Secret U.S. Airstrikes Picking up in Yemen

By Jon E. Dougherty at 9 Jun 2011

(Newsroom America) -- The United States is intensifying airstrikes in strife-torn Yemen, where Washington has been conducting a covert war in an attempt to help the government there combat a growing rebel threat.

In particular, The New York Times said, the U.S. has increased drone attacks in recent weeks as well as airstrikes using traditional fighter jets, as growing rebel resistance poses a mounting threat to the Sana government, a U.S. ally.

Yemen had dispatched troops to battle al Qaeda-linked elements in the country's south, but they have been pulled back to help defend the capital, the paper said.

To fill the void, the U.S. has stepped up strikes in a bid to keep rebel forces at bay or, at least, off balance and unable to consolidate power.

On Friday U.S. jets killed Abu Ali al-Harithi, a mid-level al Qaeda operative, in a bombing raid in southern Yemen, the Times said. Some weeks earlier, a U.S. drone fired at Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S.-born radical cleric whom American officials have tried to target for more than year, though he survived the attack.

The Times said the renewed strikes come following a year-long pause amid concerns over poor intelligence and mounting civilian casualties that began to undermine the U.S. efforts.

Complicating things now, the paper said, is the fact that al Qaeda operatives have begun mingling with other anti-government elements, making it more difficult for the U.S. to attack without the appearance of picking sides.

Total U.S. involvement in Yemen has been one of the Obama administration's best-kept secrets, the Times said, after President Ali Abdullah Saleh authorized limited American involvement in 2009.

Experts who spoke to the Times said the aim of the airstrikes was good but that if U.S. involvement continued to result in the deaths of civilians, the backlash would mean more popular opposition from Yemenis.

© 2010 Newsroom America.

Contact Jon E. Dougherty

Saleh was wounded last week after rebel forces shelled the presidential palace. He fled the country in the wake of the attack to seek medical treatment.

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