Posts Tagged ‘drone strikes’

Pakistan Taliban commander allegedly killed by drones

November 26, 2015

Khan Said Sajna, leader of a breakaway Taliban faction, reportedly killed in multiple drone strikes in Afghanistan.

Hameedullah Khan | 26 Nov 2015 11:11 GMT |

Drone strikes have killed numerous leaders of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan [Reuters]

Drone strikes have killed numerous leaders of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan [Reuters]

A senior commander of Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has been killed in US drone strikes in Afghanistan’s Khost province, Pakistani intelligence officials told Al Jazeera.

Khalid Mehsud – alias Khan Said Sajna – was killed with 12 fighters on Wednesday when four US drones carried out strikes in the Damma area of Afghanistan, close to Pakistan’s North Waziristan province, the officials said on condition of anonymity.

However, Azam Tariq, spokesman for Sajna’s faction of the Pakistani Taliban, denied the reports, saying the leader was still alive. Tariq said he was with Sajna hours before the alleged attack and would have known if he had been killed.

Sajna, formerly chief of the TTP’s South Waziristan unit, has led a breakaway faction of the armed group that has waged a bloody rebellion against the Pakistani state.


The US State Department listed Sajna as a “terrorist” on October 21 last year for his alleged involvement in the May 2011 attack on Mehran Naval Base in Karachi. That attack killed 10 people and destroyed two US-supplied maritime surveillance planes.

The Pakistan Taliban commander had been fighting alongside the Afghan Taliban against US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan.

He formed his own faction after Mullah Fazlullah was appointed TTP chief after the killing of Hakeemullah Mehsud in a US drone attack on November 1, 2013.

The reported strikes on Wednesday come days after a US drone killed 45 fighters, mostly Pakistani Taliban fighters, in Afghanistan’s Khost province.

Security officials said 25 bodies were taken to the Dir district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan.

Al Jazeera was given access to photographs of the dead fighters.

The controversial US drone programme in Pakistan has slowed sharply in recent months because of political opposition.

Source: Al Jazeera

Chaos in Yemen Stymies U.S. Counterterror Operations

March 23, 2015

Group that controls capital and northern region tries to extend its reach

By Hakim Almasmari in San’a, Yemen, Asa Fitch in Dubai and Dion Nissenbaum in Washington

The Wall Street Journal

Anti-Houthi protesters run as pro-Houthi police troopers fire tear gas to disperse them in Yemen's southwestern city of Taiz on Sunday.  
Anti-Houthi protesters run as pro-Houthi police troopers fire tear gas to disperse them in Yemen’s southwestern city of Taiz on Sunday. Photo: Reuters

The militant group that controls Yemen’s capital moved to extend its power southward with an attack on a major city, deepening chaos that has given terror groups greater room to proliferate and forced the U.S. to suspend military operations inside the country.

American officials now see Yemen teetering on the brink of a civil war involving the besieged president, a former president and a patchwork of militant groups. The leader of the Houthi militant group behind the southern offensive and a United Nations envoy both warned that Yemen is in imminent danger of becoming another Iraq, Syria or Libya—a conflict fueled by sectarian violence and warring terrorist networks.

The U.S. withdrew its remaining 100 military personnel from a base in southern Yemen over the weekend, American officials said on Sunday. Special Operations Forces had to halt, at least temporarily, the training of Yemeni troops and cooperation in operations against one of the world’s most dangerous al Qaeda offshoots. The U.S. had already closed its embassy in the capital San’a last month.

Hundreds of Houthi militants attacked Taiz, Yemen’s third-largest city, on Sunday. The assault came two days after coordinated bombings in two provinces targeted the Houthis’ Zaidi sect—an offshoot of Shiite Islam. A previously unknown Islamic State affiliate calling itself San’a Province claimed responsibility for the attacks that killed 152 people, introducing another dangerous new player into the impoverished country’s turmoil.

Houthi leader Abdel Malik Al Houthi warned Sunday that Yemen was becoming another Syria or Iraq—two countries where the Sunni radicals of Islamic State, or ISIS, have taken hold and seized large tracts of territory.

“What is happening in Iraq and Syria should be examples for Yemen. And sadly, we are starting to face what those countries faced,” he said in an address broadcast on Houthi-run Al Masirah television station.

The United Nations Security Council met in an emergency meeting on Sunday to discuss Yemen’s crisis and harshly criticized the Houthis. Jamal Benomar, the U.N. Secretary-General’s special adviser on Yemen, said that with Houthi forces in control of Taiz and moving southward toward Aden, he was deeply concerned about a civil war in the country of 26 million.

“There is a prevailing sense among Yemenis that the situation is in a rapid, downward spiral,” taking on worrying sectarian tones and deepening north-south divisions, he said. “Unless a solution can be found in the coming days, the country will slide into further violent conflict and fragmentation,” he added.

If that happens, it would lead to a protracted conflict that would resemble other civil wars in the region, the envoy warned.

Yemen was the scene of an Arab Spring revolt that ousted longtime dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2012. He was replaced by President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who maintained antiterror cooperation with the U.S.

The Houthis took over the capital and the government last month and Mr. Hadi fled from San’a to his stronghold in the southern port city of Aden, about 100 miles from Taiz.

On the sidelines, other powerful interests are at play in the tangled fight over Yemen’s future. Neighboring Saudi Arabia supports Mr. Hadi, while Shiite Iran, Saudi Arabia’s main regional rival, backs the Houthis.

Yemen is of particular concern to American officials because its al Qaeda franchise, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or AQAP, has claimed responsibility for some of the most high-profile international terror attacks in recent years.

As AQAP’s headquarters, Yemen has been the cradle of a string of plots against the U.S. and its allies including the deadly January attack on the Paris offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and an attempted 2009 Christmas Day bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner.

“It’s becoming increasingly clear that ISIS and al Qaeda are trying to one-up each other, which has adverse effects because it can create more violence,” said Sahar Aziz, an associate professor at Texas A&M University who teaches national security and Middle East law.

Southern People's Resistance militants loyal to Yemen's President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi man an anti-aircraft machine gun that the militia seized from the army in al-Habilin, in Yemen's southern province of Lahej, on Sunday.   
Southern People’s Resistance militants loyal to Yemen’s President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi man an anti-aircraft machine gun that the militia seized from the army in al-Habilin, in Yemen’s southern province of Lahej, on Sunday. Photo: Reuters

Because of Yemen’s central role as a staging ground for anti-American operations, the U.S. military has tried to maintain its presence in the country even as the political violence has spread. The U.S. has long cooperated with Mr. Hadi on counterterrorism operations including drone strikes and considers him the legitimate president.

Defense officials said the U.S. decided to pull its remaining forces out of al-Annad air base in the south after al Qaeda targeted the nearby city of al-Houta on Friday.

A U.S. defense official said there was no direct threat against its forces there but they were withdrawn because security had deteriorated.


“It definitely makes our pursuit of al Qaeda in Yemen more difficult,” the defense official said. “It affects our ability to interact on the ground with people who are friendly to us, which impacts our ability to gather information, and it affects our eyes on the ground.”

But the defense official said the U.S. still has some ability to carry out drone strikes in Yemen as part of its counterterrorism program, which mainly targets militants using strikes by unmanned drones based in the region.

“We still, of course, retain the capability to do unilateral counterterrorism strikes anywhere in the world,” the official said.

To the U.S., Yemen holds crucial significance both as a long-standing terrorism risk and, more recently, as a threat to the viability of the Obama administration’s counterterrorism strategy.

President Barack Obama cited Yemen and Somalia as successful models for U.S. counterterrorism efforts last year when he expanded the U.S.-led bombing campaign against Islamic State from Iraq to Syria.

But in January, when Houthi rebels began tightening their control over Yemen’s capital and undercutting President Hadi, Mr. Obama was forced to explain his 2014 remarks, saying the U.S. goal was to “refine and fine-tune this model” of counterterrorism.

“But it is the model that we’re going to have to work with, because the alternative would be massive U.S. deployments in perpetuity, which would create its own blowback and cause probably more problems than it would potentially solve,” he said then.

The removal of Mr. Hadi’s government has made it harder for the Obama administration and intelligence agencies to monitor the deteriorating situation, leaving an opening for terrorist networks to mobilize and plan attacks and for Iran to exert its influence with the Houthis.

“With the closure of our embassy in San’a, U.S. access to the Yemeni scene is sharply curtailed,” said Bruce Riedel, a former senior Central Intelligence Agency official who is now director of the Intelligence Project at the Brookings Institution. “We are more and more dependent on the Saudis who are also increasingly cut off from the action. Yemen is becoming another black hole like Libya only with the Iranians the big winner.”

The Security Council unanimously condemned the Houthis.

“Today, the Security Council spoke with one voice, reaffirming its support for President Hadi as Yemen’s legitimate president, deploring the Houthis’ failure to withdraw their forces from government institutions, and reiterating the Security Council’s condemnation of Houthi unilateral actions that undermine the political transition process,” said Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N.

“Yemen’s crisis can still be solved peacefully through the full implementation” of a Gulf Cooperation Council initiative and U.N.-brokered dialogue, she said.

in Yemen suffered a serious setback with the evacuation, officials said.

