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Washington has launched a new effort to take on al Qaeda in Yemen. Recent air strikes have inflicted a toll on militants, but have also spread anti-American fervor. Anchor Marco Werman speaks with Time magazine correspondent Vivienne Walt, who's recently returned from Yemen.
MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman and this is the World. The Middle Eastern nation of Yemen faces several security risks. There's a Shiite rebellion in the north and secessionist violence in the south. And there's a threat the United States is especially concerned about al-Qaeda is resurgent in the country. And the U.S. has been increasing its military assistance to Yemen to help it battle the terror network. Today, authorities in Yemen say their forces killed more than 30 al-Qaeda militants in an air raid. Time Magazine's Vivienne Walt was recently in Yemen. Vivienne, this is the second big assault on al-Qaeda in Yemen in a week, and one of many in the past few weeks. The Pentagon upped the military aid from zero last year to 70 million this year for Yemen. What exactly is Washington's role here?
VIVIENNE WALT: Well, Washington is increasingly creating a kind of strategy against al-Qaeda in Yemen very much like they have in the tribal areas of Pakistan training local forces like they have with Pakistan's frontier corps in sharing some intelligence, and possibly also drawing attacks, which might have identified where these al-Qaeda operatives, which have been that were supposedly killed in today's attack.
WERMAN: And do we know who those operatives are? Are there any senior people among them?
WALT: Well, of course, it cannot be confirmed, but Yemen is claiming that they took out both the No. 1 and No. 2 al-Qaeda operatives in the region. If this is true, this would be really a major victory against al-Qaeda, and quite a major shift for the Yemen government, as well.
WERMAN: And what are military analysts saying about this military campaign against al-Qaeda in Yemen? Is it working?
WALT: Well, if they carry on this way, yes. I mean, it is possible that they might well create formal progress in Yemen more quickly than they have, for example, in Pakistan. It's a far smaller country with a much more sparsely populated terrain, and perhaps easier, in fact, to pinpoint attacks against al-Qaeda.
WERMAN: And Vivienne, for our listeners who might not be familiar with Yemen geographically, explain the strategic location. What makes it key?
WALT: If you look at the map of the world, Yemen occupies an extraordinarily strategic spot. It is really the bridge between the Arab world and the African world. It's right across a very narrow stretch of water from Somalia, which is the other failed state. And it is also right next door to Saudi Arabia with major oil interests and American military interests, so in that sense, Yemen is really perfectly poised to be a staging ground for attacks against all sorts of different western interests.
WERMAN: What is do you think likely to be the response among Yemen citizens that Washington is helping the Yemeni government push against al-Qaeda?
WALT: Well, there is steep anti-American feeling in a lot of Yemen. This is a country that has never had very close ties with the U.S., and there is still a lot of support for those who might want to do harm against American interests, so in that sense, the Yemen government feels that it's wise to play down its relationship with the United States. On the other hand, the U.S. is not really hiding much of its relationship with Yemen. When I interviewed General Petraeus two weeks ago in Bahrain, he told me quite openly that he was on his way to Yemen, and this was not really anything that was secretive at all.
WERMAN: Osama Bin Laden has a history in Yemen. Does that mean that Yemen is a right place for al-Qaeda recruits?
WALT: It is firstly a very tribal, clannish place. It is where Bin Laden has his ancestral roots, and therefore, there is somewhat of a kind of tribal asymmetry with Bin Laden himself, but more than that the kind of conditions that existed in Afghanistan are very similar to those that exist in Yemen today. It's an exceedingly poor, rural, tribal place without much connection to the west, and where people really don't have much hope. It's not like the rest of the region, which is growing and expanding and booming. There is very little foreign investment. There's very little job creation. And for all those reasons, this really could be a perfect breeding ground for al-Qaeda.
WERMAN: Time Magazine's Vivienne Walt recently back from Yemen. Always a pleasure, Vivienne, thank you.
WALT: Thank you.