On April 14th there was another American UAV missile attack on al Qaeda in Yemen and it killed one of their senior specialists. This comes weeks after the last American troops (Special Forces and some personnel to assist with UAV operations) left Yemen. It was assumed that the chaotic war there involving Shia rebels, pro-government forces, separatist Sunni tribes and al Qaeda all fighting each other had destroyed the American intelligence network. But after over a decade operating in nearby areas the U.S. had learned how to maintain an informant network in a chaotic environment. To do this requires a corrupt culture, many factions that hate each other and the ability to operate electronic surveillance from the air and on the Internet. It worked in Somalia, and now it appears to be working in Yemen. Actually it should work better in Yemen because the U.S. never had a well-developed informant network in Somalia before the country lapsed into chaos during the early 1990s. The U.S. already had lots of contacts on the ground when the last American intel operatives (many of them Special Forces operators) flew away.
Even when no longer on the ground the U.S. has much to offer useful informants, including help in getting the informants and families out of the country, perhaps even to the United States. At the moment that’s an attractive incentive for many Yemenis, especially if it involves getting someone killed who is already your enemy.
Another ally in Yemen is Saudi Arabia, which has long maintained an extensive informant network, one which is apparently still intact. The Saudis have often supplied the Americans, especially when it involved a target the Saudis also wanted dead. Since 2011 American UAVs have make about 110 attacks on Islamic terrorists in Yemen.