Analysts have long speculated that the destabilizing uprising in Yemen could strengthen the hand of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an affiliate based in the country's south that the C.I.A. considers a grave threat to the U.S. But, according to a New York Times report today, the U.S. has also taken advantage of the power vacuum in recent weeks to escalate its strikes against those very militants. The Times only points to two examples–American jets killing the Qaeda operative Abu Ali al-Harithi and other suspected militants and civilians on Friday, and an unsuccessful drone strike at the radical American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki last month–but adds that the attacks come after a nearly year-long pause in the covert campaign.
Targeting militants during a period of unrest doesn't come without its risks, however. U.S. officials and Yemen experts mention the dangers of civilian casualties turning Yemenis against the U.S., one side in Yemen's power struggle feeding the Americans information that could lead to strikes on a rival faction, and Qaeda operatives mixing with other rebels and anti-government militants, "making it harder for the United States to attack without the appearance of picking sides" (one could argue that the U.S., in calling for Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a former ally, to resign, has already picked sides).
In Yemen's capital, Sanaa, celebratory gunfire and fireworks erupted on Wednesday night, wounding 100 people and spooking many others, when Saleh supporters learned that the president had emerged from a successful surgery in Saudi Arabia after suffering serious injuries in an attack by opposition tribesmen on his palace last week. And while the Times claims that Yemeni troops battling militants in the south have had to return to the capital to deal with the unrest there, the Yemeni government says its fight is ongoing. On Thursday, the Defense Ministry that its troops killed 12 al-Qaeda members in the southern province of Abyan, according to the AP.