U.S. help from Yemen

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SHADOW WAR

The Untold Story of How Bush is Winning the War on Terror

by Richard Miniter

Part one of an exclusive three-part series of excerpts.

TODAY: U.S. help from Yemen

In the 911 days from September 11, 2001, to March 11, 2004, dozens of al Qaeda plots have been foiled and each of its seven major attacks have cost it entire cells and key commanders. In addition, counter-terrorism operations have killed or captured more than two-thirds of the pre?September 11 al Qaeda leadership.

The terrorists will keep trying to mount attacks on America and its allies—but ongoing counter-intelligence operations will make “success” both difficult and costly. It is harder to sneak up on a nation at war than on one at peace. Cofer Black, the head of CIA counter-terrorism operations on September 11, put it succinctly: “After September 11, the gloves came off.”

The days of the velvet glove are indeed long gone, much to the surprise of some foreign leaders. In a series of private meetings at the White House, President Bush made it clear that he was fighting to win. Abdullah Saleh, the president of Yemen, a small, arid republic on the southwestern edge of the Arabian peninsula, met with Bush in the White House in December 2002. Almost a year and a half had passed since the September 11 attacks. Saleh hoped that Bush had softened. The Yemeni president tried to make him understand that Yemen could not risk being too helpful in the War on Terror and that invading Iraq would be a mistake. Investigative journalist Murray Weiss reported what happened next. Citing an Arab proverb, Saleh said, “If he were to put a cat in a cage, it could likely turn into a fierce lion.”

Bush’s response was stinging. “The cat has rabies and the only way to cure the cat is to cut off its head.”

Saleh got the message. Yemen lifted its objections and allowed a Predator, a small, pilotless plane weighing fewer than nine hundred pounds, to roam its skies hunting for al Qaeda. Within a few months, the Predator focused in on a carload of terrorists speeding down a concrete highway. The Predator fired its missile. The vehicle exploded.

In the burning wreckage, investigators found the DNA of one of the al Qaeda leaders responsible for the attack on the USS Cole, which killed seventeen sailors, injured another forty-four, and, for the first time since World War II, almost cost the U.S. Navy a warship. We may never know what murderous plans were defeated by putting these terrorists on the road to a dusty death, but we can be grateful that their plans were not made manifest.

Meanwhile, U.S. Special Forces have trained a number of elite counter-terrorism troops in Yemen. They have engaged al Qaeda terrorists in firefights across northern Yemen, killing and wounding more than a dozen. It is one small front in a larger global war. The sum of these many small actions is not small.

From the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., to the March 11, 2004, bomb blasts in Madrid, Spain, al Qaeda has been far more active than most realize—and so have the United States and its allies.

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