Saudi jets join US in strikes on Al Qaeda in Yemen
Sources :AFP, from The Times, 05/01/2013
SAUDI Arabia has joined the US in prosecuting an undeclared aerial war against al-Qa'ida in Yemen by providing fighter jets to assist Washington with its covert drone strikes against terrorist targets, The Times reported yesterday.
US drones are backing Yemeni forces combating militants of al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula, seen by Washington as the most active and deadliest franchise of the global jihadist network.
The Times cited a US intelligence source as saying that "some of the so-called drone missions are actually Saudi Air Force missions". Barack Obama has quietly escalated the number of attacks during his presidency.
Up to 228 people were killed last year by covert attacks in Yemen, according to the paper, including 26 in one attack by a suspected Saudi bomber in Jaar in southwest Yemen.
US drone attacks in Yemen tripled last year compared to 2011, according to the Washington-based think tank New America Foundation, and for the first time outnumbered those in Pakistan.
The Times, citing figures from monitoring groups, said attacks in Yemen had gone from eight in 2011 to 53 last year, while in Pakistan the number fell from 72 to 46.
The paper reported that this secret aerial war being undertaken in Yemen, and personally overseen by the President, was considered the new template for US intervention abroad, citing the legal problems caused by the capture and detention of enemy combatants in Guantanamo Bay.
"There is no kill or capture anymore. It's kill or kill," a US official told The Times.
Bruce Riedel, an ex-CIA officer and US security expert, told the paper: "There's a part of our policy that goes back to Saudi Arabia. We outsource this problem (of AQAP) to the Saudis, make it their problem. It is their problem."
There are 88 Yemenis in the Cuba jail, making up more than half of its population. "We have a problem," Mr Riedel told The Times. "What are we going to do with a captured enemy combatant? Where are we going to put him? We cannot turn them over to the Yemenis for the same reason we can't turn the Guantanamo prisoners over to the Yemenis."
A new US drone strike on Thursday, local time, killed three al-Qa'ida suspects in the town of Rada in Yemen's central Bayda province, tribal sources said. It was the fifth such strike in 10 days.
The American Civil Liberties Union has tried to force the White House to publish secret memos on the legality of the drone strikes, but the suit was blocked by a court in New York this week.
A federal judge upheld the White House's right to secrecy but admitted that she had been caught in a "veritable catch-22".
"I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the executive branch of our government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our constitution and laws," judge Colleen McMahon said.
Yemen's new President Abd-Rabbu Mansour al-Hadi has co-operated with the US and claims responsibility for every drone strike against targets in the country. On New Year's Eve, AQAP offered gold and cash to anyone who kills the US ambassador or US soldiers in Yemen.
A video showed a stack of gold bullion and a photo of ambassador Gerald Feierstein, with the caption: "3000g of gold (worth about $144,000) to whoever kills the jewish (sic) US ambassador in Sanaa."
AQAP seized on the weakness of Yemen's central government during an uprising in 2011 against now ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh, seizing large swathes of territory across the south.
THE TIMES, AFP