The White House is partially lifting the lid of secrecy on its counterterrorism campaign against al-Qaida in Yemen and Somalia by formally acknowledging for the first time that it is conducting lethal attacks in those countries.
The White House’s semiannual report to Congress on the state of U.S. combat operations abroad, delivered Friday, mentions what has been widely reported for years but never formally acknowledged by the administration: The U.S. military has been taking ”œdirect action” against members of al-Qaida and affiliates in Yemen and Somalia.
The report does not elaborate, but ”œdirect action” is a military term of art that refers to a range of lethal attacks, which in the case of Yemen and Somalia include attacks by armed drones. The report does not mention drones, which are remote-controlled, pilotless aircraft equipped with surveillance cameras and sometimes armed with missiles.
The report applies only to U.S. military operations, including those by special operations forces ”” not those conducted by the CIA.
”œIn all cases we are focused on those al-Qaida members and affiliates who pose a direct threat to the United States and to our national interests,” Pentagon press secretary George Little said after the report’s release. ”œThis report contains information about these operations owing to their growing significance in our overall counterterrorism effort.”
The report does not provide details of any military operations in either Yemen or Somalia. It merely acknowledges they have happened. Killings of terror suspects overseas are acknowledged by the administration, but it does not mention the involvement of drones. The CIA and military have separate drone fleets.
The White House Office of the Press Secretary: Presidential Letter — 2012 War Powers Resolution 6-Month Report, June 15.
Obama Acknowledges U.S. Is Fighting Groups Tied to Al Qaeda in Somalia and Yemen
New York Times, By Peter Baker, June 15
Washington – Opening the window just a little further into his secret war on terrorists, President Obama publicly acknowledged for the first time on Friday that United States military forces had taken ”œdirect action” against groups affiliated with Al Qaeda in Somalia and Yemen.
In a letter to Congress, Mr. Obama said American forces had engaged in ”œa limited number” of operations against members of the Shabab in Somalia and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, arguing that both posed a terrorist threat to ”œthe United States and our interests.”
He gave no further details in the unclassified letter, which accompanied the latest update to lawmakers under the War Powers Act about military operations around the world. More details about the scope of the operations were included in the classified section of the report, administration officials said.
The disclosure formally confirmed what had long been known here and abroad, that the American war on Al Qaeda has spread far from the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan, where it began more than a decade ago. In the past, officials acknowledged helping Somalia and Yemen battle extremists without confirming that American forces were sometimes involved in the fight.
”œIn all cases, we are focused on those Al Qaeda members and affiliates who pose a direct threat to the United States and to our national interests,” George Little, the Pentagon press secretary, said Friday in a statement. ”œThis report contains information about these operations owing to their growing significance in our overall counterterrorism effort.
”œGoing forward,” Mr. Little added, ”œthe American people should know that we will do what is necessary to defend our country against those who would threaten us.”
The declassification of the Yemen and Somalia actions in Friday’s letter had the strong support of Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who argued that the military needed to be open when it could about operations, an administration official said.