“It definitely makes our pursuit of al Qaeda in Yemen more difficult,” the defense official said. “It affects our ability to interact on the ground with people who are friendly to us, which impacts our ability to gather information, and it affects our eyes on the ground.”

But the defense official said the U.S. still has some ability to carry out drone strikes in Yemen as part of its counterterrorism program, which mainly targets militants using strikes by unmanned drones based in the region.

“We still, of course, retain the capability to do unilateral counterterrorism strikes anywhere in the world,” the official said.

To the U.S., Yemen holds crucial significance both as a long-standing terrorism risk and, more recently, as a threat to the viability of the Obama administration’s counterterrorism strategy.

President Barack Obama cited Yemen and Somalia as successful models for U.S. counterterrorism efforts last year when he expanded the U.S.-led bombing campaign against Islamic State from Iraq to Syria.

But in January, when Houthi rebels began tightening their control over Yemen’s capital and undercutting President Hadi, Mr. Obama was forced to explain his 2014 remarks, saying the U.S. goal was to “refine and fine-tune this model” of counterterrorism.

“But it is the model that we’re going to have to work with, because the alternative would be massive U.S. deployments in perpetuity, which would create its own blowback and cause probably more problems than it would potentially solve,” he said then.

The removal of Mr. Hadi’s government has made it harder for the Obama administration and intelligence agencies to monitor the deteriorating situation, leaving an opening for terrorist networks to mobilize and plan attacks and for Iran to exert its influence with the Houthis.

“With the closure of our embassy in San’a, U.S. access to the Yemeni scene is sharply curtailed,” said Bruce Riedel, a former senior Central Intelligence Agency official who is now director of the Intelligence Project at the Brookings Institution. “We are more and more dependent on the Saudis who are also increasingly cut off from the action. Yemen is becoming another black hole like Libya only with the Iranians the big winner.”

The Security Council unanimously condemned the Houthis.

“Today, the Security Council spoke with one voice, reaffirming its support for President Hadi as Yemen’s legitimate president, deploring the Houthis’ failure to withdraw their forces from government institutions, and reiterating the Security Council’s condemnation of Houthi unilateral actions that undermine the political transition process,” said Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N.

“Yemen’s crisis can still be solved peacefully through the full implementation” of a Gulf Cooperation Council initiative and U.N.-brokered dialogue, she said.

The Security Council reiterated its concern that AQAP has benefited from the deterioration of the political and security situation.

“It would be an illusion to think that the Houthis could mount an offensive and succeed in taking control of the entire country,” said Mr. Benomar, the U.N. envoy to Yemen. “It would be equally false to think that President Hadi could assemble sufficient forces to liberate the country from the Houthis,” he added.

“Any side that would want to push the country in either direction would be inviting a protracted conflict in the vein of an Iraq, Libya and Syria combined scenario,” Mr. Benomar warned.

Hundreds of Shiite-linked Houthi forces were involved in the assault on Taiz and by Sunday morning, they had taken the airport and some government buildings in the city, according to Houthi security officials. They took over the intelligence headquarters and court buildings, and surrounded the governor’s residence, the officials said.

The Houthi leader said the Taiz offensive aimed at rooting out al Qaeda terrorists and didn’t intend to target “our brothers in the south.” The message appeared aimed at forestalling unrest by reassuring southerners the group doesn’t want to take their territory.

As Houthi militants have spread southward in recent months, they have encountered resistance from local Sunni Muslim tribes and others opposed to their rule. Their attempts to consolidate control have also led to concern that a southern separatist movement active since 2007 could gain steam.

He denounced the U.N. Security Council by saying it was “on the side of the oppressor” and alleged wealthy Gulf states Saudi Arabia and Qatar were funding the region’s destruction.

Shortly after they overtook the city, anti-Houthi protests erupted there. Protest organizers claimed the Houthis fired live rounds to disperse them, but that couldn’t be independently verified.

“Houthi militants in military uniforms fired at us directly,” said Sami al-Ghobari, an anti-Houthi protester. “They seek bloodshed, since they want to enter Taiz by force, a province they are unwanted in.”

The Houthis, who are estimated to make up about 30% of Yemen’s population, have long had a power base in northern Yemen. They began extending their control southward last year and overran San’a in September to demand a greater say in government under Mr. Hadi.

United Nations-brokered talks for a political compromise have so far failed, and the Houthis took over government in early February. They put Mr. Hadi under house arrest, but he soon fled to Aden, where he has strong support among local security forces. Mr. Hadi has since been trying to make a comeback.

The conflict between Mr. Hadi and the Houthis has grown increasingly violent over the past week. The latest round of violence began Thursday, when special forces loyal to former President Saleh assaulted Aden’s international airport. Mr. Hadi sent in government troops backed by a column of tanks and expelled them.

Two airstrikes, apparently carried out by the Houthi-controlled air force, later hit an Aden presidential compound where Mr. Hadi was staying, security officials there said.

Mr. Hadi was evacuated to a safe location, according to aides to the president. AQAP has a significant presence in the south, but they don’t currently control any districts or cities.

The height of AQAP’s control was about three years ago, when the group held almost all of Abyan province and the Azzan district of Shabwa province, both in the south. Military campaigns overseen by Mr. Hadi had expelled AQAP by mid-2012.

—Joe Lauria contributed to this article.

Write to Asa Fitch at and Dion Nissenbaum at


   Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi in Aden on March 4. Mr. Hadi on Saturday called on the Houthis to withdraw forces from government buildings and leave San’a.

Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi in Aden on March 4. Mr. Hadi on Saturday called on the Houthis to withdraw forces from government buildings and leave San’a. Photo: Reuters

Key Players in the Conflict

President, former president and militant groups are fighting

  • President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi: Mr. Hadi has held the presidency since 2012, when he succeeded strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh. His government’s arrival was initially hailed as an example of a successful transition to democracy. But Houthi militants forced the government from power last month. Mr. Hadi fled to the southern city of Aden, where he is trying to make a comeback.

  • Ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh: Mr. Saleh was Yemen’s leader for more than two decades until 2012, when he was removed from power in a political transition spurred by Arab Spring unrest. Mr. Saleh is now allied with the Houthis against Mr. Hadi.


  • The Houthis: A movement, mainly from northern Yemen, and part of the Zaidi offshoot of Shiite Islam. Houthi militants descended into the capital San’a last year and took over the government in February.


  • Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula: AQAP is al Qaeda’s Yemeni arm and the largest terrorist group in the country. President Hadi, the U.S. and the Houthis are all fighting the Sunni radical group.


  • San’a Province: Another Sunni radical group, it professes loyalty to Islamic State and was virtually unknown before it claimed responsibility for coordinated suicide bombings on Friday that killed 152 people.


Out of Yemen, U.S. Is Hobbled in Terror Fight

WASHINGTON — The evacuation of 125 United States Special Operations advisers from Yemen in the past two days is the latest blow to the Obama administration’s counterterrorism campaign, which is already struggling with significant setbacks in Syria, Libya and elsewhere in the volatile region, American officials said Sunday.

The loss of Yemen as a base for American counterterrorism training, advising and intelligence-gathering carries major implications not just there, but throughout a region that officials say poses the most grievous threat to United States global interests and to the country itself.

The rapid rise of the Islamic State has commanded the immediate attention of President Obama and other Western leaders in the past year. But American officials say that Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, which includes the most potent bomb maker in the terrorist world, still poses the most direct threat to Americans at home, abroad or aboard commercial aircraft. Since 2009, the United States has thwarted at least three plots by the group to bring down airliners.

Read the rest:

U.S. campaign against terrorism has entered a period of pessimism and gloom

March 8, 2015


James R. Clapper Jr., director of national intelligence, testified last month during a meeting of the Senate Armed Services Committee. (Evy Mages/Getty Images)

By Greg Miller
The Washington Post

U.S. counterterrorism officials and experts, never known for their sunny dispositions, have entered a period of particular gloom.

In congressional testimony recently, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. went beyond the usual litany of threats to say that terrorism trend lines were worse “than at any other point in history.”

Maj. Gen. Michael Nagata, commander of U.S. Special Operations forces in the Middle East, told participants on a counter­terrorism strategy call that he regarded the Islamic State as a greater menace than al-Qaeda ever was.

Speaking at a New York police terrorism conference, Michael Morell, former deputy director of the CIA, said he had come to doubt that he would live to see the end of al-Qaeda and its spawn. “This is long term,” he said. “My children’s generation and my grandchildren’s generation will still be fighting this fight.”

Former Deputy CIA Director Michael Morell

The assessments reflect a pessimism that has descended on the U.S. counterterrorism community over the past year amid a series of discouraging developments. Among them are the growth of the Islamic State, the ongoing influx of foreign fighters into Syria, the collapse of the U.S.-backed government in Yemen and the downward spiral of Libya’s security situation. The latest complication came Saturday, when the terrorist group Boko Haram in Nigeria carried out a series of suicide bombings and reportedly declared its allegiance to the Islamic State.

