The White House‘s top counterterrorism official, deputy national security adviser John Brennan, told Yemen‘s president on Sunday that his country has the lead in responding to the terrorists, according to a top Yemeni official. The brief phone conversation between Brennan and Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh came as Brennan led a team of national security and intelligence officials in a second day of meetings assessing the best options in striking back at the al-Qaida offshoot suspected of trying to mail explosive-laden cargo to the U.S. Officials say the powerful bombs containing industrial grade explosives may have been aimed at bringing down the planes.
The Yemeni official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss high-level conversations between the U.S. and Yemen that have taken place since the bombs, hidden in packed computer printers, were found Friday on planes. The Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has been linked to the bomb plot because of the use of the explosive PETN, which was used by the group in last Christmas Day’s bombing attempt of a Detroit-bound airliner. U.S. authorities also had intelligence that Yemeni al-Qaida was planning this operation, according to a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss matters of intelligence. Yemen’s government has worked closely with U.S. counterterrorist advisers from military special operations units, and Yemen’s president acknowledged Saturday that his government is working with the CIA, according to a translation of his remarks by Yemen’s embassy in Washington. The Obama administration launched a clandestine war against Yemen’s al-Qaida branch just months after President Barack Obama took office, and stepped up the tempo in the aftermath of the Christmas attack and AQAP’s growing role in other plots against the U.S. That war has been waged mostly in secret, at the demand of Saleh’s government. The U.S. will provide some $300 million in military, humanitarian and development aid to Yemen this year, according to State Department counterterrorism coordinator Daniel Benjamin. About half of that is for military equipment and training, including some 50 special-operations trainers for Yemeni counterterror teams.