WASHINGTON // The Obama administration has intensified air strikes on suspected militants in Yemen in a bid to keep them from consolidating power as the government in Sana'a teeters, The New York Times reported yesterday.
A US official confirmed to Reuters that a US strike last Friday killed Abu Ali al Harithi, a mid-level al Qa'eda operative, which came after last month's attempted strike against Anwar al Awlaki, the leader of al Qa'eda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Quoting US officials, the Times said a US campaign using armed drones and fighter jets had accelerated in recent weeks as US officials see the strikes as one of the few options to contain al Qa'eda in the Arabian Peninsula.
With the country in violent conflict, Yemeni troops that had been battling militants linked to al Qa'eda in the south have been pulled back to Sana'a, the newspaper said.
There had been nearly a year-long pause in US airstrikes after concerns that poor intelligence had resulted in civilian deaths that undercut the goals of the secret campaign.
US and Saudi spy services have been receiving more information from electronic eavesdropping and informants about possible locations of militants, the newspaper said, quoting officials in Washington. But there were concerns that with the wider conflict in Yemen, factions might feed information to trigger air strikes against rival groups.
The operations were further complicated by al Qa'eda operatives' mingling with other rebel and anti-government militants, the newspaper said, quoting a senior Pentagon official.
The US ambassador in Yemen met opposition leaders recently, partly to make the case for continuing operations in case President Ali Abdullah Saleh's government falls, the newspaper said.
Opposition leaders have told the ambassador that operations against al Qa'eda in Yemen should continue regardless of who wins the power struggle in the capital, the Times said, quoting officials in Washington.
Al Qa'eda's affiliate in Yemen has been linked to the attempt to blow up a trans-Atlantic jetliner on Christmas Day 2009 and a plot last year to blow up cargo planes with bombs hidden in printer cartridges.