The Obama White House authorized drone strikes in Yemen over the past 10 days to try to disrupt an al-Qaida terrorism plot that has forced the closure of 19 American embassies around the world, U.S. officials said.
The officials told The Washington Post
on Tuesday that the revived drone campaign, with four strikes in rapid succession, was directly related to the emergence of intelligence indicating that al-Qaida's leader had urged the group's Yemen affiliate to attack Western targets.
"It’s too early to tell whether we’ve actually disrupted anything," a senior U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the Post.
The strikes ended a period in which U.S. drone activity in the Arabian Peninsula has been relatively rare, with a seven-week stretch with no strikes, the Post reports.
The officials said it was not clear whether the most recent attacks have suppressed the danger, acknowledging that they do not yet know whether senior al-Qaida operatives in Yemen have been killed.
The latest strike, on Tuesday, reportedly killed four militants in the impoverished nation's Marib province, a Yemeni security official told the Post.
The renewed air assault was described as part of a coordinated response to intelligence that has alarmed counterterrorism officials but lacked specific details about what al-Qaida might target or when, the official said.
"What the U.S. government is trying to do here is to buy time," the official told the Post.
The State Department underlined that approach on Tuesday, announcing that it had ordered the evacuation of much of the U.S. Embassy in the Yemeni capital of Sana'a and urged all Americans to leave the country immediately.
In a global travel alert, the State Department said that all nonemergency U.S. government personnel would be removed "due to the continued potential for terrorist attacks," the Post reports.
It described an "extremely high" security threat level in Yemen.
According to the Post, Yemen is the home base of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the branch of the terrorist group thought to be the most likely to attack U.S. or Western interests.
The U.S. Embassy in Yemen was among 19 that were closed through Saturday, as were embassies in Yemen representing several European nations. The British Embassy said Tuesday that it had removed its staff.
The State Department's decision drew a sharp rebuke from the Yemeni government, which said the evacuation "serves the interests of the extremists and undermines the exceptional cooperation between Yemen and the international alliance against terrorism," the Post reports.
"Yemen has taken all necessary precautions to ensure the safety and security of foreign missions in the capital," the Yemeni Embassy in Washington said in a statement to the Post.
Meanwhile, State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki responded that the decision to remove Americans from the country for safety reasons spoke for itself, the Post reports.
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