x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Suspected US drone kills 3 in Yemen

A US drone has killed four Al Qaeda suspects in Yemen, the third such strike in five days.

SANAA // A US drone killed four Al Qaeda suspects in Yemen yesterday, a security official said, the third such strike in five days.

Yemen's US-backed campaign against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Pensinsula (AQAP) and with the fate of Yemeni detainees held at Guantanamo Bay were expected to be high on the agenda of Abdrabu Mansur Hadi's meeting with President Barack Obama late last night.

Washington regards AQAP, a merger of militants in Yemen and neighbouring Saudi Arabia, as the worldwide terror network's most active and dangerous branch.

The latest drone strike came in the southeastern province of Hadramawt, where AQAP militants have carried out a string of attacks on army personnel, a Yemeni security official said.

The unmanned aircraft "raided an Al Qaeda vehicle in the Wadi Ser area destroying it and killing four militants", the official said.

It was the third deadly drone strike in five days to hit Al Qaeda in Yemen.

On Tuesday, a US drone killed three suspected militants in the southern province of Shabwa. On Saturday, a drone killed six suspected militants in the Mahfad mountains of neighbouring Abyan province.

The US, the only country to operate drones in the region, has sharply increased its use of them against Al Qaeda targets in Yemen over the past two years.

US drones strikes in Yemen nearly tripled in 2012 compared to 2011, from 18 to 53, according to the New America Foundation, a Washington-based think tank.

Mr Hadi met US senators on Wednesday in a bid to persuade Washington to repatriate dozens of Yemeni detainees from the Guantanamo Bay prison.

Expectations that the Obama administration is moving closer to its long-held goal of closing the facility were raised last week when the White House announced it was sending two detainees back to Algeria in the first repatriations for nearly a year.

Yemen is key to any closure of Guantanamo, for 56 of the 86 detainees who have been cleared for transfer or release are from the impoverished country on the Arabian Peninsula.

"I have no reason to believe any releases are imminent," said David Remes, a lawyer for some of the Yemenis detained at Guantanamo. "Everybody says the right thing, and then nothing happens."

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives recently voted twice to block the transfer of detainees to Yemen. Mr Hadi met on Wednesday with members of the Senate foreign relations committee. There is less resistance to shuttering the prison in the Senate, where Mr Obama's fellow Democrats hold a slim majority.

A handful of Senate Republicans, including Arizona's influential Senator John McCain, also want it shut.

The United States halted repatriations to Yemen in 2010 after a man trained by militants there attempted to bomb a US-bound plane in 2009 with a bomb concealed in his underwear.

Transfers to Yemen are more likely to resume if Washington decides its new government has taken adequate measures against Al Qaeda and made the country stable.

"You can't expect them to be able to do this overnight," a senior administration official said. "There was some success last year where they kind of drove out Al Qaeda from their stronghold, but then the threat has evolved somewhat.

"Al Qaeda has shifted to a different kind of campaign in Yemen, where it is no longer about controlling territory in the south, but it's about hit and run, assassination, guerrilla-type tactics," the official said. "So it's about how to adapt to and enhance the Yemenis' ability to address the evolving threat."

 

* With additional reporting by Reuters