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U.S. Faces Hurdles In Tracking Terrorists In Yemen

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U.S. Faces Hurdles In Tracking Terrorists In Yemen

National Security

U.S. Faces Hurdles In Tracking Terrorists In Yemen

U.S. Faces Hurdles In Tracking Terrorists In Yemen

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The latest terrorism plot to emerge from Yemen, shipping makeshift bombs on cargo planes, has raised all kinds of questions about what the U.S. military can do to counter the growing threat coming from this small Arab nation. What options — and limits — does the U.S. have for tracking down terrorists in Yemen?

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The latest terrorism plot from Yemen, bombs on cargo planes, has raised questions about what the United States can do about it. NPR national security correspondent Rachel Martin walks us through the options for tracking down terrorists in Yemen, and the limits.

RACHEL MARTIN: Here's how Congresswoman Jane Harman, California Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee, sees the group behind last week's plot.

Representative JANE HARMAN (Democrat, California): AQAP - al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is growing in force and lethality, and its headquarters is the boonies in Yemen.

MARTIN: The boonies - short for the boondocks - defined as a remote or undeveloped place. It's an understatement when talking about those parts of Yemen where al-Qaida has set up shop and launched two recent attacks against the U.S., including the mail bomb plot last week.

So the question is how does the U.S. go after terrorists living among the local population in one of the most remote parts of the Arab world?�There are a few options. One choice - targeted aerial attacks designed to take out the bombmakers and key leaders.�

Mr. RICHARD FONTAINE (Center for a New American Society): These things are always a balancing act.

MARTIN: Richard Fontaine is with the Center for a New American Security in Washington. He says aerial strikes have been effective in Yemen in the past. In 2002, a Predator drone took out a key al-Qaida leader there. Then, after the Christmas day bombing attempt on a Detroit-bound plane this past December, the U.S. stepped up missile strikes in Yemen, but at a price.�

Mr. FONTAINE: Just over the past year, one of the air strikes in Yemen killed a number of civilians. And another one killed the deputy governor of one of the provinces. So the real task, if you do these things, do them in a precise way that's not going to undermine the very objective you're trying to achieve.

MARTIN: Yemen's president has aligned himself with the U.S. and pledged to help root out the terrorists. But he took political heat at home for those U.S. air strikes. As a result, the attacks have pretty much stopped. U.S. officials say this most recent plot has reignited conversations in the Obama administration, about whether it's time to resume the strikes.�

A second option is to beef up the Yemeni security forces so they can front the fight.

Over the past year, the U.S. has sent dozens of Special Forces troops to Yemen to train local military and counterterrorism units. Military aid for Yemen is also on the rise - more than $155 million in the last year alone, for everything from helicopters and cargo trucks to weapons and ammunition. And a U.S. defense official says that number is expected to increase.�

And there's a third tool available - economic aid. Congresswoman Jane Harman says you can't eliminate the terrorist threat in Yemen without it.�

Rep. HARMAN: Yemen is the poorest country in the Arab world and in the next two decades its population's going to double from 20 to 40 million people. It's running out of water. It's running out of oil, which is its only resource and that's a recipe for a breeding ground for terror.

MARTIN: The Pentagon says it's taking a - and this is their term - holistic approach when it comes to Yemen. That includes continued cooperation with the Yemeni government and neighboring countries like Saudi Arabia.�But there's one option apparently not in the mix - large numbers of U.S. troops.

Mr. RICK NELSON (Center for Strategic and International Studies): One of the things that you don't want is a heavy U.S. or international presence.

MARTIN: Rick Nelson is with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Mr. NELSON: At the end of the day, the Yemeni government has to be empowered to take care of this issue on their own. If it's seen as the U.S. or the international or the Western communities are being too heavy-handed in it there could be a negative impact.

MARTIN: A negative impact like feeding the al-Qaida narrative that the U.S. is at war with Muslim countries, which could sustain the same terrorist networks that the U.S. is trying to destroy.��

Rachel Martin, NPR News, Washington.�

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