4 January 2013
Saudi Arabia has joined the United States in prosecuting an undeclared aerial war against al-Qaeda in Yemen, The Times has learnt.
The disclosure that US drone strikes in Yemen have been bolstered by Saudi fighter jets will raise fresh questions about the legality of America’s expanding programme of targeted killings.
Covert airstrikes against Yemeni targets outnumbered those in Pakistan for the first time last year, as the White House discarded its “kill or capture” strategy and the region became a template for the systematic use of deadly force against terror suspects worldwide.
The Times has learnt that up to 228 people were killed last year by covert attacks in Yemen, including Saudi airstrikes. “Some of the so-called drone missions are actually Saudi Air Force missions,” a US intelligence official said.
At least three suspected al-Qaeda militants were killed yesterday by the fifth drone strike in southern Yemen in ten days. The missile destroyed a car in an area southeast of the capital, Sanaa, where al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has established the world’s most active terrorist network.
The clandestine aerial war in Yemen, overseen personally by President Obama, is viewed in Washington as a new model for US intervention abroad, as the unpopular war in Afghanistan is wound down.
Legal issues arising from the arrest of enemy combatants intended for trial in the US, detention at Guantánamo Bay or local prosecution have become so onerous that the Pentagon has recast its orders. “There is no kill or capture any more. It’s kill or kill,” a US official said.
Although officially denied, the US has rapidly increased its use of drone strikes under Mr Obama.
Abd-Rabbu Mansour al-Hadi, the Yemeni President, has co-operated with the US and officially claims responsibility for every drone strike against targets within his country’s borders. He has made no such public declaration on airstrikes launched against his citizens by a neighbouring air force.
An attempt by the American Civil Liberties Union to force the publication of secret White House memos on the legality of the drone strikes was thwarted by a court in New York this week.
A federal judge upheld the White House’s right to secrecy but admitted that she had been caught in a “veritable Catch-22”.
“I can find no way around the thicket of laws and
precedents that effectively allow the executive branch of our Government to
proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face
incompatible with our constitution and laws,” Judge Colleen McMahon said.