Obama administration authorized series of recent drone strikes in Yemen

The Obama administration authorized a series of drone strikes in Yemen over the past 10 days as part of an effort to disrupt an al-Qaeda terrorism plot that has forced the closure of American embassies around the world, U.S. officials said.

The officials said the revived drone campaign — with four strikes in rapid succession — is directly related to the emergence of intelligence indicating that al-Qaeda’s leader has urged the group’s Yemen affiliate to attack Western targets.

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The strikes have 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 officials said it is not clear whether the most recent attacks have suppressed the danger, acknowledging that there is no indication that senior al-Qaeda 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 said.

“It’s too early to tell whether we’ve actually disrupted anything,” a senior U.S. official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. The official described the renewed air assault as part of a coordinated response to intelligence that has alarmed counterterrorism officials but lacks specific details about what al-Qaeda may target or when.

“What the U.S. government is trying to do here is to buy time,” the official added.

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 Sanaa and urged all Americans to leave the country immediately.

In a global travel alert, the State Department said that all non-emergency U.S. government personnel would be removed “due to the continued potential for terrorist attacks.” It described an “extremely high” security threat level in Yemen.

Yemen is the home base of al-Qaeda 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.”

“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.

State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki took issue with Yemen’s assertion that the U.S. move rewards terrorists, and said the decision to remove Americans from the country for safety reasons speaks for itself.

At the same time, jihadists took to Web forums to celebrate the closure of the embassies, with some boasting that doing so was a “nightmare” for the United States, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, a nonprofit organization that monitors the forums.

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