April 18, 2012

Petraeus Seeks Wider Authority In Yemen

The CIA is seeking authority to expand its covert drone campaign in Yemen by launching strikes against terrorism suspects even when it does not know the identities of those who will be killed, U.S. officials said.

Securing permission to use “signature strikes” would allow the agency to hit targets based solely on intelligence indicating patterns of suspicious behavior, such as imagery showing militants gathering at known al-Qaeda compounds or unloading explosives.

The practice has been a core element of the CIA’s drone program in Pakistan for several years. But Director David H. Petraeus has requested permission to employ the tactic against the al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen, which has emerged as the most pressing terrorism threat to the United States, officials said.

If approved, the change would probably accelerate a campaign of U.S. airstrikes in Yemen that is already on a record pace, with at least eight attacks in the past four months.

For President Obama, an endorsement of signature strikes would mean a significant, and potentially risky, policy shift. Until now, the administration has placed tight limits on drone operations in Yemen to avoid being drawn into an often murky regional conflict and risk turning militants with local agendas into potential al-Qaeda recruits.

A senior Obama administration official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations, declined to discuss what he described as U.S. “tactics” in Yemen but said that “there is still a very firm emphasis on being surgical and targeting only those who have a direct interest in attacking the United States.”

U.S. officials acknowledge that standard has not always been upheld. Last year, a U.S. drone strike inadvertently killed the American son of Anwar al-Awlaki, an al-Qaeda leader. The teenager had never been accused of terrorist activity and was killed in a strike aimed at other militants.

Some U.S. officials have voiced concern that such incidents could become more frequent if the CIA is given the authority to use signature strikes.

“How discriminating can they be?” asked a senior U.S. official familiar with the proposal. Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen “is joined at the hip” with a local insurgency whose main objective is to oust the country’s government, the official said. “I think there is the potential that we would be perceived as taking sides in a civil war.”

U.S. officials said that the CIA proposal has been presented to the National Security Council and that no decision has been reached. Officials from the White House and the CIA declined to comment...

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This informative propaganda contains numerous topics and strategic errors that have been and will continued to be covered by the Trench:
  • The Obama administration has worked tirelessly to replicate Pakistan's counterterrorism matrix in Yemen amid the collapse of another U.S.-supported dictator.
  • One former U.S. official describes the situation in Pakistan’s tribal territory as ”far less ambiguous than in Yemen," yet this complex environment is currently supervised by a selection of military/intelligence heads. The Pentagon's top-down command is the antithesis of COIN and a main driver of the instability/unpopularity that plagues U.S. policy.
  • The former official speculates that John Brennan, the White House's counterterrorism coordinator, may reject an expansion into nameless targets. He also claims, “Brennan has been deliberate in making sure targets we hit in Yemen are terrorist targets and not insurgents.” However U.S. airstrikes have taken the lives of AQAP personnel, local militants and civilians alike. Although high-profile incidents are reported internationally - Abdulrahman's death is a permanent lighting rod - many civilian casualties have gone unannounced in Washington or the Western media. Brennan counts himself as a friend of Ali Saleh, at least in public, and has been instrumental in expanding U.S. counterterrorism operations throughout Yemen's revolution.
  • Another U.S. official highlights the Obama administration's insensitivity to Yemen's political environment by not being able to tell the difference between AQAP and "a local insurgency." This official is likely referring to the Southern Movement even though its militia is not "joined at the hip" with AQAP"; SM leaders have repeatedly disavowed any connection. AQAP is known to capitalize on the SM's actions, as al-Qaeda is designed to do, and many types of militants roam southern Yemen - one more reason to exercise a greater degree of caution. America is already perceived (and justifiably so) as taking the government's side against the Southern Movement. Saleh exploited the group's actions to secure U.S. funds and technology that were then deployed against them. The ensuing GCC agreement, co-drafted by Washington and Riyadh, isolated the southern cause and escalated the current appetite for secession. Washington firmly supports Yemen's "unity," one of Saleh's main buzzwords during his crackdown.
In general, many Yemenis believe that Washington is searching for a new war after Afghanistan - and that their country is becoming that front.

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