspire Magazine."
Both publishers of the English-language online magazine - Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan (both American citizens) - had been killed in a drone strike, and many assumed the magazine would die with them. The latest issues had tributes to the two men, as well as the standard instructional articles on bomb making and assassination.
Even as all that was unfolding, an undercover operative deep inside AQAP was revealing a plot to blow up a U.S.-bound jet with an updated version of the underwear bomb used by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in his failed 2009 Christmas day attack.
Over the weekend, a drone strike had killed Fahd al-Quso, an AQAP commander wanted for his role in the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000.
By Monday, news of the latest underwear bomb plot had leaked. There was another victory lap, followed quickly by the gnashing of teeth over the leak, and news that there might be other bombs and other bombers.
On Thursday came news of another drone strike killing a handful of suspected AQAP militants in Yemen, but even as that happened the group released a well-crafted statement talking about the death of al-Quso.
It has been striking to watch al Qaeda struggle. This beleaguered and battered group is still determined and adaptable. They have been captured, penetrated by informants, and had many leaders killed by hellfire missiles screaming down from the skies over parts of Pakistan and Yemen.
Yet they still manage to try and launch a complex suicide bombing plot, put out two magazines to a world of jihadists looking for guidance and a press release about a commander who was killed.
Meanwhile, AQAP has likely also been trying to assess the damage inflicted upon the group by the Saudi/CIA informant, and to determine how much more damage he could still do based on what he knows from his time working undercover in their ranks.
All these developments have come so fast, and with such rapidly changing details, that it is worth putting into some context. We have an adversary that lives by a battle cry: "We love death as much as you love life!"
Yes, we are winning and they are losing. But AQAP and other al Qaeda groups have people willing to die in order to kill for their cause, and the notion of quitting because they're down a few points in the game won't likely be considered, even for a moment.
So, what are the most important points to consider going forward?
The leak investigation: Where are we?
The Justice Department has a "referral", an official request to launch a probe. They are reviewing that against a complex set of criteria. For a criminal investigation, it can't just be a leak, it has to be a leak that breaks the law.
In this case, given that there was classified information involved, and releasing classified information can be a crime, this will probably be approved. In most cases, the investigation will go to the FBI's Counterintelligence Division and they will use everything from interviews, to polygraphs to grand jury subpoenas if needed to get to the bottom of this.
The threat from AQAP
AQAP has vowed revenge for the death of al-Quso. There is still concern that there may be additional bombs and other bombers who could be unleashed, even after the first attempt was uncovered.
The U.S. has spent many millions of dollars getting full-body scanners into airports, and that may make the terrorist's job harder, but the expensive devices are not ubiquitous at international airports, from which many hundreds of flights to the U.S. take off every day.
It also must be noted that AQAP's talented bomb maker, Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, is still at large, and believed to be training others in his deadly art. Also, after the bombs hidden inside printers made it onto cargo planes, AQAP boasted on the front page of its magazine that the project only cost them $4,200, and was forcing the U.S. government and cargo companies to spend hundreds of millions on security measures.
Al Qaeda believes even a failed plot is a success if it causes fear and costs the U.S. money.
The threat to AQAP
Another drone strike in Yemen took out a handful of men suspected to be AQAP militants, including two managers in charge of weaponry for the group. This is a sign that information developed through debriefings of the source that was inside the group are still being used tactically to set up attacks against their strongholds in Yemen.
The threat to the double agent: Will we learn his name?
We shouldn't, but I suspect we will. His name is a closely guarded secret inside intelligence agencies. There may be leaks about many things, but there is a bright line on leaking the name of a human source.
But AQAP doesn't have that rule, and they know who he is by now and probably have pictures of him. It would not be surprising to see a full-length feature on him, describing him as a traitor and a puppet of the Saudis and Americans, in the next issue of AQAP's Inspire Magazine - complete with photos.