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U.S. drones operating in Yemen, foreign minister says

By Hala Gorani, CNN
U.S. drones are currently used in "surveillance operations" in Yemen, its foreign minister says.
U.S. drones are currently used in "surveillance operations" in Yemen, its foreign minister says.
  • Yemen's foreign minister says U.S. drones are being used against al Qaeda in Yemen
  • He claims that Yemen is operating the drones
  • However, Americans are not known to let other countries operate their drones

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (CNN) -- In a rare public admission, Yemen's Foreign Minister told CNN that U.S. drones are aiding his country in its campaign against al Qaeda.

"The [drone] attacks are undertaken by the Yemeni Air Force but there is intelligence information that is exchanged about the location of the terrorists by the Americans," said Abu Bakr Abdullah Al Qirbi.

Although Americans aren't known to let other nations operate their drones, Al Qirbi declined to confirm that Americans were operating the drones in his country. If the Yemeni Air Force is operating the drones as he says, it would be a rare concession by the Americans.

Al Qirbi said that the Yemeni government halted air strikes last December because of the possibility of "collateral damage," but said he could not confirm there had been no strikes in the last month.

A report in Sunday's Washington Post quotes a senior U.S. official as saying the United States has deployed Predator drones in Yemen, but has not yet fired on suspected targets because of unreliable intelligence on "insurgents' whereabouts."

Is Yemen the new Afghanistan?

Al Qirbi confirmed that American drones were currently used in "surveillance operations."

The campaign against al Qaeda in Yemen has gained increased international visibility since a cargo plane bomb plot targeting Western interests was uncovered last week.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has claimed responsibility for placing parcel bombs that U.S. and British officials say were designed to explode in mid-air.

AQAP and its leader, U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, have also been linked to an attempted 2009 Christmas day attack on a commercial airliner by a man with explosives strapped to his underwear.

The Yemeni government, which has little control of restive parts of its territory, has openly asked the United States for assistance in targeting militant positions in Southern Yemen but says help has come slowly.

"It wasn't really until last year that the Americans have been heavily involved in building our counter-terrorism capability and providing us with equipment," said Al Qirbi.