Al-Qaida's branch in Yemen poses a greater risk to Americans than the founding branch in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan told a forum at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Dec. 17.
"Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is now the most operationally active node of the al-Qaida network," Brennan said. Although the terrorism potential of al-Qaida in Yemen has risen through international attacks, Brennan explained the strong pressure that the United States had been exerting through its relationship with the Yemeni government.
"We are helping Yemen build its counterterrorism capacity for a very specific purpose – so that Yemen, with our assistance, can go on the offensive against al-Qaida. Going on the offensive means exactly that – using all the tools available to identify, locate, capture, and, when necessary, kill those who are dedicated to murdering innocent men women and children," explained Brennan. "And in my many discussions with Yemeni President Saleh, whether in person or on the phone, I have conveyed President Obama's personal commitment that the United States will do whatever it can to help the people of Yemen rid their country of the terrible cancer of al-Qaida."
Despite the "true friendship" between the United States and Yemeni government, Saleh had registered complaints with the Americans. "The Yemenis complain that our security and development assistance flows are too slow and encumbered by bureaucratic requirements and complications, that we expect economic and political reforms virtually overnight without understanding the implications of such reforms on Yemeni society and stability, and that we are more interested in fighting al-Qaida than in helping the Yemeni people," Brennan noted.
Meanwhile, the Pakistani branch of al-Qaida had been damaged by American forces on the ground in Afghanistan and in the air in Pakistan. "In the tribal regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the core of al-Qaida is under more pressure than at any point since it fled Afghanistan nine years ago," Brennan stated. "Senior leaders have been killed. It's harder for them to recruit, to travel and train, to plot and launch attacks. In short, al-Qaida [in the tribal region] is hunkered down."
In addition, Brennan acknowledged the role of American fighters in the movement. "The ranks of al-Qaida have been bolstered by members with ties to the West, or with American citizenship, such as Anwar al-Awlaki," he said. "Indeed, al-Qaida is seeking to attract not just Westerners or Americans overseas, but Americans inside the United States."