Washington: The White House is partially lifting the lid of secrecy on its counterterrorism campaign against al Qaeda in Yemen and Somalia by formally acknowledging for the first time that it is conducting lethal attacks in those countries, officials said.
The White House`s semi-annual report to Congress on the state of US combat operations abroad, delivered yesterday, mentions what has been widely reported for years but never formally acknowledged by the administration: The US military has been taking "direct action" against members of al Qaeda and affiliates in Yemen and Somalia.
The report does not elaborate, but "direct action" is a military term of art that refers to a range of lethal attacks, which in the case of Yemen and Somalia include attacks by armed drones. The report does not mention drones or other weapons.
The report applies only to US military operations, including those by special operations forces not those conducted by the CIA.
The report does not provide details of any military operations in either Yemen or Somalia. It merely acknowledges they have happened. Killings of terror suspects overseas are acknowledged by the administration, but it does not mention the involvement of drones. The CIA and military have separate drone fleets.
The decision by President Barack Obama to declassify the existence of the counterterror actions in those two countries amounts an incremental move toward greater openness about the use of US force overseas. It does not reflect any change in the intensity or basic character of the US campaign to defeat al Qaeda.
A previous step in the direction of greater official transparency came in April when the White House`s counterterrorism chief, John Brennan, made the first formal confirmation that the US uses armed drones against terrorists. But he did not mention their use in specific countries.
The new information in yesterday`s report comes amid outcries from some in Congress about leaks to the news media about details of classified activities such as the existence of a White House "kill list" of targeted al Qaeda militants.
The accusation, mostly by Republicans, is that the White House has orchestrated the leaks to improve Obama`s re-election chances, an allegation the President has rejected as "offensive" and "wrong”.