Washington: US officials suspected that Yemen had a secret cache of shoulder-fired missiles that could have threatened US forces if it fell in the wrong hands, new cables released by WikiLeaks said.
An embassy cable marked "secret" and dated August 04, 2009 says an informant whose name has been redacted told US political officers that Yemen`s Defence Ministry "does indeed have MANPADS, but would never speak of them because they are considered a state secret."
While Yemen "realises their MANPADS are of little military value, they consider them better than nothing and would turn them over for destruction only if they were able to get a modern air defence system in return."
Man Portable Air Defence Systems (MANPADS) are shoulder-fired missiles designed to down aircraft, and were most famously used by Afghan fighters in the 1980s to shoot down helicopters and eventually drive out Soviet forces.
The cable was published by The New York Times yesterday as part of the release of over 250,000 State Department memos, most from the last three years, by whistleblower website WikiLeaks.
The National Security Bureau (NSB), a Yemeni intelligence agency close to the United States, was convinced the stocks existed, according to the Times.
But one of the US diplomats who drafted the memo was not so sure, writing: "It is hard to know what to believe regarding the presence or absence of MoD (Ministry of Defence) MANPADS."
In the end, the US diplomats decided to continue negotiating with the NSB over the destruction of the MANPADS, since the Defence Ministry "appears unwilling to discuss the issue with (US) officials directly”.
The cable noted that since 2004 the two governments had "dramatically reduced" the availability of such weapons on the black market in Yemen, a deeply tribal country where the government`s power is limited.
Yemen is currently battling Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), an offshoot of Osama bin Laden`s global network that has engineered at least two failed attacks on the United States in the last year.
Shoulder-fired missiles have already been used by al Qaeda in Kenya, Saudi Arabia and Yemen in 2001 and 2002, according to the cable.