yemen - leaks confirm Petraeus uses his cluster
: US Cable Confirms US Killed Women and Children
cable gives al-Qaida new 'recruiting' tool
Envoy's report released by WikiLeaks
indicates Yemeni leaders 'lied' about air strikes
to cover up U.S. involvement
By Michael Isikoff National investigative
November 30, 2010 "NBC News" -- The U.S.
media paid scant attention in June when Amnesty
International released a report charging that U.S.
cruise missiles carrying cluster bombs had struck
the village of al Majalah in southern Yemen on
Dec. 17, 2009, killing 41 civilians, including 14
women and 21 children.
Pentagon officials declined to discuss the matter
at the time. But accusations of direct U.S.
participation in that bombing and others in Yemen
that reportedly caused civilian casualties
quickly became a principal theme of al-Qaida
That theme is now likely to get even more
traction as a result of the disclosure by
WikiLeaks of an unusually revealing State
Department cable in which Yemeni President Ali
Abdullah Saleh and his top ministers appear to
agree to cover up the extent of the U.S. military
role in disputed air strikes in Yemen.
President Saleh's comments will be
translated and used over and over again by al-Qaida
in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) as a recruiting
and propaganda tool, Gregory Johnsen, a
leading U.S. expert on the terror
organizations Yemeni affiliate, told NBC on
Monday. His statements and those of his top
ministers of deceiving and lying to the Yemeni
public and parliament
fit seamlessly into
a narrative that AQAP has been peddling in Yemen
for years. This is something AQAP will take
immediate and lasting advantage of.
As Johnsens comments suggest, the Jan. 4,
2010, cable recounting a meeting between U.S. Gen.
David Petraeus, then commander of U.S. Central
Command, and Saleh and his top ministers may well
be among the most significant of the scores of
documents that have been made public by WikiLeaks
Not only are the full contents of the cable
likely to weaken Saleh politically, the document
seems to confirm what the U.S. government has
never officially acknowledged: that it is deeply
involved in prosecuting a military campaign
against al-Qaida in a region thousands of miles
away from the battlefields in Afghanistan.
In the cable, Saleh told Petraeus that
mistakes were made during the Dec. 17
strike and another one on Dec. 24 (which was
initially, and wrongly, reported to have killed
radical U.S.-born imam Anwar Al-Awlaki),
specifically referring to the killing of
civilians in Yemens southern Abyan
province. He also complained later in the meeting
that U.S. cruise missiles are not very
While Petraeus dismissed the notion that
innocents were killed (he insisted the only
civilians killed were the wife and two
children of an al-Qaida operative), he
later proposed to move away from the use of
cruise missiles and instead have U.S. fixed wing
bombers circle outside Yemeni territory,
out of sight, and engage AQAP targets
when actionable intelligence became available.
Well continue saying the bombs are
ours, not yours, Saleh said, according to
the cable. This prompted Deputy Prime Minister
Rashad alAlimi to joke that he had
just lied by telling parliament that
the bombs in Ahrab, Abyan and Shebwa (provinces)
were American-made but deployed by the ROYG (Republic
of Yemen Government.)
The casual disclosure that the Yemenis had
lied about the U.S. role in the air
strikes might be dismissed as typical of the kind
of diplomatic deceptions that are necessary in an
especially volatile portion of the Mideast.
But there is more to the back story of the Dec.
17 strike. It provoked a domestic uproar inside
Yemen, spurred a
parliamentary inquiry and
prompted Amnesty International to send its own
team to investigate on the ground. The
groups investigators concluded that the air
strike, while killing 14 suspected militants, had
largely killed women and children; the Amnesty
team also came back with photographs that it said
showed the wreckage of a U.S. made Tomahawk
cruise missile and portions of unexposed cluster
bombs munitions that have sparked
international attempts to ban their use because
of their indiscriminate impact. Amnesty also
noted in its report that when Yemeni
parliamentary investigators arrived in the
village of al-Majalah, they found that all
the homes and their contents were burnt and all
that was left were traces of furniture.
The fact that so many of the victims were
actually women and children indicates that the
attack was in fact grossly irresponsible,
particularly given the likely use of cluster
munitions, said Philip Luther, deputy
director of Amnestys International Middle
East and North Africa Program.
Just as unnoticed in the U.S. media was the
degree to which images from the Dec. 17 strike in
al-Majalah and the account of civilian casualties
were used by al-Qaida. An al-Qaida video from
last spring flashed images of civilians burned
and mutilated in the attack and talked about how
a U.S. cruise missile poured its lava over
al-Majalah Village and scorched the bodies
of women who were "baking bread for
breakfast" in their homes.
On Monday, in the wake of the WikiLeaks
disclosure, an Amnesty International spokeswoman
said the organization plans to renew its call for
a U.S. investigation of the Dec. 17 air strike
a request that went unanswered when it
released its report in June.
Its fair to say that this leak kind
of confirms what we were saying in our report,
said Sharon Singh, adding that both the Yemeni
and the American public deserve to know the full
truth about the air strike.
But so far, at least, the Pentagon isnt
talking. Asked whether U.S. cruise missiles are
being used in air strikes in Yemen, Pentagon
spokesman David Lapan said: "We work with
the government of Yemen as well as others in the
region to counter the threat of terrorism in the
region." But, he added, "we don't
discuss the nature of our operations."
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