Friday, September 30, 2011

Analysis: Anwar al-Awlaki's Death Only Possible Through Yemeni Cooperation

I proudly have a framed commendation hanging in my office from the US Diplomatic Security Service, the law enforcement arm of the US Department of State, recognizing me for my personal successes in the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) during 2002-2006. Of course, the term GWOT, "Islamic terrorists and" "Islamic extremists" are not normally used anymore in the Obama Administration. They have been replaced with politically correct terms that don't characterize conditions as they are or simply don't make sense in English or any other language. But enough about me.

Today, the news is filled with reports, commentary and analysis about what the US did to kill an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, 40, the fiery, charismatic planner of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) who either inspired or directed the actions of the Christmas Day Bomber in Detroit (2009), the mass murder at Fort Hood (2009), failed efforts to blow up US cargo planes (2010), failed efforts to detonate a car-bomb in Times Square (2010) and other known and unknown plots.

Although I personally disagree with many of President Obama's policies and decisions, he should be recognized and commended for two major accomplishments during his presidency: (1) The assassination of Osama bin Laden; and (2) The assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki. This statement is not about revenge. More importantly, it is about removing the probability of either of these men ever germinating an act of terrorism against any country. Of course, they will be replaced, but their absence will force al-Qaeda to have a steeper hill to climb.

A gratuitous bonus from the US-Yemeni counter-terrorism operation that killed Anwar al-Awlaki was the simultaneous death of another American citizen, Samir Khan, 25, a self-confessed traitor. Khan was Saudi-born and raised in Queens, NY, but easily relocated to Yemen in 2009, where al-Awlaki became his mentor. Khan went on to establish an AQAP publication in English that helped radicalize other Americans. It also included instructions in how to fabricate IEDs [improvised explosive devices].

What I particularly liked about President Obama's announcement concerning the US air strike that killed both al-Awlaki and Khan was his expression of thanks to the Yemeni government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The US could not have done it alone.

It should be noted that Saleh recently returned to Yemen after recuperating from an assassination attempt in Sana'a, where was badly burned and wounded. Admittedly, he may not be the right head of state for Yemen, but neither are many in the opposition. Fortunately, and probably for reasons we'll never know, relations between the US and Yemen have warmed in recent weeks. Had that not been the case, al-Awlaki and Khan would still be alive.

Hence, it is essential that peaceful people be as thankful to Yemen as they are to the US, because the success of the operation is attributable to both nations. We should be mindful that it was Yemeni intelligence that pinpointed al-Awlaki and Khan's location so that the strike could be surgically delivered. After three weeks of tracking the targets, U.S. armed drones and fighter jets shadowed al-Awlaki's convoy early Friday, then drones launched their strike. The strike killed four operatives in all. US-Yemeni elements. It should also be known that the US-Yemeni effort attempted to use a drone on al-Awlaki in May, but the attack was not successful.

AQAP, which established itself in Yemen after Saudi Arabia defeated a violent al-Qaeda campaign from 2003-6, has emerged as one of the network's most ambitious wings, attempting daring, if unsuccessful, attacks on U.S. and Saudi targets. Yemen has been mired in turmoil after eight months of mass protests demanding that Saleh step down, something he has reiterated he will do only if his main rivals do not take over. Saleh's recent return to Yemen halted talks over a Gulf-brokered transition plan that had been revived despite violence that has killed more than 100 people in the capital in the last two weeks. Saleh's troops have been fighting the forces of rebel General Ali Mohsen and those of tribal leader Sadeq al-Ahmar. Saleh who has repeatedly avoided signing the Gulf plan at the last minute and has urged foreign governments to have more patience in concluding the deal, saying: "We are pressed by America and the international community to speed up the process of handing over power. And we know where power is going to go. It is going to al-Qaeda, which is directly and completely linked to the Muslim Brotherhood."

Although opposition groups criticize Saleh of giving militants more leeway in a ploy to frighten Western powers and convince them that he is the best defense against al-Qaeda, the only reason that al-Awlaki is dead is because of Saleh. Admittedly, facilitating the joint US-Yemeni operation could have been a tactic of buying off Washington. Then, again, the international community needs to move very cautiously and choose wisely. There is always a possibility that Saleh could be right about al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. Just look at how Egypt has changed?

One final thought. There is a lesson-learned from the success of the US-Yemeni operation against al-Awlaki. What if we had completely and irreversibly turned our back on Yemen, as we seem to be doing with the Pakistanis? Clearly, it is time to stop exchanging barbs and accusations in the media and learn from what we can actually agree on.

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