U.S. intensifies drone war in Yemen

Published 10 November 2010

The U.S. is intensifying the drone war over Yemen; yesterday the Yemeni foreign minister admitted for the first time that the U.S. was helping out in the Yemeni fight with unmanned drones; the foreign minister said that while the U.S. was providing intelligence, “The (drone) attacks are undertaken by the Yemeni air force” (officials in Yemen have habitually claimed those sorties were the work of the Yemeni air force, although Yemen has neither the aircraft nor the air crews able to conduct these precision attacks); a tug-of-war is going on in Washington on whether the drone war should be conducted by the U.S. military or the CIA; unconfirmed news reports claim that in early November the U.S. moved a squadron of Predator drones to a secret base at the Yemeni Red Sea port of Al Hodaydah

U.S. provides hardware for Yemeni drone strikes // Source: globalresearch.ca

U.S. intelligence agencies are helping Yemen find key terrorist leaders in the country, the country’s foreign minister said. Yemen emerged on the radar of the U.S. intelligence community after al Qaeda carried out the suicide bombing of the USS Cole parked in a Yemeni port in 2000, killing seventeen U.S. seamen and wounding thirty-seven more.

UPI reports that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen’s al Qaeda franchise, claimed responsibility for at least three separate attempted attacks on U.S. interests, prompting U.S. president Barack Obama to single out AQAP leader Anwar al-Awlaki as a wanted man.

Abu Bakr Abdullah al-Qirbi, Yemen’s foreign minister, told CNN that Washington was helping out in the Yemeni fight with unmanned drones.

The (drone) attacks are undertaken by the Yemeni air force but there is intelligence information that is exchanged about the location of the terrorists by the Americans,” he said.

Analysts doubt the claims by the Yemeni foreign minister: while drone attacks are common under the Obama administration, it is rare for third parties to operate the vehicles.

Yemen has claimed some success in taking on al Qaeda fighters holed up in the southern provinces, though human rights officials said the onslaught came with a heavy civilian price.

ABC adds the following:

U.S. officials tell ABC News that the U.S. military has been flying Predators over Yemen since early this year. The drones are only intended to carry out surveillance and reconnaissance of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) targets. Air strikes in Yemen that began late last year have been from U.S. cruise missiles targeted with help from the drones flying overhead. The United States can only conduct the strikes with approval from the Yemeni government, but there have not been any U.S. missile strikes since May when Yemen ceased approving them in response to an air strike in May that killed a Provincial Deputy Governor.

The drones fly from the U.S. base in Djibouti across the Red Sea and fly either above Yemeni territory or along the coastline.

A U.S. official told ABC that over the past year, the CIA has stepped up its focus on Yemen and there has been discussion of the agency doing even more.

There have been several media reports recently about what that might entail with the most recent one being in the Los Angeles Times that the Obama administration is considering having the CIA take over the mission with its armed Predator drones taking out terror targets much as it does in Pakistan.

The U.S. military has a small number of military trainers in Yemen. That number stood at twelve in July, which was the last time the number was publicly disclosed. Officials would not say how many there are today because the number fluctuates, but once the counterterrorism aid money is in the pipeline the number of trainers will increase.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal described discussion of placing U.S. military assets in Yemen under CIA control. Pentagon officials strenuously denied such a plan was under serious consideration at the Pentagon. One U.S. official said there has been discussion of this in the past, but it never goes anywhere.

In the meantime, the Israeli newsletter Debka claims that in the first week of November, directly after the discovery of two explosive parcels mailed from Yemen to the United States, Washington moved a squadron of Predator drones to a secret base at the Yemeni Red Sea port of Al Hodaydah. Debka does not provide support for this claim.

The newsletter is on firmer ground when it notes that against Yemen’s claim that the war on al Qaeda is carried out exclusively by the Yemeni army, there is evidence that for some time now, U.S. warplanes and drones have been crisscrossing Yemeni skies from their bases in Djibouti and the decks of aircraft carriers offshore. Officials in Yemen have habitually claimed those sorties were the work of the Yemeni air force, although it has neither the aircraft nor the air crews able to conduct these precision attacks.