Unlike the waves of anxiety that accompanied the emergence of new terrorist plots over the past decade, the latest shift in mood seems more deep-seated. U.S. officials depict a bewildering landscape in which al-Qaeda and the brand of Islamist militancy it inspired have not only survived 14 years of intense counterterrorism operations but have also spread.

Officials emphasize that their campaign has accomplished critical goals. In particular, most officials and experts now see the risk of a Sept. 11-scale attack as infinitesimal, beyond the reach of al-Qaeda and its scattered affiliates.

Still, the adjusted outlook contrasts sharply with the surge of optimism that followed the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011 and the dawn of the Arab Spring, which was initially seen as a political awakening across the Middle East that might render al-Qaeda and its archaic ideology irrelevant.

Within months of bin Laden’s death, then-Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said he was convinced “that we’re within reach of strategically defeating al-Qaeda.” President Obama echoed that view in subsequent years by saying that al-Qaeda was on “a path to defeat” and, more recently, that the then-nascent Islamic State was analogous to a junior varsity sports team.

Such upbeat characterizations have all but evaporated.

By its nature, counterterrorism work is an enterprise that induces pessimism, one that is focused on fending off catastrophe and involves dwelling on worst-case scenarios. There are prominent dissenting voices who argue that the level of alarm now is out of proportion to the threat — as misplaced as the spike in confidence that preceded it.

Their case hinges on the degraded capabilities of al-Qaeda and the limited agenda of the Islamic State, which has been far more focused on securing territory in the Middle East than launching transnational plots.

“There are people who are alarmed and bewildered. There are also a lot of experts who don’t think this is the end of the world,” said Daniel Benjamin, a Dartmouth College professor who formerly served as the top counter­terrorism official at the State Department. “More people have thrown in their lot with the extremists than has been the case before. But the numbers are relatively small, and our own security is much less imperiled than has been claimed.”

Paul Pillar, the former deputy director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, argued in articles last year that concern over Syria and Iraq had reached a state of panic that had more to do with the psychological scars of 9/11 and the wars that followed than any truly existential danger.

“Everyone should take a deep breath,” Pillar wrote.

Still, other veteran analysts known for their equanimity sound increasingly grim. Even if the near-term prospect of a major attack in the United States or Europe is slim, they argue, elements of risk are accumulating rapidly.

“You’ve got a much bigger counterterrorism problem than you had a few years ago,” said John McLaughlin, a former deputy director of the CIA. Terrorist groups “have never had territory of this magnitude. Never had this much money. Never this much access to Western passport holders. Never had the narrative they have now.”

In this case, “narrative” is a broad term for the appeal of the Islamic State. The group, which broke off from al-Qaeda, has exploited the civil war in Syria to amass territory and declare itself a new caliphate. At the same time, its battlefield success and abundant presence on social media have helped it challenge if not eclipse al-Qaeda as a brand.

Even months of U.S.-led airstrikes have failed to diminish the flow of fighters into Syria. Clapper testified last month that more than 20,000 foreign fighters have entered Syria, including at least 3,400 from the West — “a pool of operatives who potentially have access to the United States.”

Many counterterrorism officials are equally worried about those who embrace the Islamic State’s ideology without leaving for the war. Attacks in Boston, Paris and elsewhere in recent years underscore the extraordinary difficulty of detecting plots with no active links to groups overseas.

Some also see significant cause for continued concern about al-Qaeda, even in its diminished state. A decade of drone strikes has depleted its upper ranks and deprived it of the resources and space that most experts believe are needed for it to orchestrate the sort of sophisticated, multi-stage, mass-casualty attack that was its signature. But smaller-bore plots may still be within reach.

At the New York terrorism conference, Morell said that while “no terrorist group currently has the capability to conduct a 9/11-style attack,” there are at least three al-Qaeda nodes that could stage attacks that could kill hundreds of people. Among them are al-Qaeda’s core in Pakistan, the group’s affiliate in Yemen and a more recently formed satellite in Syria known as the Khorasan Group.

“I would not be surprised if one of these groups were able to bring down an airliner in the U.S. tomorrow,” Morell said, emphasizing that the terrorist entity that has drawn the most attention — the Islamic State — “is not one of these groups.”

Al-Qaeda’s franchise in Yemen is still seen as the group’s most dangerous affiliate. The danger had seemed increasingly dormant, but the recent overthrow of the Yemeni government forced the CIA to withdraw many of its operatives and derailed a counterterrorism partnership that Obama had described as a model.

In congressional testimony last month, Clapper ranked terrorism third on his list of security concerns — behind cyberthreats and counterintelligence — although he indicated that the order could change if the Islamic State turned its focus against the United States.

At one point, Clapper was asked whether he stood by his assertion that the country was beset by more crises and threats that at any other time in his 50-year career. “Yes, sir,” he said, “and if I’m here next year, I’ll probably say it again.”

Greg Miller covers the intelligence beat for The Washington Post.

In Strategic Shift, U.S. Draws Closer to Yemeni Rebels

January 30, 2015

Washington Steps Up Communication With Houthis to Promote Stable Political Transition, Fight Against al Qaeda

By Jay Solomon, Dion Nissenbaum and Asa Fitch
The Wall Street Journal

The U.S. has formed ties with Houthi rebels who seized control of Yemen’s capital, White House officials and rebel commanders said, in the clearest indication of a shift in the U.S. approach there as it seeks to maintain its fight against a key branch of al Qaeda.

American officials are communicating with Houthi fighters, largely through intermediaries, the officials and commanders have disclosed, to promote a stable political transition as the Houthis gain more power and to ensure Washington can continue its campaign of drone strikes against leaders of the group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, officials said.

   Houthi militia members shout anti-U.S. slogans and hold a defaced picture of  President Obama during a protest in San’a, Yemen, on Wednesday.
Houthi militia members shout anti-U.S. slogans and hold a defaced picture of President Obama during a protest in San’a, Yemen, on Wednesday. Photo: European Pressphoto Agency

“We have to take pains not to end up inflaming the situation by inadvertently firing on Houthi fighters,” a senior U.S. official said. “They’re not our military objective. It’s AQAP and we have to stay focused on that.”

Washington’s outreach to the Houthis, who in January routed forces loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, a close American ally, represents a contrast from years of U.S. support for the Hadi government, which the Houthis have opposed.

Related Coverage

The shift also could place it on the same side as Iran in the Yemen conflict. The Houthis are drawn from their country’s Zaidi population. Zaidis, who by some estimates make up roughly a third of the population, practice a form of Shiite Islam and are concentrated in northwest Yemen. U.S. officials believe the militia has received considerable funding and arms from Shiite-dominated Iran, something Houthi leaders have variously confirmed and denied.

White House and State Department officials confirmed to The Wall Street Journal the contacts with the Houthis, but stressed they were focused on promoting political stability in Yemen and safeguarding the security of Americans.

“In the context of talking to all of Yemen’s communities about the latest political developments and ensuring the safety of our personnel and facilities, we have engaged a number of Yemeni parties,” said Edgar Vasquez, a State Department spokesman. “As a participant in discussions about Yemen’s political direction, the Houthis will have many reasons to talk with the international community.”

U.S. officials said they also are seeking to harness the Houthis’ concurrent war on AQAP to weaken the terrorist organization’s grip on havens in Yemen’s west and south. The U.S. has charged AQAP with overseeing a string of terrorist plots on Western targets in recent years. In January, AQAP claimed responsibility for organizing a terrorist attack in Paris against the staff of aFrench satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo.

Houthi Shiite Yemeni hold their weapons during clashes in near the presidential palace in Sanaa, Yemen, Monday, Jan. 19, 2015. Rebel Shiite Houthis battled soldiers near Yemen’s presidential palace and elsewhere across the capital Monday, despite a claim of a cease-fire being reached to halt the violence, witnesses and officials said. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

“There are informal contacts” with the Houthis, said a U.S. defense official, who declined to discuss the extent of the emerging relationship. “It is not uncommon for us to have communications with them, even before all this stuff happened,” the official said, referring to the militia’s capture of San’a.

Military officials on Thursday said the Houthis took over a key military base south of San’a where U.S. advisers until 2012 had trained forces battling AQAP, the Associated Press reported. The base was currently led by forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the AP added.

The U.S. and Iran both already are backing Iraq’s Shiite government in its military campaign against Islamic State fighters who have captured parts of northeast Iraq and Syria in recent months.

Houthi commanders, in recent interviews conducted in Yemen, asserted that the U.S. began sharing intelligence on AQAP positions in November, using intermediaries, as the conflict in the country intensified. They specifically cited a Houthi campaign against AQAP positions in western Al Baitha province as one such operation.

One Houthi commander said the U.S. provided logistical aid to the militants and exchanged intelligence on AQAP to support the Houthis’ operations against the group and pinpoint drone strikes. The Americans passed on all this information, the officer said, through Yemeni counterterrorism officials. The commander said the Houthis have pressed the Americans not to fly drones over rebel-controlled territories and to get clearance before launching strikes on AQAP.

Senior U.S. defense and State Department officials said Washington isn’t providing intelligence directly to the Houthis. They said the communication largely is an effort to “deconflict” its military operations from the Houthis’.

