Counterterrorism operations in Yemen "have ground to a halt," and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is the big beneficiary, the New York Times reports. Diplomats and counterterrorism officials say that AQAP (the organization linked to the Fort Hood massacre and the Underwear Bomber's attempted suicide attack on a plane near Detroit) is now able "to operate more freely inside the country and to increase plotting for possible attacks against Europe and the United States," according to the Times.
Even worse, the news comes as American intelligence officials have learned that AQAP officials have increased their planning discussions about another attack. The latest issue of AQAP's Inspire Magazine also reinforces the organization's consistent emphasis on carrying out attacks in the West. "…Killing 10 soldiers in America for example, is much more effective than killing 100 apostates in the Yemeni military," the letters section tells an aspiring jihadist.
In the political tumult surrounding Yemen's embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh, many Yemeni troops have abandoned their posts. Others have been withdrawn from outlying provinces and moved to the Sanaa the capital to defend the Saleh regime. AQAP fighters have stepped in to fill the vacuum, and they are being joined by jihadists migrating from Pakistan to join the fight against Saleh.
AQAP and a smaller Islamist group have taken control of Jaar, a town in Yemen's Abyan province that has been a major focus of U.S. and Yemeni counterterrorism efforts. AQAP surrounded a Yemeni military company, forcing it to withdraw because no reinforcements were present. The jihadist organization has declared the province an "Islamic Emirate" and banned women there from going outside.
Saleh's son and three of his nephews are in charge of top security and counterterrorism agencies, several of whom are equipped and trained by Washington. American officials told the Times that if Saleh's relatives were driven out of the government along with the president (who has ruled Yemen since 1978), Yemen's counterterrorism efforts would left to untested officials.
"We have had a lot of counterterrorism cooperation from President Saleh and Yemeni security services," Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said March 27. If "that government collapses or is replaced by one that is dramatically more weak, then I think we'll face some additional challenges out of Yemen. There's no question about it. It's a real problem," he added.