Foiled Yemen Bomb Plot Heightens Talk of Putting Elite U.S. Squads in CIA Hands

The Wall Street Journal reports that support was growing both within the military and the administration for shifting more operational control, including putting “elite U.S. hunter-killer teams” that operate secretly in the country, under CIA authority in Yemen.

Allowing the U.S. military’s Special Operations Command units to operate under the CIA would give the U.S. greater leeway to strike at militants even without the explicit blessing of the Yemeni government. In addition to streamlining the launching of strikes, it would provide deniability to the Yemeni government because the CIA operations would be covert. The White House is already considering adding armed CIA drones to the arsenal against militants in Yemen, mirroring the agency’s Pakistan campaign.

Yemen has allowed the U.S. military to carry out a series of strikes on
al Qaeda targets over the past year. But in some cases, Sana’a has
delayed or objected to U.S. operations. A shift to the CIA would
streamline U.S. decision-making, giving the White House more direct
control over day-to-day operations.

Placing military units overseen by the Pentagon under CIA control is unusual but not unprecedented. Units from the Joint Special Operations Command have been temporarily transferred to the CIA in other countries, including Iraq, in recent years in order to get around restrictions placed on military operations. The CIA conducts covert operations based on presidential findings, which can be expanded or altered as needed. Congressional oversight is required but the information is more tightly controlled than for military operations. For example, when the military conducts missions in a friendly country, it operates with the consent of the local government.

The New York Times reports that the US sees the complexities of the bombs made as “link” to Al Qaeda. American officials said their operating assumption was that the two bombs were the work of Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, Al Qaeda in Yemen’s top bomb-maker. Asiri is believed to have built both the bomb sewn into the underwear of
the young Nigerian who tried to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight last
Dec. 25, and the suicide bomb that nearly killed Saudi Arabia’s
intelligence chief, Mohammed bin Nayef, months earlier.

Related: LA Times article on Yemen.

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