Source: The Wall Street Journal
WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama, in a letter to Congress on Friday, publicly acknowledged what may be one of his administration's worst-kept national-security secrets -- that the US military conducts strikes in Yemen and Somalia against wanted militants allegedly linked to al Qaeda.
The move effectively declassifies the existence of the military's targeted-killing campaigns against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen and certain al Qaeda and al Shabaab militants in Somalia, though without providing any details about the operations themselves.
Officials said the disclosure was an important, if incremental, step toward publicly acknowledging a key component of the administration's national-security strategy. The CIA's covert drone campaigns in Yemen and Pakistan have not been similarly declassified, officials said. The CIA does not conduct strikes in Somalia.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which has sued the government to obtain information about the CIA's targeted killing program, said Friday's disclosure was a step in the right direction, but insufficient on its own.
Friday's letter follows limited disclosures in recent months by Obama and some of his top counter terrorism advisers that officials say have partially lifted the veil of secrecy surrounding the administration's use of drones to kill wanted militants in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
"In a limited number of cases, the US military has taken direct action in Somalia against members of al Qaeda, including those who are also members of al Shabaab, who are engaged in efforts to carry out terrorist attacks against the United States and our interests," the letter to Congress said.
In Yemen, the military works with the Yemeni government to "operationally dismantle and ultimately eliminate" the threat posed by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, the letter said, adding: "Our joint efforts have resulted in direct action against a limited number of AQAP operatives and senior leaders in that country who posed a terrorist threat to the United States and our interests."
The CIA conducts its own drone strikes in Yemen alongside the US military's Joint Special Operations Command. Likewise, the CIA conducts drone strikes against militants in the tribal areas of Pakistan.
The military campaigns were disclosed for the first time in the president's semiannual War Powers report to Congress. Previous reports to Congress only mentioned the operations in a classified annex.
Officials noted that most of the US military's strikes in Yemen and Somalia are publicly reported by the media after they take place. In many cases, the strikes are acknowledged by US officials, though not for attribution by name.