Washington/Sanaa, Asharq Al-Awsat – Prominent US officials have stated that the United States has mobilized “Predator” drones to hunt Al-Qaeda elements inside Yemen for the first time since 2002, but is yet to utilize them because of a lack of conclusive intelligence regarding the insurgents’ hideouts, the Washington Post reported.
However, a Yemeni official denied reports about the deployment of US drones and their flights over some Yemeni areas where Al-Qaeda’s elements are believed to be positioned. Tariq al-Shami, the head of the ideology and media department in the ruling General Peoples Congress Party, said: “The published reports are just press leaks.” Commenting on them, he added in statements to Asharq Al-Awsat: Cooperation between Yemen and the United States consists of “coordination in the exchange of information and also training and equipping the special security forces for fighting terrorism.”
He pointed out that his country “has a publicly-stated stand about not allowing any foreign interference in internal affairs, whether under the name of fighting terrorism or not.” He pointed out that any foreign interference in Yemen’s internal affairs “is bound to deepen and exacerbate the problem and put the terrorist elements in a stronger position and hence create sympathy with these elements which are saying they are fighting foreign occupation and intervention.”
However, according to the Washington Post report, US officials said the Predators have been patrolling the skies over Yemen for several months in search of leaders and operatives of Al-Qaeda.
But after a series of attacks by Yemeni forces and US cruise missiles earlier this year, Yemeni Al-Qaeda leaders “went to ground,” The Post quotes a senior Obama administration official as saying.
Yemeni officials said they had deep reservations about weapons they said could prove counterproductive, the paper noted.
“Why gain enemies right now?” The Post quotes Mohammed Abdulahoum, a senior Yemeni official, as saying. “Americans are not rejected in Yemen; the West is respected. Why waste all this for one or two strikes when you don’t know who you’re striking?”
Instead, Yemen has asked the United States to speed up shipment of promised helicopters and other military equipment, the report said.
A US defense official said plans were being made to nearly double military aid, to 250 million dollars, in 2011, The Post noted.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in Australia Saturday that the US military was looking at how to bolster Yemen’s security forces amid growing concern over Al-Qaeda’s foothold in the country.
“I think in terms of training and so on there are things that we can do to help the Yemenis and strengthen their capabilities,” Gates told reporters on his plane before flying in to Melbourne.
“I think it’s fair to say we’re exploring with them a variety of possibilities along those lines,” he said.
Gates offered no details about what kind of assistance was on the horizon, but said: “The primary focus would be on training.”
In a related development, Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S.-born radical Yemeni cleric has called for the killing of Americans in a new video message posted on radical web sites.
Al-Awlaki said Americans are from the “party of devils” and so don’t require any special religious permission to kill.
In the 23-minute Arabic language message entitled “Make it known and clear to mankind,” al-Awlaki said it was “either them or us.” He also called all Arab and Yemeni leaders “corrupt” and said it was time for religious scholars to take charge.
The video showed him wearing traditional Yemeni clothes with a dagger at his belt sitting behind a desk.
U.S. investigators say al-Awlaki’s sermons have been a key inspiration for a string of militants, including possibly the Pakistani man who tried to detonate a car bomb in Times Square this year.
He also had e-mail contacts with the Army psychiatrist accused of shooting 13 people in Fort Hood, Texas.
They say that since he returned to Yemen in 2006, al-Awlaki has moved beyond inspiration to take a role as an active operative in al-Qaeda’s affiliate there.
On Friday, the Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for sending bombs through the mail in packages addressed to the U.S. which was thwarted a week ago.