US, Yemen reviewing targets to retaliate against plane bombing attempt

Last Updated: Wed, Dec 30, 2009 04:50 hrs

The US and Yemen are now looking at fresh targets in Yemen for a potential strike in retaliation to the botched Christmas Day attack on an airliner that Al Qaeda in Yemen claims it organised.

The effort is aimed at being ready with options for the White House if President Barack Obama orders a retaliatory strike, CNN said, citing two unnamed senior US officials. The effort is to see whether targets can be specifically linked to the airliner incident and its planning.

US special operations forces and intelligence agencies, and their Yemeni counterparts, are working to identify potential Al Qaeda targets in Yemen, one of the officials said.

This is part of a new classified agreement with the Yemeni government that the two countries will work together and that the US will remain publicly silent on its role in providing intelligence and weapons to conduct strikes.

Officially the US has not said it conducted previous airstrikes in Yemen, but officials are privately saying the Yemeni military could not have carried out the strikes on its own, the news channel said.

By all accounts, the agreement would allow the US to fly cruise missiles, fighter jets or unmanned armed drones against targets in Yemen with the consent of that government.

One of the officials cited by CNN said Yemen has not yet consented to the type of special forces helicopter-borne air assault that would put US commandos on the ground with the mission of capturing suspects for further interrogation. That is also a capability the US would like the Yemenis to eventually develop, the official said.

At this point, the US believes there may be a few hundred Al Qaeda fighters in Yemen centred around a group of key network leaders. US intelligence believes some key leaders were killed in recent airstrikes but is still working to confirm details.

CNN cited US military and intelligence officials as describing an Al Qaeda network with organised command and control that has evolved and grown over the past year.

US intelligence concludes there are several training camps similar to those established in other countries where one or two dozen fighters train at a time.

The US and Yemenis are also looking into the possibility the Nigerian suspect in the airliner incident trained at one of the camps. One of the camps was among the targets of airstrikes earlier this month.