Why Yemen claims role in US drone strike on cleric Anwar al-Awlaki
President Saleh's government, besieged by protests and clinging to power, is hoping to prove its usefulness as the US pursues radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and other terror suspects in Yemen.
This week’s US attempt to kill a radical Islamic cleric in Yemen, via a drone attack, indicates that the Obama administration is capitalizing on political unrest there to extract intelligence about the terrorist group Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula.Skip to next paragraph
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The drone strikes on Thursday, aimed at American-born Anwar al-Awlaki, missed their intended target but killed two brothers affiliated with the Islamist terrorist group, after Mr. Awlaki and a traveling companion switched vehicles with them. The US has been targeting Awlaki since the 2009 “Christmas Day underwear bomber” plot, one of the attempted attacks on the US in which officials say he had a role.
Unlike the attack in Pakistan earlier in the week that killed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the US strikes in Yemen were conducted with the full knowledge and cooperation of the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Indeed, the Yemeni government is asserting that it provided the US with key intelligence about Awlaki.
“The Yemeni government gave the US authorities vital details of Awlaki’s whereabouts … days ago,” a senior Yemeni security official told The Wall Street Journal.
The burst of cooperation appears to be a bid from the Saleh government for greater US support as it struggles to hold onto power. Yemen is among the Arab states that have seen mass protests this year from citizens demanding greater freedom – and an end to decades of rule by autocratic leaders. Mr. Saleh, who has led Yemen since a military coup in 1978, now finds himself clinging to office.
A US official told the Journal that information about Awlaki has indeed been more forthcoming since the domestic uprising began – and that Saleh has sought to win greater US political support in return. The US has backed a proposal by Gulf Arab mediators to ease Saleh out of power within a month – a deal that Saleh himself now appears to be resisting.
If Awlaki has become a pawn in Saleh’s bid to stay in power, it’s not clear what the US would do for Yemen's president in return. The US has expressed concern that Yemen, already overseen by a weak government, could become even more of a haven for Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which the Obama administration now considers to be the most active terrorist organization.