ABC News' Luis Martinez ( @luismartinezabc ) At his Senate confirmation hearing today to be the next Defense Secretary, CIA Director Leon Panetta said that despite the turmoil in Yemen, the United States is receiving cooperation for going after terror targets in that country.
The comments come on the heels of news today that the U.S. launched an airstrike last Friday in Yemen that resulted in the death of an operative of the terrorist group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
US officials tell ABC News that Abu Ali al-Arithi was killed in southern Yemen last Friday in the airstrike, which was from a US military drone. U.S. fighter aircraft were also part of the operation and were in the vicinity of the drone strike, but did not launch missiles. This is a similar situation to what happened in a drone strike in May that nearly missed AQAP leader Anwar al-Awlaki. The report of Friday’s airstrike in Yemen was first reported by the New York Times.
Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee today that the situation in Yemen is “dangerous and uncertain” as President Saleh’s government struggles to hold onto power. However, he said the United States is still receiving counterterrorism cooperation from Yemen.
Panetta said of Yemen, “It's obviously a dangerous and uncertain situation, but we continue to work with elements there to try to develop counterterrorism. “
Later he was more specific in saying Yemeni authorities were still cooperating in going after the AQAP terror network. “We are continuing to work with those individuals in their government to try to go after AQAP. And we are continuing to receive cooperation from them,” he said.
Earlier this week, the Pentagon announced that the security situation in Yemen had led the approximately 100 American military trainers working with that country’s counterterrorism force to suspend their training.
Panetta said Awlaki is a threat because his computer-savvy has enable him to urge and recruit potential terrorists online “particularly in this country, to conduct attacks here. So that's a concern.”
During his comments about Yemen today, Panetta mentioned cooperation with Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the military unit involved in secret counterterrorism operations around the world. He appeared to indicate that the CIA was also working with JSOC in operations in Somalia targeting the terror group al Shabab. Pentagon officials later said that Panetta was speaking about counterterrorism cooperation in broad terms and not specifically about JSOC operations in Somalia
Panetta indicated there is intelligence that al Shabab is looking at conducting terror operations beyond Somalia.
- Luis Martinez