Following the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden, the United States attempted to kill the American-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in the southern province of Shebwa, Yemen on Thursday of this past week. The drone attack on al-Awlaki failed to strike the spiritual leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) but succeeded in killing two al Qaeda operatives. In what has been described as a joint initiative between the US and Yemeni governments, the attack sought to eliminate the spiritual leader of the most active and operational al Qaeda syndicate. As we have previously reported, AQAP represents the gravest threat to the homeland and has successfully launched attacks against the US, most notable the Fort Hood shootings, the 2009 Christmas Day “underwear” plot to blow up a Detriot-bound commercial plane and the October, 2010 cargo bomb plot.
According to accounts of Thursday’s attack, the Yemeni government provided the US with key details regarding al-Awlaki whereabouts and the US launched two separate strikes with 45 minutes of each other. The renewed level of cooperation between the US and Yemen intelligence officials comes at an interesting time as Yemen has been one of the many Middle Eastern countries that has experienced unrest in addition to calls for the ouster of Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Relations between to two countries cooled after a May, 2010 US missile attack erroneously killed one of Saleh’s envoys. Until recently the Yemeni president had signed on to a deal that would ease him from power, however he appears to have reneged from that, citing that by remaining in office he was defending the constitution and protecting Yemen from "outlaws, bandits and murderers" who were using the protests to claim a sense of legitimacy. Perhaps by cooperating with the US and providing information as to where al-Awlaki and other al Qaeda operatives might be, Saleh is seeking for US support to remain in power.
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