Why did State list AQAP as a terrorist organization this week?
So why didn’t the administration list al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) as a terrorist group until this week? Well, it’s kind of a long process to get a group listed and the U.S. wanted to coordinate with the international community. That’s what the State Department’s top counterterrorism official Dan Benjamin said Wednesday morning ...
So why didn’t the administration list al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) as a terrorist group until this week? Well, it’s kind of a long process to get a group listed and the U.S. wanted to coordinate with the international community.
That’s what the State Department’s top counterterrorism official Dan Benjamin said Wednesday morning about the announcement that AQAP would now be officially considered a terrorist organization and its leaders would be treated as terrorists. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton decided to list AQAP December 14, less than two weeks before underwear bomber Umar Faourk Abdulmutallab tried to blow up a Detroit-bound jetliner but nearly a year after AQAP took shape, but it’s just now become official.
"AQAP announced only announced itself as a group in late 2008 or early 2009, so the wheels began turning then," Benjamin said, "This is a long and deliberative process… you have to build quite a base of information so it can withstand litigation."
Politico reported that Clinton made the decision last month, but Benjamin explained that making the call and making it official by notifying Congress are two separate things. He said that notification was timed to coincide with a similar action by the UN, which was announced Tuesday.
"We could have done it in mid-December, we wanted to make sure we had international support. It was done concurrently with UN, where it is now designated under the 1267 regime," said Benjamin, "That’s been another emphasis that we’ve brought to this work, we want to build international solidarity and make it clear that this is not just America’s counterterrorism effort, it’s really a global one."
Benjamin joined Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday morning about Yemen. He said he plans to travel to Yemen "very soon."
Feltman testified that Yemen has been a top foreign policy issue for the Obama administration since day one. Even though AQAP only emerged recently, they are just one instance the Islamic extremist activity that has been building in Yemen for years. He also had some sober assessments of the Yemeni government.
"We are not naïve about our Yemeni partner," said Feltman, "The government’s ability to provide services and exert authority is inconsistent," he added, noting that the Yemeni government’s actions on human rights also are a cause of concern.
Today kicks off a torrent of Congressional involvement in the Yemen issue. In addition to the SFR hearing, House Armed Services will hold a hearing Wednesday afternoon on AQAP and the Senate Homeland Security committee will hold its first of two hearings looking into the Christmas Day attack.
Yemeni Foreign Minister Abubakar al-Qirbi was reportedly on the Hill Tuesday meeting with leaders of both parties and he also met with National Security Advisor Jim Jones.
Asked whether the State Department’s designation of AQAP as a terrorist group paved the way for the first joint strikes in Yemen only a few days later, Benjamin said there was no correlation.
"I wish we had that kind of heft in the State Department," he joked.
UPDATE: Senate Foreign Relations chairman John Kerry, D-MA, will also meet with al-Qirbi Wednesday, his office just announced.
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at email@example.com.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin
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