“We do not have an intelligence-sharing agreement with the Houthis,” said Alistair Baskey, a spokesman for the National Security Council at the White House. “Intelligence sharing requires formal agreements, similar to the one between the U.S. and Yemeni government.”

The Obama administration increasingly has sought to describe the Houthis as a potential partner of Washington’s ever since the militia gained control of San’a in January. The U.S. has continued to cite Mr. Hadi as the rightful leader of Yemen, but it has also appeared to accept the Houthis as a legitimate part of a new government in San’a.

President Barack Obama in recent days cited the goal of maintaining counterterrorism cooperation against al Qaeda as one of his two top priorities in Yemen, along with protecting Americans on the ground there.

“By definition, we’re going to be operating in places where oftentimes there’s a vacuum or capabilities are somewhat low,” Mr. Obama said Sunday in New Delhi. “We’ve got to just continually apply patience, training, resources, and we then have to help in some cases broker political agreements as well.”

In November, a Houthi representative visited Washington for several days to attend a United Nations Development Program-sponsored dialogue to promote Yemen’s economic development. He also appeared at The Atlantic Council, a U.S. think tank, on Nov. 20, which analysts said was the first time a Houthi representative spoke publicly in the U.S.

The representative, Ali Al-Emad, told journalists, analysts and government officials at the event that the Houthis weren’t seeking to take over the government, but only desired to be fully integrated into government institutions.

“Ansar Allah will not and will never be as an alternative to the government, and we always sign whatever treaties we have,” Mr. Al-Emad said, speaking through a translator and using another term for the movement.

He said that since September, the Houthis had worked to return Yemen’s security environment “back to normal,” and said they had been “a bulwark” to stop AQAP’s expansion. “We were successful in combating and deterring this phenomenon that’s called al Qaeda in many provinces.”

Mr. Al-Emad participated in the economic-development conference alongside representatives from President Hadi’s government and Yemeni business leaders. He didn’t attend any meetings at the State Department while in Washington.

The level of Iranian support for the Houthis is in dispute.

Mr. Al-Emad denied major funding or arms were coming from Tehran. But a Houthi official in San’a who deals with Iran says assistance comes in the form of logistics, intelligence and cash. He said Houthis have received tens of millions of dollars in cash from Iran over the past couple of years.

The Obama administration says it believes Iran’s support for the Houthis is significant, but that it isn’t overseeing the current military command. They said Tehran’s involvement in Yemen is nowhere near its role in Lebanon, where it closely coordinates military activities with Hezbollah, the Shiite militia and political party.

“We don’t see any command and control in Yemen,” said an American diplomat.

U.S. cooperation with the Houthis could further complicate its relationship with Saudi Arabia and the leading Sunni states in the Persian Gulf.

Washington and Riyadh have been partnering in trying to stabilize Mr. Hadi’s government. But Arab officials have voiced alarm about the Houthis control of San’a, viewing it as a major regional victory for Tehran.

“American contacts with the Houthis would likely unnerve the Saudis,” said Emile Hokayem, an expert on the Persian Gulf at London’s International Institute for Security Studies. “Saudis are already nervous about U.S. policy in the Middle East and the sense that Washington is no longer interested in containing, let alone countering, what they see as Iran-allied Shia militias.”

Mr. Obama discussed Yemen with Saudi Arabia’s new monarch, King Salman, during a visit to Riyadh this week, U.S. officials said.

—Carol E. Lee, Felicia Schwartz and Hakim Almasmari contributed to this article.

Write to Jay Solomon at, Dion Nissenbaum at and Asa Fitch at

U.S. “Unable” To Continue Drone Strikes As Before from Yemen

January 30, 2015


People gather at the site of a drone strike on the road between Yafe and Radfan districts of the southern Yemeni province of Lahj. (Reuters/Stringer)

People gather at the site of a drone strike on the road between Yafe and Radfan districts of the southern Yemeni province of Lahj. (Reuters/Stringer)

Houthi rebels have blinded the US drone program targeting Al-Qaeda in Yemen, having seized vital installations on the ground previously providing intelligence data. The scuffle in Saudi Arabia’s underbelly threatens the key US ally in the region.

Yemen’s military and intelligence agencies are no more capable of providing on-the-ground intel to stage drone missile attacks against the leaders of the regional branch of Al-Qaeda, US officials said, as quoted in an exclusive Reuters report.

US intelligence has been forced to rely on spy satellite imagery, surveillance drones and electronic eavesdropping rather than on “human intelligence” on the ground, an official with direct knowledge of the operations told Reuters anonymously.

The White House and the Pentagon insist the counter-terrorism efforts in Yemen are not going to be deterred.

“We do continue to have an ongoing security relationship with the national security infrastructure in Yemen. Some of which, much of which, is still functioning,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.

“As a new part of Yemen’s leadership, the Houthis will have many reasons to talk with the international community,” White House spokesman Alistair Baskey said.

Houthi fighters have constructed checkpoints at the entrances to security institutions and have deployed gunmen inside the facilities, claim Yemeni officials. Homes of the defense minister and the head of the National Security Bureau have also been blocked by the rebels.

The Houthis, a Shiite group with alleged ties to Iran – Saudi Arabia’s archrival – swept through Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, penetrating key government institutions and military installations. Houthis inhabiting north of Yemen represent Shia minority of the country, whereas majority Sunni Muslims live in the south of Yemen.

Houthis are believed to be equally hostile towards both the US drone attacks and Al-Qaeda.

A week ago the rebels overtook the capital Sanaa after several days of clashes and ousted the Yemeni president from office.

READ MORE: Yemeni president resigns after standoff with Shia rebels

The US State Department has been forced to evacuate most of the personnel and close the American embassy to the public over security concerns.

A general view of the U.S. embassy compound in Sanaa January 27, 2015. (Reuters/Mohamed al-Sayaghi)

A general view of the U.S. embassy compound in Sanaa January 27, 2015. (Reuters/Mohamed al-Sayaghi)

The US personnel continue monitoring the Al-Qaeda group from an intelligence post at the southern al-Anaad air base.

The CIA, which conducts the majority of assault drone operations in Yemen, operates unmanned aircrafts from airfields in Saudi Arabia and Djibouti.

Last week the US officials informed Reuters that a number of counter-terrorist operations against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) have also been suspended until further notice. The AQAP is believed to be the most lethal branch of the terrorist organization.

READ MORE: Al-Qaeda in Yemen claims directing Paris attacks as ‘revenge’ – reports

The US has been using drones to eliminate Al-Qaeda militants in Yemen for years, starting from November 2002. Last September, President Barack Obama praised US-Yemen counter-terrorism cooperation as a model one.

READ MORE: Unmanned, unregulated & on White House grounds: Obama says drones need rules

Attacks with Hellfire missiles from Predator drones have never been precise and always been accompanied with a large number of civilian casualties.

READ MORE: It takes 28 civilian lives to kill a single terrorist leader – UK human rights group

Reuters/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

Reuters/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

Former US drone sensor operator Brandon Bryant told RT that “People need to know the lack of oversight, the lack of accountability that happen.”

READ MORE: ‘We didn’t even really know who we were firing at’ – former US drone operator

Data collected by the human rights group Reprieve and presented last November maintains that attempts to kill 41 targeted individuals across Pakistan and Yemen in recent years resulted in the deaths of some 1,147 people, the vast majority civilians and families.

Yemenis say this little boy was killed in a U.S. drone strike

The US authorities claim they do everything to avoid civilian casualties, yet the risk of “collateral mage” is always there.

“There must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured – the highest standard we can set,” Baskey said.

According to the New America Foundation, there were 19 US drone strikes in Yemen in 2014, which killed 124 militants and four civilians.

The latest drone attack in Yemen took place last Monday, when an attack on a car in eastern province killed three alleged Al-Qaeda militants.


Houthis Reach Out as They Cement Power in Yemen

SANA, Yemen — Abu Raad strutted through the streets of the Yemeni capital as if he owned them. His obvious glee, at a time of crisis in the country, bordered on naïveté. But he had his reasons to be happy.

Growing up as a Houthi in the northern province of Saada, he experienced years of war and brutality while fighting for the rights of his Zaydi sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, against the government. He described being tortured by military captors who dragged his clutched fists over splintered wood, pushing the sharp pieces under his nails. He was a teenager then.

Rebel Houthi fighters, some wearing military uniforms, guarded a street during a demonstration last Friday in Sana, the capital of Yemen. Credit Hani Mohammed/Associated Press

But now, he was the one in power, embraced by many of the uniformed men who once gave their allegiance to the state.

“We are in this together,” said Abu Raad, 21, who refused to give his real name for security reasons. He pointed to Fathi Ali, a soldier standing guard outside Parliament, saying that Mr. Ali had spent 30 years in Yemen’s armed forces without being promoted beyond the rank of soldier.

“Yes, so far, we are in this together,” Mr. Ali, a Sunni, repeated.

Read the rest:

Yemen chaos a huge blow to White House anti-terror campaign

January 22, 2015

Washington (CNN)A pillar of President Barack Obama’s global anti-terrorism strategy is in peril as sectarian chaos consumes Yemen, a vital U.S. ally where chronic instability allows the deadliest surviving al Qaeda franchise to flourish.

