Yemen FM admits use of US drones |
Gulf Times - 28 June, 2012
Yemen has asked for US drones to be used “in some cases” to target Al Qaeda leaders in the country, its foreign minister said yesterday.
“Drones were used upon Yemen’s request in some cases against fleeing Al Qaeda leaders,” Abubakr al-Qirbi told AFP on the sidelines of a counter-piracy conference in Dubai, in a first official Yemeni confirmation.
Yemeni troops have this month recaptured a string of towns which Al Qaeda militants overran last year across the province of Abyan.
In an interview with ABC television’s This Week, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta defended in May the use of drones as “the most precise weapons we have” in the campaign against the militant group.
His comments were the first time the US formally acknowledged the use of unmanned drones against Al Qaeda suspects in Yemen, where such reports had not been confirmed.
“The fear lies in the infiltration of extremists and terrorists into Yemen” from Somalia, said Qirbi. “It is very difficult for us to tell the difference between someone displaced for humanitarian reasons and a terrorist.”
In February, the commander of the African Union forces in Mogadishu, Major General Fred Mugisha, said Somalia’s Al Qaeda allied Shebaab fighters, close to collapse, were fleeing the war-torn country in large numbers for Yemen.
Earlier this month, a Somali suicide bomber killed the army commander for southern Yemen, General Salem Ali Qoton, who had led a five-week-long offensive against the jihadists.
Last year a record 103,000 refugees, asylum seekers and migrants crossed the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea from the Horn of Africa—mainly Somalis and Ethiopians.
Qirbi said Al Qaeda militants had “developed their capabilities to move from one place to another”, adding that “it is not unlikely” that jihadists in Yemen might have in turn fled to neighbouring Oman.
Omani media on Tuesday quoted foreign ministry official Saeed Badr bin Hamad al-Busaidi as saying his country was investigating reports that Al Qaeda militants had infiltrated the sultanate.