THE US military machine is gearing up to launch a new attack on rebels in Yemen, suggest media reports.
The immediate pretext for the stepping-up of military involvement is the botched bombing attempt on the Delta Airlines flight on Christmas Day that al Qaeda in Yemen claims it organized.
But this attempt has itself been described as a retaliation for recent secret US military involvement in the volatile and strategically crucial Arab state.
American TV news channel CNN reported that two senior U.S. officials told them that the US and Yemen are now looking at fresh targets in Yemen for a potential "retaliation" strike.
It said: "The officials asked not to be not be identified because of the sensitive nature of the information. They both stressed the effort is aimed at being ready with options for the White House if President Obama orders a retaliatory strike. The effort is to see whether targets can be specifically linked to the airliner incident and its planning.
"U.S. special operations forces and intelligence agencies, and their Yemeni counterparts, are working to identify potential al Qaeda targets in Yemen, one of the officials said. This is part of a new classified agreement with the Yemeni government that the two countries will work together and that the U.S. will remain publicly silent on its role in providing intelligence and weapons to conduct strikes.
"Officially the U.S. has not said it conducted previous airstrikes in Yemen, but officials are privately saying the Yemeni military could not have carried out the strikes on its own.
"By all accounts, the agreement would allow the U.S. to fly cruise missiles, fighter jets or unmanned armed drones against targets in Yemen with the consent of that government."