Iran-backed rebels of the Shiite Houthi sect sparked alarm in Washington after seizing a presidential palace in the volatile Sunni-majority nation, in what officials called a coup.

There are now signs that the rebels — which have been resistant to American anti-terror efforts despite a common antipathy to al Qaeda — and the U.S.-backed government of President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi have agreed a deal to end the crisis.

But the situation remains volatile and a reminder of how the intricate, shifting and treacherous tribal and sectarian divides of the Middle East often confound U.S. efforts to frame coherent anti-terror policy.

Damaged guard tower outside the presidential palace complex in Sanaa (20 January 2015)
Yemen: The rebels seized control of the presidential palace complex on Tuesday, damaging this guard tower

Obama has spent much of his administration sponsoring a political transition designed to restore stability in Yemen and to cap the sectarianism that sustains al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Washington has offered counter-terrorism training to the government in the Yemeni capital Sanaa and has also mounted a campaign of drone strikes against key AQAP leaders.

A Houthi fighter screens members of the Yemeni presidential guards -  wearing civilian clothes - as they leave the presidential palace with their belongings in Sanaa (21 January 2015)

Members of the presidential guard were seen leaving the presidential palace with their belongings

The group is regarded by U.S. officials as the most potent offspring of Osama bin Laden’s jihadist movement and has claimed responsibility for the attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo this month.

AQAP also almost succeeded in bringing down a United States commercial jet over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, and has tried to attack the U.S. mainland on at least two other occasions.

The group’s potential was underlined in a video released on Wednesday in which a senior leader of AQAP in Yemen, Nasser bin Ali al-Ansi, said it was better for jihadists to wage war in their home nations, rather than fighting on the front lines in Syria.

The message will alarm Western governments fearful that Muslim extremists radicalized at home or who have fought in Syria, Iraq or Yemen are plotting new attacks in the wake of the Paris carnage.

CNN’s Brian Todd reported that meanwhile, ISIS — al Qaeda’s jihadist rival — was now also beginning to establish a presence in the country.

Yemen, which borders the Red Sea and the strategically important Gulf of Aden — a major oil transit route — sits next to key U.S. allies, Saudi Arabia and Oman.

But it is also important rhetorically for the Obama administration. In a speech in September on combating ISIS, Obama held up U.S. operations in Yemen as an example for a new anti-terror doctrine which does not rely on sending troops into dangerous foreign quagmires.

“This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years,” Obama said.

Obama vowed to use “force against anyone who threatens America’s core interests, but to mobilize partners wherever possible to address broader challenges to international order.”

The obvious problem with that strategy is that it needs secure, powerful local partners to have a hope of working.

In failed states like Syria and Yemen, those partners often do not exist, or are, like Hadi, are deeply vulnerable.

Stephen Seche, a former career foreign service officer, who served as U.S. Ambassador to Yemen between 2007 and 2010, said the current situation was bad news for the White House.

“The Hadi government has been a good partner of ours in the counter-terrorism arena,” he said. “If you move President Hadi from the equation, then I think all bets are off in many respects.”

After fighting raged in the streets of Sanaa, and a U.S. diplomatic vehicle was caught in the crossfire, the Pentagon moved two ships within range of the country in case the State Department gives the order for an evacuation of the embassy.

With memories of the raid by extremists on U.S. compounds in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, which killed four Americans still haunting the administration, and fears of a hostage drama, no one wants to take chances.

SEE ALSO: ISIS gaining ground in Yemen

But the White House faces a tough decision as it seeks to preserve limited influence that it still has on the ground in Yemen.

“If we were forced to close down in Sanaa, the embassy, this would be a major foreign policy defeat,” CNN intelligence analyst Robert Baer told Wolf Blitzer. “We need a government in that country to crack down on al Qaeda. You cannot do this from the air, or the National Security Agency [cannot just] intercept intelligence.

Members of a local popular committee arrive at Aden's international airport (21 January 2015)
Officials in the southern city of Aden denounced what they called a coup and shut its main airport
Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi (April 2013)
President Hadi has been under pressure from the Houthis, political opponents and al-Qaeda for months

“We need a strong central government — whether it is a Houthi one or an independent one.”

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Wednesday that the safety of embassy personnel in Sanaa was a top priority. He also made clear that preserving anti-terror cooperation in Yemen was also vital.

But the long-term U.S. diplomatic posture in Yemen is unclear.

The fact that al Qaeda is a common enemy of Washington and the Houthis raises the intriguing suggestion of possible cooperation.

But any tie up would likely be tacit and covert, and Washington would have trouble publicly recognizing any Houthi regime.

Mohammed Albasha, a spokesman for the Yemeni embassy in Washington said, “Americans should care about the Houthis.”

“We need to find out a way for the Houthis and the government to co-exist … they are now a fact of life,” he told CNN.

Charles Schmitz, an expert on Yemen and professor at Towson University, said the fallout from the apparent coup against Hadi was a mixed bag for the United States.

“The Houthi are virulently anti-al Qaeda. They have gone after al Qaeda like no one has before. There is a certain coincidence of interest with the U.S. with the Houthis against al Qaeda,” he said. “The Houthi have done nothing to even slightly irritate the Americans. they have been very careful not to do anything like that. The Americans are very much leaving the door open.”

READ: PM Valls sets out sweeping measures to safeguard France

Kamran Bokhari, an adviser on Middle Eastern and South Asian Affairs for Stratfor, a global intelligence and advisory firm, said that the Houthi movement could not be ignored.

“It is not clear to me to what extent Washington has relations with the Houthi movement. But now effectively the Houthis are kingmakers. While they do not dominate Yemen, they control the largest piece of real estate and they are the single-largest group,” Bokhari said.

The level of Iran’s support for the Houthi movement, beyond rhetorical backing is in question. Tehran’s intelligence resources are already stretched by the Syrian crisis and its finances have been hampered by western nuclear sanctions and the fall in the price of oil.

Iran, however, has spent years spreading its influence throughout the region in its wider proxy battle with its rival Saudi Arabia, an important U.S. ally, and now sponsors or heavily influences governments or key political forces in Damascus, Beirut and Baghdad, as well as Sanaa.

The complex web of tribal and sectarian forces scrambling alliances and traditional alliances in Yemen represent the region in microcosm and reflects massive challenges facing U.S. officials in search of a working policy.

“We don’t have a lot of leverage in there at the moment,” Seche said.

“There are so many forces and counter forces at play — none of which we or anyone controls effectively,” he said.

“There are currents and issues and long standing hostility they are going to have to work themselves to some extent.”


Houthi fighters Wednesday, January 21, 2015 in the streets of Sana, the Yemeni capital. They now control the city. Credit Khaled Abdullah/Reuters        

At Risk of Fragmenting, Yemen Poses Dangers to U.S.

The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Only months ago, American officials were still referring to Yemen’s negotiated transition from autocracy to an elected president as a model for post-revolutionary Arab states.

Now, days of factional gun battles in the Yemeni capital have left the president a puppet figure confined to his residence. The country appears to be at risk of fragmenting in ways that could provide greater opportunities both for Iran and for Al Qaeda, whose Yemeni branch claimed responsibility for the first Paris terrorist attack this month.

The latest Yemeni crisis raises the prospect of yet another Arab country where the United States faces rising dangers but has no strong partners amid a landscape of sectarian violence. Although the Houthi rebels who now effectively control the state are at war with Al Qaeda, they are also allied with Iran and with Yemen’s meddlesome former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Read the rest:

AQAP Has Taken Yemen — In the Nation President Obama Held Up As A Model Of U.S. Anti-Terror Success, The U.S. Needs A New Strategy

January 21, 2015

As Yemen’s Government Falls, So May a U.S. Strategy for Fighting Terror

By Mark Thompson
TIME Magazine

Houthi rebels guarded a building Tuesday in Sana, Yemen, that was damaged during clashes near the presidential palace, which was seized by rebel militiamen. Credit Hani Mohammed/Associated Press

As the nation awaited President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday—and any new decision on how he plans to wage war on Islamic fundamentalism—one of his key approaches seems on the verge of collapse in Yemen.

Shiite Houthi rebels attacked the home of Yemen’s president as they rushed into the presidential palace in Sana’a, the Yemeni capital. Government officials said a coup against President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi was underway.

“The President has no control,” a Yemeni government spokesman told CNN.

Hadi is a key U.S. ally in the war against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, but his grip on power has been pounded by Houthi forces over the past four months. Fighting between Hadi’s Sunni government and the Shiite Houthis has created a vacuum that experts fear AQAP will exploit to expand its power base in the increasingly lawless nation.

Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi meets with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon in July 2013. U.S. Department of Defense photo

Saïd Kouachi and Chérif Kouachi, French brothers of Muslim descent, said they carried out their attack on Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine, on behalf of AQAP. “Tell the media that this is Al Qaeda in Yemen!” the Kouachi brothers shouted outside the magazine after their massacre.

Washington has cited its relationship with Yemen as breeding success in the war on terror. On Sept. 10, as Obama announced the start of a bombing campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, he heralded his lighter approach to dealing with terror by citing Yemen.

