Targeting AQAP in Yemen: Analysts argue for riskier approach
October 24th, 2011
11:17 AM ET

Targeting AQAP in Yemen: Analysts argue for riskier approach

By Suzanne Kelly
CNN Senior National Security Producer

(CNN) – As President Obama pulls troops out of Iraq, analysts, including a former U.S. ambassador, are urging the United States to accept a greater risk model in Yemen in its pursuit of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

The U.S. has employed a more aggressive strategy in both Iraq and Afghanistan in its pursuit of al Qaeda, and despite some high-profile killings of AQAP members in Yemen, some analysts argue that drones alone are not enough.

Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan were killed September 30 in an American-directed strike, essentially crippling AQAP’s unique ability to appeal to potential recruits using the English language. Few believe that the deaths delivered a devastating blow to the organization overall.

In fact, National Counterterrorism Center chief Matthew Olsen and FBI Director Robert Mueller testified before the House Intelligence Committee recently that despite the deaths of al-Awlaki and Khan, AQAP still poses "a significant threat to the homeland."

Former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Edmund Hull, who wrote a book about AQAP titled "High-Value Target; Countering Al Qaeda in Yemen," believes the United Statesneeds to adopt a more holistic approach to going after what's left of the organization, which would mean aggressively developing U.S. strategy beyond the use of drones to more personal involvement in Yemeni communities, which of course, could mean greater risk for the U.S.

"I would say that we have had an important tactical victory with the elimination of al-Awlaki and Khan," said Hull.

"It will be significantly more difficult for AQAP to attack the U.S. homeland in their absence. This success also is the first real evidence that the intelligence/drone effort is effective. But, AQAP's core remains and its safe havens, while challenged, have not been denied. If we take the administration at its word - e.g. (White House Counterterrorism Adviser John) Brennan's speech on Yemen strategy last December - then we should be concerned by the extent to which we are hunkered down in our embassy while AQAP expands its operating space."

Hull points to a 2002 drone attack that killed the one-time leader of AQAP in Yemen, Abu Ali al-Harithi. "(His death) was followed up by a broad embassy effort that linked development with security and increasingly effective Yemeni government efforts, supported by U.S. equipment and training, which kept al Qaeda on the run."

Hull and the Washington Institute's Daniel Green spoke about the issue at a recent conference sponsored by the conservative think tank The Jamestown Foundation, in which Green outlined what he called critical steps for targeting AQAP in Yemen.

"The counterterrorism approach is seductive, it's covert, it's sexy, and low-cost, but UAV strikes alone are an incomplete strategy. You're mowing the grass, not addressing the fundamental problems," says Green.

Green, who testified this summer before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on U.S. developing policy in Yemen, argues that the U.S. needs to adopt a strategy that includes providing a proper exit strategy for President Ali Abdullah Saleh. That, he argues, needs to be followed by the development of a more robust training program for Yemeni forces that reaches all the way to the local level.

The U.S. also needs a more effective strategy for internal influence, he argues.

"We need an influence strategy that goes beyond the politics of the capital, overcomes the bias against institutions, and allows the U.S. to stop being so risk-averse in terms of physical risk to our personnel," says Green.

Green and Hull both argue for more work in the provinces instead of trying to do the work behind embassy walls. That, they say, would help address the underlying social and political issues that AQAP is currently exploiting to its advantage.

That's something that Ali Soufan, former FBI interrogator and author of "he Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al Qaeda" agrees with.

"In Yemen, al Qaeda is growing stronger," said Soufan. "The reason is connected to the political and tribal [situation] in Yemen. America will only defeat al Qaeda when we understand the true nature of the enemy we are facing."

But how the U.S. fights that enemy is equally as important, according to Hull, who worries about whether an increased use of drones would eventually backfire.

"It remains to be seen how we will follow up the Awlaki strike, but my hunch is more and more drones, but not the broad effort we say we want and not increasingly effective Yemeni effort. I fear a U.S.-heavy, drone approach will fail to gain support of the Yemenis themselves and carries a risk of actually increasing tribal support for AQAP if we cause significant civilian casualties" said Hull.

Within hours of Ambassador Hull's comment, the U.S. launched a trio of drone strikes in Southern Yemen, killing al-Awlaki's son, according to a security official.


Filed under: Al Qaeda • Anwar al-Awlaki • AQAP • drones • Yemen
soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. jACKSON

    Carpet bomb. They have no where to hide from B52's with MOADs.

    October 25, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Reply
  2. Credenza

    It's weird to read this tripe when the USA have endorsed an Al Qaida operative to lead Libya until the election!!!!!
    What a crock!

    October 25, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Reply
  3. peshwar

    I agree. Fundamentalists coming to USA as immigrants must not be permitted entry!!!!

    October 24, 2011 at 5:22 pm | Reply
  4. lance

    keep muslim immigrants out of the U.S.A and the public will be safe. forget the political correct liberal politicians that what to put this country in harms way.

    October 24, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Reply

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