US SENDS FORCES TO WAGE SECRET WAR IN HORN OF AFRICA
By Andrew Buncombe and Rupert Cornwell
[The Independent, UK, 19 September 2002 - Wasshington]:
America is preparing to take on suspected al-Qa'ida members
believed to be hiding in Yemen – possibly sending special
forces troops on covert operations to capture them.
As Yemen emerged as the latest focus of
America's "war against terror", it was revealed
yesterday that 800 US troops and an unknown
number of special forces personnel had been
dispatched to Djibouti, the tiny African nation
that faces Yemen across the Gulf of Aden. The
assault ship Belleau Wood is also in the area
and could be used as a platform for troops.
Officials at US Central Command (CentCom)
said the deployments were intended to
position people and equipment for any
operations in the Horn of Africa, though they
declined to say whether an operation was
It was reported at the weekend that the Bush
administration had been increasing its support
for anti-terror operations in Yemen, which was
the third country – after Georgia and the
Philippines – to which the Pentagon sent
special forces training teamsthis year.
Those efforts are likely to be led by the CIA, which has its own paramilitary
units. The Pentagon has also dispatched a team to assist the Yemeni authorities.
The importance of Yemen – home of Osama bin Laden's father – as a
longstanding base for suspected al-Qa'ida members was underlined last week by
the arrest of six Yemeni men accused of belonging to one of the network's cells
based in Buffalo, in upstate New York.
The suspects have been charged with providing support or resources to foreign
American officials said yesterday that two other alleged members of the cell,
including the ringleader, were still at large, most likely in Yemen. The two men,
referred to in affidavits as "uncharged co-conspirators", are believed to be Jaber
Elbaneh and Kamal Derwish, the alleged ringleader.
Washington has been paying much closer attention to Yemen since 17 American
sailors were killed in 2000 when al-Qa'ida bombed the USS Cole as it refuelled in
the port of Aden.
The senior, self-confessed al-Qa'ida member captured last week in Pakistan,
Ramzi bin al-Shibh, is also from Yemen, as were about a dozen other suspected
al-Qa'ida members seized with him.
Yemeni officials said US troops would not be permitted to launch military
operations in the country. One government official said: "Yemen's position is
clear: Yemeni forces are the ones responsible for conducting any operations – be
they searches or attacks." He claimed that co-operation with the United States
was limited to training and the exchange of intelligence.
But it was reported yesterday that US special forces could launch covert strikes
from Djibouti. The reports said that among those forces sent to the country were
members of the US Army's secretive Delta group, which specialises in
commando-style raids to kill or capture enemy personnel.
Yemen says it is holding 85 people arrested in a round-up of al-Qa'ida members.
But US officials say there is little visible evidence that real progress against
terrorists has been made in recent months.
In February the FBI handed over a list of al-Qa'ida suspects believed to be in
Yemen. US special forces trained Yemeni soldiers in counter-terrorism this
summer. Two weeks ago Mr Saleh deployed what officials said were the first of
2,000 troops to the northern provinces of Shabwa, Jawf and Marib, strongholds
of Islamic militants.
US special forces played a leading role in the war in Afghanistan and were sent to
Pakistan to help find al-Qa'ida fighters who fled over the border.
Such operations against terrorist groups overseas are likely to increase under an
expected Pentagon reorganisation that will transfer control of the "war against
terror" from regional commanders to the US Special Operations Command
(Socom) and the elite forces in its charge.
The shake-up was disclosed by The Washington Post yesterday and was not
denied by Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary.
The change would signal a more focused and co-ordinated offensive by US forces
abroad, which have been criticised for failing to capture or kill many leading
figures in al-Qa'ida. Most Americans regard terrorism as a more immediate threat
to security than the Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein.
Hitherto, Socom has trained and equipped special forces, such as the Navy Seals
and the Delta Force, which are transferred to regular military commanders for use
in specific operations. Under the plan, Socom will directly oversee these
* Pakistan said yesterday that police had arrested seven "most wanted
terrorists", including one suspected of masterminding a suicide bombing which
killed 11 French naval engineers in Karachi in May. The French nationals and
three Pakistanis were killed in a car-bomb attack outside the Sheraton hotel.