In the first week of November, directly after the discovery of two explosive parcels mailed from Yemen to the United States, Washington moved a squadron of Predator drones to a secret base at the Yemeni Red Sea port of Al Hodaydah , debkafile's exclusive military sources disclose. Until now, the covert facility – finished in April on a site CIA director Leon Panetta has selected last January – was allotted to US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) units for mounting clandestine raids against Al Qaeda cells deep inside Yemen.
The new deployment of drones elevates American military intervention in Yemen by another notch.
Against Sanaa's claim that the war on Al Qaeda is carried out exclusively by the Yemeni army, our sources reveal that for some time now, US warplanes and drones have been crisscrossing Yemeni skies from their bases in Djibouti and the decks of aircraft carriers offshore. Officials in Sanaa have habitually claimed those sorties were the work of the Yemeni air force, although it has neither the aircraft nor the air crews able to conduct these precision attacks.
debkafile's Middle East sources note that it is the first time in seven years that US air strike forces are stationed on Arabian Peninsula soil. In 2003, the American Air force dismantled its Saudi base and withdrew to Qatar and Oman.
Monday, Nov. 8, Yemeni Foreign Minsiter Abu Bakr al-Kurbi stated: "The United States cooperates with Yemen in intelligence but the operations are conducted by the Yemeni security forces."
Nonetheless, US military sources in Washington reiterated that America had deployed Predators in Yemen. Asked to comment on these reports, Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan said: "We have any number of capabilities and we don't talk about specifics."
To pacify the Yemeni government, certain American officials claimed the drones deployed in Al Hodaydah were not armed with missiles although they did not confirm or deny that missiles adapted to the Predators were present at the base ready for immediate action should the need or opportunity arise to strike an important al Qaeda target. Other US sources claimed the Predators were armed but had never fired missiles as yet.
debkafile's military sources explain the mixed accounts by the fact that Washington and Sanaa are still bargaining hard on terms for activating armed US drones from Yemeni soil. At the same time, should the American commanders at Hodeira see a good chance of targeting a high-profile al Qaeda operative, such as Anwar Al Awlaki, they will not think twice before doing so – even in the middle of these negotiations.
Monday night, Nov. 9, Awlaki himself aired a 25-minute videotape on extremist websites. It was devoted to an unbridled attack on America. Muslims around the world were called upon to kill Americans. "Don't consult with anybody in killing the Americans," he said. "Fighting the devil doesn't require consultation or prayers seeking divine guidance. They are the party of the devils. It is either us or them."