US ups Yemen airstrikes with drones, fighter jets
NEW YORK - The United States has stepped up its attacks on militant suspects in Yemen with armed drones and fighter jets, according to a US media report, amid a perilous power vacuum in the troubled country.
The accelerated attacks have been taking place over the past few weeks, The New York Times reported late Wednesday, citing US officials, and come as the government in Sanaa has been struggling to remain in control.
The attacks are designed to keep militants in the south who are linked to Al-Qaeda from assuming power, the newspaper reported, amid a chaotic political scene and ongoing protests against the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in Saudi Arabia for medical treatment after an attack on his palace.
The use of force has also been complicated by extremists mingling with other rebel groups and anti-regime movements, according to a senior Pentagon official cited by the Times, as it makes it more difficult for the United States to attack Al-Qaeda without appearing to pick sides in the internal conflict.
Earlier Wednesday, Admiral Michael Mullen, the top US uniformed commander, said the conflict in the Arabian Peninsula country was making the Al-Qaeda terror network more "dangerous."
Al-Qaeda in Yemen "has grown into a very virulent deadly federated point in the Al-Qaeda organisation," the head of the US joint chiefs of staff said in Cairo.
"It is incredibly dangerous and made more dangerous in the ongoing chaos."
In Sanaa Wednesday, demonstrators chanted "No to Saleh's return," referring to the leader who was flown to Saudi Arabia for treatment on Saturday.
Saleh, who has ruled the country for 33 years, has been a key US ally on the "war on terror."
The recent operations come nearly a year after being halted due to bad intelligence that led to civilian civilian deaths, said the newspaper, with Saleh initially authorizing US missions in 2009 but publicly insisting all military operations were conducted by Yemeni troops.
Yemen is the ancestral homeland of late Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and the jihadists' local affiliate, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is blamed for anti-US plots including trying to blow up a US-bound airplane on Christmas Day in 2009.
Mullen meanwhile warned any further deterioration of the security situation in the impoverished country might have global implications.
"The downside of a much more chaotic and much more violent Yemen is not just bad for Yemen, it's bad for the region, it's bad for the world," he said.
"I would certainly urge leaders from every side of this challenge to be calm and try to resolve the issues peacefully," he said.
Saleh, 69, was said on Wednesday to be in stable health as protesters pushed to form an interim ruling council. A Saudi official said he would undergo a cosmetic operation to treat "light burns on the scalp," and that "reports on the deterioration of his health condition are baseless."