Shared from the 3/5/2017 Philadelphia Inquirer - Philly Edition eEdition

Trump: Widen offensive in Yemen

The president told the Pentagon to step up efforts against extremists there.

WASHINGTON — More than two years after a multi-sided civil war erupted in Yemen that allowed al-Qaeda’s local franchise to amass power and seize territory, President Trump has told the Pentagon to conduct a complicated counterterrorism campaign.

Trump’s decision, just six weeks into his presidency, intends to reverse the largely unchecked expansion across southern Yemen of the group, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The willingness to expand counterterrorism operations inside war-torn Yemen is another signal that Trump is more willing to defer to military commanders on national security policy than was President Barack Obama, who was criticized publicly by three of his four Defense chiefs and privately by uniformed officers for micromanaging the military.

Over two days last week, armed drones and warplanes conducted more than 30 airstrikes against suspected al-Qaeda positions in three Yemeni provinces. They were the first U.S. attacks in the country since a Navy SEAL raid in January that killed two dozen civilians, including women and children, al-Qaeda militants, and Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens.

The airstrikes are expected to continue this week. Trump is also considering giving more power to U.S. military commanders to conduct operations in Yemen, including ground attacks.

The militant group is considered by intelligence officials to be al-Qaeda’s most dangerous affiliate because of its repeated efforts to attack American targets, including the bombing attempt aboard a U.S.-bound airliner over Detroit in 2009 and a failed attack on two cargo planes flying to Chicago in 2010. The group also claimed responsibility for the shooting that killed 12 people at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris in 2015.

No specific threats or plots were being tracked in Yemen, Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said Friday. Rather, he said, the latest strikes were designed to eliminate the Yemeni countryside as a place “where they can plot and execute external attacks.”

The U.S. military did not specify why the operation kicked off last week. Targets inside Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest nation, have been under surveillance for months.

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