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Yemen has U.S. drones available for use, foreign minister says

By Hala Gorani, CNN
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Yemeni official: We have US drones
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • He says U.S. is helping find al Qaeda agents
  • Yemen's air force carries out strikes, and U.S. and his country share intelligence, he says
  • Newspaper: U.S. official says drones have yet to fire on suspected targets in Yemen
  • Recent bombing attempts have put focus on terrorist activity in Yemen

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (CNN) -- Yemen's foreign minister has told CNN that his country has U.S. military drones at its disposal and that U.S. intelligence is helping find al Qaeda operatives.

Asked by CNN whether the Yemeni air force has unmanned drones, Abu Bakr Abdullah Al Qirbi replied: "Yes, it has." He then confirmed they were U.S. drones.

Al Qirbi was then asked about drone strikes against suspected terrorist targets. "Do those happen with the cooperation of the Yemeni government?" he was asked.

"The attacks are undertaken by the Yemeni air force," he said, "but there is intelligence information that is exchanged about the location of the terrorists by the Americans."

Yemeni officials later clarified his remarks, saying Al Qirbi was talking about air strikes by Yemen's air force, and not attacks by drones. Al Qirbi himself later told CNN that there had been no drone strikes between December 2009 and September of this year.

A report in Sunday's Washington Post quoted 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." However, a senior Yemeni official rejected recent media reports of regular drone flights over provinces of Yemen where al Qaeda is thought to be active.

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," Al Qirbi said.

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 has claimed responsibility for placing parcel bombs that U.S. and British officials say were designed to explode in midair. The group has also been linked to an attempted 2009 Christmas Day attack on a commercial airliner by a man with explosives strapped to his underwear.