US Options Limited in Pressuring Yemen after Parcel Plot

By Muhammad Zurqah

Obama administration is looking for ways to increase pressure on Al-Qaeda militants in Yemen after the plot of the two package bombs, but its options are limited, US officials have said.

Analysts say that the Yemeni government faces enormous economic problems and strong sentiments against America that complicate partnership with Washington, despite the US officials moving carefully since the discovery of the plot last week.

Instead of calling for a wider ranging campaign, Obama›s administration publicly praised the quick response by Sana›a after two US-bound bombs, which originated from Yemen, were intercepted in Dubai and Britain.

State Department spokesman, Mr. P.J. Crowley, said, «The fact is that the Yemeni government has done what we have asked it to do.»

However, a statement issued by the Yemeni Embassy in Washington over the weekend stressed on Yemen›s sovereignty and warned that, «[a]ny foreign interference in our internal affairs is not welcome.»

The English-language statement went on to say that «Yemen will continue to track down Al-Qaeda operatives using our own fighter jets, our own equipment and our own military forces.»

Analysts pointed to the domestic concerns that the plot, which officials say appears to be the work of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), could be used to justify greater US intervention.

The analysts said that a further intervention by the US may spark a backlash, which will help consequently Al-Qaeda recruit militants and weaken Sana›a’s grip over the situation.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh is facing secessionist unrest in the south and a tentative cease-fire with Shi›ite rebels in the north. Also, the Yemeni security forces have suffered substantial human losses in previous clashes with Al-Qaeda.

Rick Nelson, a former US counterterrorism official who currently works at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said, «What makes this so difficult is that the Yemeni government›s control over the country is very limited.»

Also, the US government is heavily burdened by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the assistance it provides to Pakistan for counterterrorism.

The U S has already raised the counterterrorism assistance to Yemen from only $4.6 million in 2006 to $155 million in 2010, which perhaps reflects that the threat of Al-Qaeda organization in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is growing and the AQAP is seen as the most active Al-Qaeda offshoot outside of its traditional stronghold in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The US State Department raised the total counterterrorism assistance for Yemen, including civilian aid, to almost $300 million in 2010. It added that it is expected that the financial assistance for 2011 could be of the same amount.

US officials said, on condition of anonymity, told Reuters the Obama administration was eyeing a range of options to increase pressure on AQAP, which took responsibility for a failed attempt to blow up a US-bound airliner last Christmas.

Crowley stressed that Washington was trying to bolster up Yemen›s capabilities so that it could «deal with violent extremists who are a threat to both Yemen and the US.»

He said, «Yemen›s government has a limited capacity and we have worked hard to improve its capabilities so that it can secure Yemen for its own people as well as for others.»

Hank Crumpton, a former senior official at the CIA and the State Department, said the options are limited by the complicated tribal politics in Yemen, rough terrain and lack of infrastructure.

He said, «Basically, such manhunts are hard, and it›s even harder in such environments. Intelligence has not only got to be specific, but it has to arrive on time.»

AQAP purports to provide shelter to Anwar Al-Awlaqi, a radical American Islamist preacher of Yemeni decent. US officials have said earlier that Washington has authorized the CIA to kill or capture Al-Awlaqi.

Although the US Defense Department (the Pentagon) has refused to publicly discuss the details of operations in Yemen, it was keen on Monday to deny reportage from media outlets stating that Washington was reviewing spreading covert sniper units in Yemen under CIA authority.

The Wall Street Journal said that the proposal would allow the USA to strike targets without taking a clear permission from the Yemeni government, which is a strategy that would definitely enrage of people in Yemen.

The Pentagon spokesman, Bryan Whitman, said, «Nobody in the leadership of the Department of Defense is seriously considering this proposal.»