The United States has deployed Predator drones to hunt for al-Qaida operatives in Yemen for the first time in years but has not fired missiles from the unmanned aircraft because it lacks solid intelligence on the insurgents' whereabouts, the Washington Post reported Saturday, citing unnamed senior U.S. officials.
The newspaper said it was told that the Predators have been patrolling the skies over Yemen for several months in search of leaders and operatives of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula who, after withstanding a flurry of attacks involving Yemeni forces and U.S. cruise missiles this year, have dropped out of sight.
The use of drones in Yemen underscores the deep U.S. reliance on what has become a signature weapon against al-Qaida and other terrorist groups. The deployment also represents an attempt by the Obama administration to reinvigorate a campaign that has gone without a visible U.S. strike for nearly six months.
Yemeni officials said the United States had not yet pushed for the use of Predator-fired missiles and indicated that they had deep reservations about weapons they said could prove counterproductive.
"Why gain enemies right now?" said Mohammed Abdulahoum, a senior Yemeni official. "Americans are not rejected in Yemen; the West is respected. Why waste all this for one or two strikes when you don't know who you're striking?"
Instead, Yemen has asked the administration to speed up shipment of promised helicopters and other equipment for its own use, and to recognize the backlash that a more visible U.S. campaign could cause.
The only known drone strike to have occurred in Yemen came in 2002, when the CIA fired on a vehicle carrying Abu Ali al-Harithi, an al-Qaida operative accused of organizing the 2000 attack on the USS Cole.
Arrest ordered: A Yemeni judge on Saturday ordered the "forcible arrest" of American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki after the latter failed to appear Tuesday at a trial where he was accused of killing a foreigner, the New York Times reported Saturday. Awlaki, who is thought to be hiding among fellow tribesmen in Yemen's remote Shabwa province, has been the subject of intense American scrutiny since he was linked to Maj. Nidal Malik Hassan, the Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people in Fort Hood, Texas, last year, and to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian charged with trying to blow up a Detroit-bound jetliner on Dec. 25.