The unrest engulfing Arab streets and threatening authoritarian governments in the Mideast is complicating U.S. counterterrorism efforts.
U.S. counterterrorism officials need to move quickly to firm up relationships with veteran Mideast intelligence and security services in the aftermath of momentous changes, experts say. Lingering confusion over who will take the reins of power could hamper instant decision-making in the short term.
Over the longer term, will the U.S. be able to work as closely against al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations if important allies such as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh cede power to Islamist groups?
“Right now the situation is so fluid it’s just about impossible to make any determinations about long-term repercussions,” said Roger Cressey, a former counterterrorism deputy in the Clinton and second Bush administrations.
Uncertainty about whether the U.S. can depend on Arab allies to join against militants comes amid growing American concerns following a string of failed attacks plotted in Yemen and al-Qaida’s home base inside Pakistan. Less reliance on Mideast partners could force the U.S. to strike back on its own there, if a future terrorist attack were to succeed.
U.S. counterterrorism officials worry that continuing demonstrations in the Yemeni capital in Sana’a could led the country’s security forces to focus more on protecting the government, giving breathing room to al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, suspected in plots against the U.S. in recent months.
In a sign of the mounting alarm about Yemen’s role as a terrorist staging ground, President Barack Obama told Saleh this past week about the need for “forceful action” against the al-Qaida affiliate. Obama did praise “the significant reform measures” that Saleh ordered to defuse the protests in his country.
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