“I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he told the nation from the White House. “This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.” But 11 days later, Hadi’s government was driven from parts of the capital of Sana’a by the Houthis, who have since gained control of several ministries.


A Shiite Houthi fighter outside Yemen’s presidential palace Tuesday. GAMAL NOMAN / AFP / Getty Images

“U.S. counter-terrorism policies in Yemen worked in the short term to keep al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula from engaging in some attacks on the U.S. that al Qaeda wanted desperately to carry out,” former top Pentagon official David Sedney said Tuesday. “But that short-term success was never accompanied by a long-term strategy, and the result has been horrific—a country that is now in chaos, dominated by groups with diverse ideologies but who share a common theme—they hate the U.S. and want vengeance for the evils they believe we have wrecked upon them.”

The U.S. anti-terror policy in Yemen of a “light footprint”—drones, special-ops units and training for local forces—isn’t working, Sedney says. “The drone strikes and fierce attacks by U.S.-trained and -mentored Yemeni special forces have created hordes of new enemies for the U.S. who see us as supporters of a decrepit, oppressive, and corrupt leadership,” says Sedney, who from 2009 to 2013 ran the Pentagon office responsible for Afghanistan, Pakistan and central Asia.

“What is not clear is whether the Administration has learned any lessons as its failures mount,” he adds. “If the only U.S. response is to increase drone strikes and send in more special forces, then we better get prepared for some difficult, violent years ahead.”

Christopher Swift, a Yemen expert at Georgetown University, says U.S. efforts in Yemen have been lackluster. “Our relationships, whether they’re political or military, don’t extend beyond the capital,” he says. “The bad guys are out in the field, far away from the national capital, and to the extent we claim to have relationships out in the bush, they’re based on third-party sources or overhead surveillance.”

U.S. goals in Yemen have always been tempered. “We’ve been playing for very limited, very modest objectives in Yemen,” Swift says. “Yemen is still a place where people who want inspiration, or training, or a place to hide can go. AQAP isn’t going away. The Yemenis are not in a position to make it go away, and we’re not willing to help them defeat AQAP decisively.”

Between 2011 and 2014, the U.S. pumped $343 million into Yemen, largely to fight AQAP. The U.S. is slated to provide Yemen with $125 million in arms and military training in 2015, in addition to $75 million in humanitarian aid, according to the nonprofit Security Assistance Monitor website.

“Despite their aggressive actions against AQAP, the Houthis have continually expressed anti-American rhetoric,” Seth Binder of the Security Assistance Monitor wrote Jan. 9. “And AQAP has used the Houthi’s Zaidi-Shi’a roots, a sect of Shiite Islam, to frame their battle as a Sunni-Shiite conflict. Recent reports indicate the tactic may be working as an increasing number of disenchanted Sunni tribesman are joining AQAP.”

Sedney says the only way of transforming a society like Yemen’s is full-bore nation building, with the time and money required to make it work. “We always want to have an exit,” Sedney says, “and the problem with real life is there’s no exit.”


The government of Yemen, a significant U.S. ally in the war against Islamic extremism, is teetering on the brink of collapse. The situation is so dire that two U.S. Navy warships have moved into the area, ready to evacuate Americans from the U.S. embassy if necessary.

Ships may be required for an evacuation because, in the wake of an embassy car being attacked today, the safety of the roads leading to the airport is in doubt. If embassy workers were to drive to the airport, it is likely that air cover would be provided, according to CNN.

Will President Obama mention Yemen tonight in his State of the Union speech? I don’t know. He did mention it in a speech last September. Indeed, he cited Yemen as a success story in the war on terorrism:

Over the last several years, we have consistently taken the fight to terrorists who threaten our country. . .We’ve targeted al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, and recently eliminated the top commander of its affiliate in Somalia. . . .

This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us [without deploying U.S. troops], while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.

Less half a year later, the U.S. embassy in Yemen may have to be evacuated.

But this is not merely a case of future events proving Obama wrong. Obama’s portrayal of Yemen as a success story was highly misleading in September, when the president gave his speech, as I noted that evening.

By September, the U.N. had already expressed concern over the deteriorating situation in northern Yemen. Shiite rebels were on the march and the beleaguered government was less and less in a position to “take the fight” to al Qaeda in Yemen.

No one should feel guilty about passing on Obama’s SOTU speech tonight. This president’s track record provides ample justification for not listening to anything he says.


Coup Fears Rise in Yemen as Rebels Storm Palace

The New York Times

SANA, Yemen — Houthi rebel militiamen seized control of the palace of Yemen’s president and clashed with guards outside his residence on Tuesday in an escalation of the violent crisis that has gripped the capital for days, raising fears of a coup in one of the Arab world’s most impoverished and insecure states.

The president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, viewed by the United States as a crucial counterterrorism ally, was believed to be in the capital, but his exact whereabouts was unknown. He made no public statements as the fighting escalated, though Houthi leaders insisted that he was safe and in his home.

Later on Tuesday, the most senior Houthi leader, Abdel Malik al-Houthi, gave a televised speech indicating that the advances by his fighters were a warning to Mr. Hadi to accelerate political changes they have demanded, and not an attempt to depose him. But if the president does not respond, Mr. Houthi said, “all necessary measures will be open.”

Read the rest:

I Am Not Sorry the CIA Waterboarded

December 16, 2014

Dick Cheney says he would “do it again in a minute.” He’s right.

By Bret Stephens
The Wall Street Journal

I am not sorry Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the operational mastermind of 9/11, was waterboarded 183 times. KSM also murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Danny Pearl in 2002. He boasted about it: “I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew,” he said after his capture.

I am sorry KSM remains alive nearly 12 years after his capture. He has been let off far too lightly. As for his waterboarding, it never would have happened if he had been truthful with his captors. It stopped as soon as he became cooperative. As far as I’m concerned, he waterboarded himself.

I am not sorry the CIA went to the edge of the law in the aftermath of 9/11 to prevent further mass-casualty attacks on the U.S. I am not sorry that going to the edge meant, as Sen. Dianne Feinstein put it in 2002, doing “some things that historically we have not wanted to do to protect ourselves.” I don’t suppose she was talking about removing our shoes at airport security.

I am sorry we weren’t willing to do those “things” before 3,000 people had their lives unnaturally ended on Sept. 11, 2001.

I am not sorry Osama bin Laden died by an American bullet. John Brennan , the CIA director, delivered a master class in rhetorical obfuscation masquerading as epistemology when he waffled last week about the quality of intelligence yielded by the interrogations of KSM and other high-value detainees. But several former directors and deputy directors of the CIA have all attested to the link between KSM’s interrogation and the identification of bin Laden’s courier.

John Brennan

I am sorry that the Feinstein Report, which failed to interview those directors and thus has the credibility of a Rolling Stone article, seeks to deny this. Maybe Sabrina Rubin Erdely, author of the discredited University of Virginia gang-rape story and a pro at failing to interview key witnesses, will find a new career in Sen. Feinstein’s office.

I am not sorry that President Obama has ordered drone strikes on hundreds of terrorist suspects hiding in Pakistan, Yemen and other places. I am not sorry he has done so despite the fact that the strikes inevitably have killed hundreds and perhaps thousands of their associates, many of whom were either innocent of wrongdoing or had committed no crime deserving of death from 30,000 feet. This is the nature of war.

I am sorry that we are now having a national convulsion over the fact that the CIA captured, detained, interrogated and in at least two cases accidentally killed two detainees. This is undoubtedly wrong and merits apology and compensation. But how this is any worse than what Mr. Obama routinely brags about doing with drones is beyond me.

I am not sorry that Dick Cheney told NBC’s Chuck Todd this Sunday that, in the matter of enhanced interrogation techniques, he would “do it again in a minute.” The former vice president seems to feel none of the need for the easy moral preening that is the characteristic political reflex of our age.

I am sorry that Mr. Cheney, and every other supporter of enhanced interrogation techniques, has to defend the practices as if they were torture. They are not. Waterboarding is part of the military’s standard course in Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, or SERE. Tens of thousands of U.S. servicemen have gone through it. To describe this as “torture” is to strip the word of its meaning.

I am not sorry that Google makes it easy to recall what the political class had to say about KSM in the immediate aftermath of his capture. Here is a noteworthy exchange between Sen. Jay Rockefeller, Democrat of West Virginia, and CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on March 2, 2003:

Blitzer: “There has been speculation, Sen. Rockefeller, in the press that U.S. authorities, given the restrictions on torture, might hand over Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his colleagues to a third country, a friendly Arab state, Jordan, Egypt, some country like that, where the restrictions against torture are not in existence.”

Rockefeller: “I don’t know that. I can’t comment on that. And if I did know it, I wouldn’t comment on it. [Laughter.] But I wouldn’t rule it out. I wouldn’t take anything off the table where he is concerned, because this is the man who has killed hundreds and hundreds of Americans over the last 10 years.”

I am sorry that Sen. Rockefeller saw nothing amiss with the idea of handing over KSM to the Cairo Cattle-Prod Crew. This is rightly known as torture-by-proxy. It is wrong.

