C.I.A. Drones May Target Yemen Terrorists

C.I.A. Drone Strikes Missile Yemen
C.I.A. Drone Strike Strikes Missile Yemen

In the past two years, reports CBS News national security correspondent David Martin, an escalating campaign of CIA drone strikes against al Qaeda and other terrorist groups in the Tribal areas of Pakistan has killed more than 600 militants. Now the Obama Administration is planning a similar offensive against al Qaeda in Yemen. "They're not feeling the same heat - not yet anyway," one official said.

The result, according to former counter terrorism official Matt Leavitt of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, is that al Qaeda in Yemen - or AQAP as it is called - is a direct threat to the U.S.

"What makes AQAP a danger to the United States is the fact that it not only has the capability, but it has the interest in carrying out attacks beyond its immediate region," Leavitt tells CBS News.

AQAP recruited that young Nigerian who nearly blw up a passenger jet over Detroit on Christmas day. Its chief recruiter is Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen who speaks English and is becoming known as the Bin Laden of the internet.

"Al-Awlaki is very good at reaching a very wide audience in words and language they can understand," said Leavitt.

He can recruit from among 50,000 Yeminis who hold dual American citizenship and would know how to operate inside the U.S.

Al Qaeda in Yemen is one of the few successes Osama Bin Laden can claim in recent years. Driven out of Saudi Arabia by a no holds barred crackdown, al Qaeda regrouped in Yemen.

"That possibly might have been al Qaeda core's greatest strategic action over the past few years," said Leavitt.

U.S. Navy ships have launched at least three cruise missile attacks against al Qaeda in Yemen, but it has not yet been hammered by drone strikes day in and day out and that, says one U.S. official, "has to change."

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.