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Yemen: Source Says U.S. Involved in Airstrike

3 MINS READDec 19, 2009 | 01:26 GMT
KHALED FAZAA/AFP/Getty Images
A Yemeni government official released a statement Dec. 18 saying Mohammed Saleh Mohammed Ali al-Kazemi, a senior leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, was killed in a recent airstrike in the southern province of Abyan. A STRATFOR source in the U.S. government has indicated that the U.S. Navy carried out the Dec. 17 strike near the village of al-Maajala, supporting earlier local reports that U.S. aircraft participated in the operation. According to the Yemeni government official, al-Kazemi and dozens of other militants were at a training camp at the time of the strike. The air operation was accompanied by coordinated ground raids by Yemeni forces to prevent the targets from fleeing the site. However, a senior leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Qasim al-Rami, who reportedly was at the camp before the strike took place, was able to escape. Airstrikes became fairly frequent in Yemen in early November after Saudi Arabia began lending assistance against al-Houthi rebels in the north. However, beginning on Dec. 14, reports quoted local tribal members in the south as blaming recent airstrikes on the United States. But many of these reports have emerged from questionable eyewitness accounts and sources with an interest in spinning the situation. Saudi Arabia's air force flies U.S.-built F-15 fighter jets, which might be identified as U.S.-operated even by well-trained eyes. However, an American airstrike in Yemen more likely would be carried out by U.S. military or CIA assets in Djibouti or U.S. naval assets (AV-8B Harriers or F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets generally on station in the 5th Fleet). STRATFOR sources within the U.S. government now claim the jets involved were indeed operated by the U.S. Navy. If confirmed, this would mark a dramatic escalation in U.S. military activity in Yemen. U.S. strikes in Yemen are not unprecedented, but Department of Defense manned aircraft strikes are a step up from previous CIA-coordinated unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) strikes. Saudi Arabia already has been lobbying the United States heavily for assistance in the proxy war it is fighting with Iran in Yemen, where an al-Houthi insurgency is raging in the north along the Yemeni-Saudi border. In November 2002, the CIA launched a UAV strike against a vehicle in the eastern province of Marib that was carrying Salim Sinan al-Harethi, suspected of being the mastermind behind the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, and five al Qaeda confederates. Yemenis reacted strongly to the 2002 strike, taking to the streets in protest against the regime and claiming Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's government was nothing more than a pawn in America's war on terrorism. This latest strike in Abyan thus far has resulted in roughly 60 casualties and is likely to put a great deal of strain on Saleh's already-fragile government. And Abyan officials have announced that, in coordination with the separatist Southern Movement, they are going to hold "massive" demonstrations and rallies Dec. 19 against what some provincial officials are terming "a massacre." Beyond the government, the Yemeni state also is fragile. Saleh is limited in how far he can push the jihadists without creating problems with both the tribes and the Salafist-dominated security apparatus. Add to this the ongoing al-Houthi insurgency and the southern secessionist movement, and Yemen appears to be unraveling.

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