Brennan: More al-Qaeda Operatives in Yemen Than Afghanistan
John Brennan, the White House senior adviser for counterterrorism and homeland security, has been summoned to the Sunday shows to discuss what went wrong in the Northwest Flight 253 case and the threat emanating from al-Qaeda’s presence in Yemen. Here are a few things we’ve learned from his “ThisWeek” appearance:
- There are more al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen than in Afghanistan. “al-Qaeda has several hundred members in Yemen,” Brennan, a veteran of the CIA and founding director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told Terry Moran of ABC. According to the Obama administration, there are about 100 al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan at the moment; and soon to be about 100,000 U.S. troops there.
- But we’re not going to be invading Yemen. Brennan suggested that there are going to be additional discrete strikes and possible raids against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. “We’ve been investing in Yemen for many, many months,” Brennan said. But his remarks were about how to “provide the Yemeni government with the wherewithal to carry out this fight against al-Qaeda,” not what U.S. forces will do unilaterally. Whether that’s a fig leaf for CIA operations in Yemen remains to be seen, but don’t expect Obama to launch a third theater for U.S. troops, either.
- Expect the standards for filtering information up to the National Counterterrorism Center to drop. In explaining what the reviews of the failed Christmas attack have shown so far, Brennan talked about “millions upon millions of bits of data” that intelligence and counterterrorism professionals sift through regularly. They only had “snippets” about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab himself. While he defended the system that this year has led to the arrests of accused extremists Najibullah Zazi and David Headley, he said that the challenge going forward would be to “make [that] information come to the surface” about the next Abdulmutallab so “we stop individuals like Mr. Abdulmutallab from getting on the plane.” For the practical considerations in moves like that, see this post.