The agency might be able to replicate that success in Yemen, the former intelligence official said. But he expressed skepticism that White House officials, including counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan, will approve the CIA’s request.
The situation in Pakistan’s tribal territory “is far less ambiguous than in Yemen,” the former official said. “Brennan has been deliberate in making sure targets we hit in Yemen are terrorist targets and not insurgents.”
As a result, the CIA has been limited to “personality” strikes in Yemen, meaning it can fire only in cases where it has clear evidence that someone on its target list is in a drone’s crosshairs.
Often, that requires information from multiple sources, including imagery, cellphone intercepts and informants on the ground.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, as the Yemen-based group is known, has not been linked to a major terrorist plot since its failed attempt to mail parcels packed with explosives to addresses in Chicago in 2010. The death of Awlaki in a CIA drone strike last year is thought to have diminished the group’s ability to mount follow-on attacks.