I am not sorry that Sen. Feinstein went ahead and released her report. In its partisanship, its certitudes, its omissions of reportage and recommendation, and its attempt to seem authoritative merely by being verbose, it has reopened a necessary debate that was nearly closed—and nearly lost. Eventually we will have another mass-casualty attack on U.S. soil. We’ll need better than Ms. Feinstein’s insipid shibboleths to answer it.

And for that, I am sorry—for all of us.

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President Obama’s strategy to beat back Islamic State militants spread across Iraq and Syria will depend on far more than U.S. bombs and missiles

September 11, 2014


President Obama addresses the nation from the White House, September 10, 2014

By Rajiv Chandrasekaran September 10 at 11:20 PM
The Washington Post

President Obama’s strategy to beat back Islamic State militants spread across Iraq and Syria will depend on far more than U.S. bombs and missiles hitting their intended targets.

In Iraq, dissolved elements of the army will have to regroup and fight with conviction. Political leaders will have to reach compromises on the allocation of power and money in ways that have eluded them for years. Disenfranchised Sunni tribesmen will have to muster the will to join the government’s battle. European and Arab allies will have to hang together, Washington will have to tolerate the resurgence of Iranian-backed Shiite militias it once fought, and U.S. commanders will have to orchestrate an air war without ground-level guidance from American combat forces.

“Harder than anything we’ve tried to do thus far in Iraq or Afghanistan” is how one U.S. general involved in war planning described the challenges ahead on one side of the border that splits the so-called Islamic State.

But defeating the group in neighboring Syria will be even more difficult, according to U.S. military and diplomatic officials. The strategy imagines weakening the Islamic State without indirectly strengthening the ruthless government led by Bashar al-Assad or a rival network of al-Qaeda affiliated rebels — while simultaneously trying to build up a moderate Syrian opposition.

All that “makes Iraq seem easy,” the general said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to share views on policy. “This is the most complex problem we’ve faced since 9/11. We don’t have a precedent for this.”

Tracking the Islamic State View Graphic

Tracking the Islamic State

The Syria side of the campaign remains a work in progress at the Pentagon, CIA and White House. The development of an operational plan is further complicated by a lack of intelligence — U.S. drones have not been flying over Islamic State-controlled parts of the country for long — and the absence of allied local forces that can leverage U.S. airstrikes into territorial gains.

The consequence will be a military campaign unlike the opening days of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, when tens of thousands of U.S. troops charged into the country and toppled Saddam Hussein’s government in three weeks. Nor will it resemble the troop surges in Baghdad and southern Afghanistan, when American forces sought to counter militants by protecting the civilian population. Closer analogues, Obama said Wednesday night, are the counterterrorism campaigns the U.S. waged in Yemen and Somalia, in which the United States has relied on drone strikes and the occasional Special Operations raid to kill or capture high-level targets, but placed no American boots on the ground for extended periods. Day-to-day fighting has been left to Yemeni and Somali soldiers.

Those missions have met with success — a U.S. airstrike killed the leader of Somalia’s al-Shabab jihadist movement last week — but both campaigns have dragged on for years and involve far smaller and less-well-financed adversaries than the Islamic State. Although Obama promised a “steady, relentless effort” in a nationally televised address Wednesday night, he also said that “it will take time to eradicate a cancer like ISIL,” using a common acronym for the Islamic State.

Such a mission was not the U.S. military’s preferred option. Responding to a White House request for options to confront the Islamic State, Gen. Lloyd Austin, the top commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, said that his best military advice was to send a modest contingent of American troops, principally Special Operations forces, to advise and assist Iraqi army units in fighting the militants, according to two U.S. military officials. The recommendation, conveyed to the White House by Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was cast aside in favor of options that did not involve U.S. ground forces in a front-line role, a step adamantly opposed by the White House. Instead, Obama had decided to send an additional 475 U.S. troops to assist Iraqi and ethnic Kurdish forces with training, intelligence and equipment.

Recommitting ground combat forces to Iraq would have been highly controversial, and most likely would have been opposed by a substantial majority of Americans. But Austin’s predecessor, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, said the decision not to send ground troops poses serious risks to the mission.

“The American people will once again see us in a war that doesn’t seem to be making progress,” Mattis said. “You’re giving the enemy the initiative for a longer period.”

Supporters of the president’s approach say that the use of U.S. ground troops could easily send the wrong message to Iraqi soldiers, encouraging them to hang back and allow the Americans to fight, and it might discourage Iraq’s new government from moving quickly in efforts win over Sunnis estranged by the previous prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. “We cannot do for Iraqis what they must do for themselves, nor can we take the place of Arab partners in securing their region,” Obama said.

U.S. military and diplomatic officials, even those who favored a small number of ground troops, see a path, albeit rocky, to wresting terrain from the militants in Iraq. If the new government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi acts inclusively — a key early test will be whom he selects for the still-unfilled posts of defense minister and interior minister — and his military leaders place competent generals in charge of the reconstituted units dispatched to fight the militants, the Islamic State’s territorial gains could be eroded.

It will almost certainly be a grueling fight. Once U.S. airstrikes intensify and the Iraqi army gets back into the fight, most likely augmented by Shiite militias, members of the Islamic State may go covert, blending in with the local population and conducting insurgent-style attacks on Iraqi troops.

U.S. and Iraqi leaders hope to peel away Sunni tribesmen who have acquiesced to the militants — some of them had viewed the Maliki government as worse for them than the Islamic State — a breakthrough that could help the government’s drive to reclaim territory, but many tribesmen remain wary of promises in exchange for cooperation from Washington and Baghdad. U.S. commanders promised them jobs in the Iraqi security forces if they fought against al-Qaeda’s Iraq affiliate in 2007 and 2008. They fought, but Maliki eventually reneged on those commitments.

“This isn’t going to be as simple as rolling up the highway to Mosul,”said a senior U.S. military official involved Middle East strategy, referring to a large northern city that the militants quickly captured as they surged into the country.

Even so, the prospect of the Iraqis retaking major cities now held by the Islamic State is far less murky than the potential outcome in Syria, which is embroiled in a four-way civil war: the Assad government vs. the Islamic States vs. the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front vs. the moderate but fledgling Free Syrian Army.

“Figuring out where we can strike ISIL so that it weakens them and empowers a more moderate Sunni group instead of the government — you have to think that one through,” said Michele Flournoy, a former U.S. undersecretary of defense. “I’m not sure we know yet how to pull that off.”

Although Obama has previously called for Syria’s Assad to cede power, he did not repeat that call in his address on Wednesday night, perhaps because Iraq’s campaign against the Islamic State is likely to rely on assistance from neighboring Iran, which has long been a supporter of Assad.

He said his request to Congress for additional U.S. resources to train and equip Assad’s moderate opponents was aimed at “pursuing the political solution necessary to solve Syria’s crisis.”


Obama, in Speech on ISIS, Promises Sustained Effort to Rout Militants

The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Obama on Wednesday authorized a major expansion of the military campaign against rampaging Sunni militants in the Middle East, including American airstrikes in Syria and the deployment of 475 more military advisers to Iraq. But he sought to dispel fears that the United States was embarking on a repeat of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In a speech to the nation from the State Floor of the White House, Mr. Obama said the United States was recruiting a global coalition to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the militants, known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. He warned that “eradicating a cancer” like ISIS was a long-term challenge that would put some American troops at risk.

“We will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are,” Mr. Obama declared in a 14-minute address. “That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq,” he added, using an alternative name for ISIS. “This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”

Read the rest:

 War Journal

CIA Director John Brennan and the Senate Intelligence Committee — Espect the bad blood to get worse

July 2, 2014

CIA Director John Brennan testified at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in March. Reuters

LANGLEY, Va.— John Brennan is starting to tuck into breakfast, including black coffee and bacon, when he decides he hasn’t finished chewing on a rather tender subject for the director of the Central Intelligence Agency: politics.

“I am neither Democrat nor Republican nor ideological,” he told a Wall Street Journal reporter recently over a 7:15 a.m. meeting at CIA headquarters. “I’m an equal opportunity offender.”

Partly as a result, relations between the CIA and Congress are more fraught that at any point in the past decade. The source of the tension is the Senate intelligence committee’s classified report on the CIA’s controversial post-9/11 interrogation program—and the agency’s response to it.

The Short Answer

The bad blood could get worse in coming weeks, when portions of the report and CIA response are expected to be declassified. Mr. Brennan made it clear he had no plans to back down in the face of congressional criticism.

“When I speak about the report, I will probably annoy and alienate some people on both sides of this issue,” he said. “I will accept on behalf of the agency responsibility for failures, for problems and actions I believe should not have taken place. At the same time, I am going to take issue with some other elements of the report that I believe are inaccurate or misleading.”

His intention to push back could intensify strains with his natural allies as an Obama appointee—Democratic lawmakers. The ensuing fight could shape the agency’s long-term relationship with Congress, its public image and Mr. Brennan’s legacy at the CIA.

