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CIA may run "killer units" to nab Yemeni terrorists

The thwarted plot to bring down cargo planes bound for the United States has highlighted Yemen once again as a leading source of international terrorism.

The so-called "underwear bomber" who tried to blow up a plane bound for Detroit on Christmas Day received training from an al-Qaida cell in Yemen. Al-Qaida activity in the chronically impoverished country of 23.5 million dates back to 2000 and the bombing of the USS Cole that killed 17 sailors. Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born radical cleric, who inspired multiple terror attacks including the Fort Hood shooting, is believed to be in Yemen.

The United States has increased its military aid to Yemen from $5 million in 2006 to $155 million this year in an effort to buttress the Yemeni government's counterterrorism efforts.

What more might the United States do?

The Wall Street Journal Monday reported that "elite U.S. hunter killer teams" under the control of the CIA rather than the military might be the next step in combating al-Qaida.

Putting the CIA in charge would "give the U.S. greater leeway to strike at militants even without the explicit blessing of the Yemeni government," according to the Journal.

Armed CIA drone strikes, similar to the program in Pakistan, might be part of the strategy as well.

What are the risks?

"A massive U.S. covert operation … is guaranteed to be an intensified crisis that will collapse and split the Yemeni government and lead to a Somalia-like state of disorder," according to Robert Dreyfuss in the Nation.

The unpopular and corrupt government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh has pledged to deal with al-Qaida, but the terrorist group, which focuses its attacks outside the country, is not as much of a concern for him as the two insurrections he is dealing with against Shia militants in north and secessionists in the south.

Some experts caution that strikes, which sometimes kill civilians, inflame anti-American sentiment and inspire more recruits.

What are the alternatives?

Focusing on the economy would undermine one of al-Qaida's most powerful recruitment tools.

Unemployment is 35 percent. Over 40 percent of the population lives under the poverty line. Oil, which accounts for 75 percent of government revenues, is predicted to run out within the decade.

"The economy is the foundation on which everything in Yemen is built," said Princeton University Yemen expert Gregory Johnsen in an e-mail to the Al-Jazeera news network, "and as it continues to crack and crumble it exacerbates every other problem in the country."

U.S. military aid, projected at $1.2 billion over the next five years, dwarfs the three-year commitment of $120 million in development aid.

Information from Associated Press, MSNBC, Al-Jazeera, the Wall Street Journal, the Nation, the Guardian and Reuters was used in this report.

CIA may run "killer units" to nab Yemeni terrorists 11/01/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 1, 2010 9:03pm]
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