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U.S. fears Yemen a safe haven for al Qaeda

By Barbara Starr, CNN
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Al Qaeda 'safe haven' in Yemen
  • U.S. officials worry about impact al Qaeda is having in Yemen
  • Analysts acknowledge the important role Yemen may play in future
  • General David Petraeus sounded a warning about Yemen months ago
  • Yemen
  • Terrorism
  • Al Qaeda

Washington (CNN) -- U.S. officials are privately acknowledging they have provided secret intelligence on several al Qaeda targets to Yemen's government, but they won't say if U.S. fighter jets or armed drones are involved.

All of this happened before the suspect in the attack against Northwest Airlines flight 253 claimed he traveled to Yemen and was given bomb-making materials there.

It's a claim that has the U.S. worried -- al Qaeda in Yemen has already been the focus of secret U.S. military and intelligence operations for months.

General David Petraeus sounded a warning about Yemen months ago.

"That's where al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula has established its headquarters and this is a concern," General David Petraeus said.

"And with tribal rebel movements on the rise in Yemen, the central government cannot fully control the country and al Qaeda has found a safe haven."

Analysts also raise concerns about the importance Yemen may play in the near future.

"There is a very real sense that the central government is losing control over most of the country and that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is setting up bases hosted among tribes," Jon Alterman from the Center for Strategic and International Studies said.

U.S. officials say they won't talk about their involvement in the air strikes because the goal now is to make it look like the Yemenis are in the forefront.

But, officials say the Yemenis need U.S. help to fight al Qaeda -- and time is of the essence.