Relations between the CIA and Congress broke down on Jan. 15, when Mr. Brennan called a meeting on short notice with top lawmakers. Reading from notes and accompanied by the agency’s top lawyer, he alleged that aides from the Senate’s intelligence committee may have improperly obtained what he considered an off-limits CIA document, according to officials familiar with the meeting.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and chairman of the committee, was angry. The document was part of the committee’s investigation of the CIA interrogation program. Mr. Brennan’s investigation, she felt, was an affront to the Constitution’s separation of powers. She wanted an apology.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, shown in March, delivered a scathing critique of the CIA’s inquiry on the Senate floor. Bloomberg

Former Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, a Democrat who sits on the CIA’s advisory board, recalls telling Mr. Brennan: “Sometimes you make a tactical retreat because it is the right thing to do.” Mr. Brennan has neither backed off nor apologized, and more than five months later, the standoff remains unresolved.

The CIA has churned through leaders roughly every couple of years since the 2001 terrorist attacks. Bolstering the agency’s relationship with Congress was a top priority for the Obama administration in 2009 when it installed former congressman Leon Panetta at the helm. Mr. Panetta’s open and personal approach gave him credibility with both Congress and his own employees.

Mr. Brennan, 58 years old and a 34-year veteran of U.S. spy services, was appointed to the top job in March 2013. He said little publicly during his first year on the job. His disdain of politics has made him popular at the CIA’s Langley, Va., headquarters, but less so with lawmakers, who hold the agency’s purse strings, can withhold authorization for spy operations around the world, and often serve as the CIA’s defender to the American public.

Soon after taking office, President Barack Obama officially ended the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program that permitted range of tactics, including waterboarding, which the president has characterized as torture.

Mr. Brennan agreed with the decision to end the program. The current fight is over how the history of that program will be written, and to what degree allegations of CIA mismanagement of parts of it will affect the agency’s operations today.

Critics, including members of the Senate panel, have long said the interrogation tactics were tantamount to torture, and ineffective. The CIA said the techniques weren’t torture and that the Justice Department signed off on them. While the agency acknowledges making mistakes carrying out the program, it said valuable information was produced.

Administration officials said that as public skepticism of U.S. counterterrorism programs and spy activity has grown, Mr. Brennan has gotten caught in the middle. “What he’s wrestling with is our country is changing off this permanent war footing,” said White House chief of staff Denis McDonough. The controversy over the Senate report, he said, “is a pretty good manifestation of how much the country is changing right now.”

The charged politics of the CIA’s interrogation program have dogged Mr. Brennan since 2008, when outcry from the political left prompted Mr. Brennan to withdraw his name from consideration to become his first CIA director. One reason for the political pushback: It wasn’t clear how loudly Mr. Brennan objected to the interrogation program at the time it was created in the wake of the 2001 attacks.

Mr. Brennan was a senior manager at CIA when the program began. He has said he opposed many of what the CIA called “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in an interview Mr. Brennan bowed out of the nomination process “prematurely” and that he could have weathered a confirmation battle. The job went to Mr. Panetta.

Instead, Mr. Brennan did a stint as White House counterterrorism chief. He was tapped again to be CIA director in January 2013. Lawmakers again raised questions about what involvement he had in the interrogation program’s inception, as well as about his central role in developing the administration’s program to target terrorists with drone strikes.

The Senate intelligence committee had spent three years investigating the interrogation techniques used on al Qaeda detainees. Sen. Mark Udall (D., Colo.) and others pressed Mr. Brennan to review the Senate report, which had been approved by the committee two months earlier but remained classified.

At his confirmation hearing, Mr. Brennan said the report raised questions about “a lot of the information that I was provided” about the interrogation program when he was in previous government posts. He also said, if confirmed, he planned to put his stamp on the CIA’s response before it was submitted to the Senate.

Several Democrats took that as a sign Mr. Brennan would be sympathetic to their criticism of the CIA’s handling of the program and the conclusion that it hadn’t been effective. “They had high expectations,” said one top Democratic congressional aide.

When he arrived at the CIA after his confirmation, Mr. Brennan read the report more thoroughly and solicited the views of agency officials, aides said. He said in the interview he concluded the report did show some CIA “shortcomings” and “failures,” but he also found fault with many of the report’s details and conclusions.

Mr. Brennan felt it was important to show he would stand behind the agency to correct facts when it came under political fire, a senior intelligence official said. That objective loomed larger when leaks from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden put a greater spotlight on the intelligence world and sapped morale.

Last June 27, Mr. Brennan hand-delivered the CIA’s classified response to the Senate report to Sens. Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss (R., Ga.). Participants described the meeting as cordial.

Mr. Brennan’s focus at the time was on looming threats in Syria and Afghanistan, as well as a budget crunch and a need to close intelligence gaps, part of his back-to-basics strategic direction for the agency, according to the senior intelligence official.

His response to the Senate report bolstered his support inside the CIA, especially among officers initially skeptical of someone coming directly from the White House, former agency officials said. But it made relations with Congress more contentious.

In a bid to hash out differences between the report and the response, CIA and Senate staffers met 15 times over 60 hours. Although the Republicans had decided not to take part in the investigation, they joined the meetings. There were clashes between Democratic and Republican aides and tense exchanges with CIA officials.

At issue was what to conclude from the report’s facts. Some Senate aides argued that mistakes were symptoms of a larger problem at CIA. The agency contended they were isolated incidents and that the Senate report came to overly broad conclusions.

By the end of last summer, CIA staffers and lawmakers found some common ground. Some details of the report were changed, but the conclusions stayed the same.

Then lawmakers took a closer look at a document written under the agency’s previous director, which they called the “Panetta Review.” It included an assessment of the conclusions that could be drawn from documents the CIA provided the Senate. The CIA said it was a draft document prepared by some analysts without access to complete information, so didn’t reflect the agency’s position.

Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat and longtime committee member, said the apparent inconsistencies between the Panetta document and the CIA’s response to the Senate report showed it was “trying to sweep the mistakes of the past under the rug.”

The Senate committee asked the CIA for a copy of the Panetta document, but the agency declined. CIA officials came to believe that the committee already had obtained the draft document, which the CIA had considered outside the scope of what it had agreed to provide.

Suspicious that the draft had been improperly obtained, CIA officials reviewed computer usage to determine who had viewed it. The review turned up several Senate aides—a discovery that prompted the meeting between Mr. Brennan and top Senate Democrats in which the director said the Senate committee may have improperly gained access to the document. In dispute is whether the aides had a right to look at the document, and whether the CIA should have tracked computer usage.

The CIA’s top lawyer at the time, Robert Eatinger, later made a criminal referral on the matter to the Justice Department. Alarmed by Mr. Brennan’s accusations, Sen. Feinstein wrote to Mr. Brennan two days later, asking him to go no further. In another letter one week later, she asked a dozen questions about the CIA’s computer investigation and conveyed her concerns to the White House.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) urged Mr. Brennan to resolve the conflict before it became public, as did the White House. Mr. Brennan said he had been working with lawmakers to do just that. But media reports in March ended that possibility.

Ms. Feinstein took to the Senate floor to deliver an unusually scathing critique of the CIA’s inquiry, saying it may have violated the Constitution’s separation of powers and the Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches.

Later that morning, Mr. Brennan defended the CIA at a long-scheduled event. “As far as the allegations of CIA hacking into Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.

Some of Mr. Brennan’s early supporters in Congress are critical of his handling of the issue.

“Being a good director also requires acknowledging mistakes and learning from them,” said Mr. Udall. “The CIA’s unauthorized search of the committee’s computers tells me that the CIA not only hasn’t learned from its mistakes, but continues to perpetuate them.”

Oregon’s Mr. Wyden said the CIA’s computer probe “has cast a large cloud over the agency and, in my view, significantly undermined their relationship with the Congress.” Sen. Martin Heinrich (D., N.M.), now says he regrets his vote to confirm Mr. Brennan.

Mr. Brennan is receiving quiet support from Republicans such as Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R., Ga.) and Richard Burr (R., N.C.), congressional aides and intelligence officials said. Every Republican member of the Senate intelligence panel declined to be interviewed for this article.

Mr. Bayh, the former senator, said that while congressional relations are important, being the CIA director of “is not a popularity contest.”

Mr. Brennan has been on Capitol Hill a number of times since the March fireworks. His exchanges with the intelligence committee have been professional, congressional aides said, but not friendly, and have had an “elephant-in-the-room” vibe.

While tempers have cooled in the past couple of months, the congressional aides said, the differences haven’t been resolved, and they expect tensions to intensify again when the report is finally made public.

“I believe that the public is going to be profoundly disturbed by this report,” said Mr. Wyden.

At the CIA, however, some officials believe the public will understand the agency’s actions when the report is declassified. “In the upper management ranks, no one is shaking in their boots,” said one former senior intelligence official.

In recent weeks, the CIA has begun to assume a more public profile, sponsoring a conference at Georgetown University and launching a Twitter account. Mr. Brennan is planning to mount an aggressive public defense of the agency, which could include speeches and media interviews.

“I’m going to get out more,” he said. “I think there are some important issues to be addressed. I have a responsibility to the agency, to the president and to the American people to make sure I speak up.”

Write to Siobhan Gorman at


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