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Yemen: The new Target

Written by Mark Lelyveld  •  June 2011 PDF Print E-mail

The United States has continued their drone based attacks on Al-Qaeda-centric targets. This latest round of missile attacks appears to be centered on the nation of Yemen. It is difficult to say how much control Yemen’s government has over when and where the United States can perform their attacks. Drone based operations are more prevalent in Iraq and Afghanistan. The same kind of technology with aircraft, such as Predator, is what the Central Intelligence Agency happens to be pinning their hopes on in Yemen.

This program has the authorization of current Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Leon Panetta. Panetta is planning to take over for Defense Secretary Robert Gates when he leaves the Obama Administration later in the year.

The drone attacks in Yemen may very well have the ultimate goal of killing Anwar al-Awlaki. Anwar al-Awlaki is an American-born cleric who many people expect to one day be the leader of Al-Qaeda. The current leader of the group Ayman al-Zawahiri is viewed as more of a placeholder while al-Awlaki focuses on recruitment for Al-Qaida, both within places like Yemen as well as the United States. Ayman al-Zawahiri is a longtime trusted confidante of Osama Bin Laden, while Anwar al-Awlaki is more likely to understand some of the cultural references in United States history.

The Central Intelligence Agency has reportedly received information regarding several planned attacks on the United States emanating from Yemen. Yemen was also where the bombing of the USS Cole in the 1990’s took place. Many United States citizens questioned whether then-President Bill Clinton had done enough to respond to those attacks to which Al-Qaeda were linked. It is under that backdrop that U.S-Yemen relations have seemed to sour.

The intelligence community under the leadership of President George W. Bush developed a similar drone based program in Pakistan in 2001. The same legal framework is being used to justify this program in Yemen. With the jailing of numerous Pakistanis who helped provide information that led to the capture of Osama Bin Laden, it is unlikely that the common Yemeni citizen would be willing to divulge information about potential Al-Qaeda targets.

The fact that the United States happens to be performing these drone attacks without Congressional approval is something that could come under increased scrutiny following the filing of a lawsuit in federal courts over the Libyan intervention. The United States appears to be likely to continue this policy in Yemen until all of the main targets are hit. Opponents of the Obama Administration tend to agree with their officials on this current policy in Yemen.

The information that the United States was able to gather following the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound is likely what led the United States to begin targeting al-Awlaki in Yemen. Recent reports have speculated that one of the drone attacks nearly hit a car that al-Awlaki was riding in.

The ultimate goal is to remove Al-Qaeda’s influence from the entire Arabian Peninsula. The Obama Administration has tried to do everything they can in order to develop relationships with the Yemeni leaders in government. 


Mark Lelyveld has been writing on national security and policy for decades.  He has interviewed various policy experts for leading publications in the United States and oversees. He is very interested in how the politics of the Post-Cold War nations have evolved over the decades.

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written by Afreen , July 07, 2011

Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and now Yemen. somehow there will always be a target for US to carry out drone attacks.
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written by Joe Fernandez , July 06, 2011

I don't understand the logic behind the drone attacks. The drone attacks only in Pakistan have taken lives of over 2500 innocent Pakistanis.
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written by shoaib , July 05, 2011

while the drone attacks have killed many militants according to US, it also has claimed the lives of thousands of innocent people. are drone attacks the correct way of going about this problem. more innocents have lost their lives than militants. as a nation, allowing drone attacks in our country is shameful indeed.
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