Obama acknowledges drone strikes in Yemen and Somalia
By ADAM ENTOUS
Posted: Jun 16, 2012 9:20 AM
WASHINGTON-President Barack Obama, in a letter to Congress on Friday,
publicly acknowledged what may be one of his administration's worst-kept
national-security secrets: that the U.S. military conducts strikes in Yemen
and Somalia against wanted militants allegedly linked to al Qaeda.
The move effectively declassifies the existence of the military's
targeted-killing campaigns against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in
Yemen and certain al Qaeda and al Shabaab militants in Somalia, though
without providing any details about the operations themselves.
Officials said the disclosure was an important, if incremental, step toward
publicly acknowledging a key component of the administration's
national-security strategy. The Central Intelligence Agency's covert drone
campaigns in Yemen and Pakistan haven't been similarly declassified,
officials said. The CIA doesn't conduct strikes in Somalia.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which has sued the government to obtain
information about the CIA's targeted killing program, said Friday's
disclosure was a step in the right direction, but insufficient on its own.
"The acknowledgment alone is not all we think they should do," said Jameel
Jaffer, the ACLU's deputy legal director. "The public is entitled to more
information about the legal standards that apply, the process by which they
add names to the kill list, and the facts they rely on in order to justify
Friday's letter follows limited disclosures in recent months by Mr. Obama
and some of his top counterterrorism advisers that officials say have
partially lifted the veil of secrecy surrounding the administration's use of
drones to kill wanted militants in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
"In a limited number of cases, the U.S. military has taken direct action in
Somalia against members of al-Qa'ida, including those who are also members
of al Shabaab, who are engaged in efforts to carry out terrorist attacks
against the United States and our interests," the letter to Congress said.
In Yemen, the military works with the Yemeni government to "operationally
dismantle and ultimately eliminate" the threat posed by al Qaeda in the
Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, the letter said, adding: "Our joint efforts have
resulted in direct action against a limited number of AQAP operatives and
senior leaders in that country who posed a terrorist threat to the United
States and our interests."
The CIA conducts its own drone strikes in Yemen alongside the U.S.
military's Joint Special Operations Command. Likewise, the CIA conducts
drone strikes against militants in the tribal areas of Pakistan.
The military campaigns were disclosed for the first time in the president's
semiannual War Powers report to Congress. Previous reports to Congress only
mentioned the operations in a classified annex.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pushed for
making the public disclosure in the letter to Congress after a review
concluded that doing so wouldn't compromise U.S. national security or
military operations, said his spokesman, Col. David Lapan.
"When U.S. military forces are involved in combat anywhere in the world, and
information about those operations does not compromise national or
operational security, Gen. Dempsey believes the American public should be
kept appropriately informed," Col. Lapan said.
Officials noted that most of the U.S. military's strikes in Yemen and
Somalia are publicly reported by the media after they take place. In many
cases, the strikes are acknowledged by U.S. officials, though not for
attribution by name. While disclosing publicly the existence of the
programs, officials said details about specific strikes in Yemen and Somalia
would continue to be kept secret.
-Julian E. Barnes contributed to this article.
Write to Adam Entous at <mailto:adam.entous_at_wsj.com> adam.entous_at_wsj.com
Received on Sun Jun 17 2012 - 01:20:24 EDT