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Document Friday: “We do not have a military role in this conflict.” Really?

December 10, 2010

Phillip Crowley, Assistant Secretary of State.

Almost a year ago, US Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley opened a press conference: “First of all, the United States is deeply concerned by the formal indictment on charges of inciting subversion of the well-known Chinese democracy activist Liu Xiaobo on December 10th, which was, ironically, International Human Rights Day.”

This week, ironically on the same day Crowley announced World Press Freedom Day, the US government allegedly began negotiations with Sweden to extradite Julian Assange of wikileaks to the United States so that he could be prosecuted for making classified documents available to the public.

Later in Crowley’s 2009 press conference, he denied that the US “had a military role” in launching missile strikes on Yemeni territory, which targeted members of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.  A document from wikileaks reveals that this was not the case.  If you watch a video (at 10:58), you can see that the Crowley cuts off the questioner with his “No!” before the journalist can even finish his sentence.

Here’s a transcript:

QUESTION: On the conflict in Yemen, Houthis say that U.S. warplanes have launched airstrikes in northern Yemen. Is the U.S. involved in any military operations in Yemen?

MR. CROWLEY: No.

QUESTION: No?

MR. CROWLEY: But we – those kinds of reports keep cropping up. We do not have a military role in this conflict.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

On 17 December 2009 the Washington Post reported that it “was unclear” if US firepower “was employed” in the attacks.

Thanks to wikileaks (and very good reporting by Justin Elliot at Salon), we know that US firepower in the form of fighter jets and cruise missiles “was employed” in strikes on Yemeni territory.  The Yemeni President Saleh and US General David Petraeus said as much.  From Cable 10SANAA4.

¶2. (S/NF) CENTCOM Commander General David Petraeus, accompanied by the Ambassador, CENTCOM aides, the Embassy DATT, and EconOff note taker, congratulated President Saleh on successful operations against AQAP during a January 2 meeting. The General told Saleh that he had requested USD 150 million in security assistance for 2010, a substantial increase over the 2009 amount of USD 67 million. Also present were Minister of Defense MG Muhammed Nasser Ahmad Ali and Deputy Prime Minister for Defense and Security Affairs Rashad al-Alimi. Raising a topic that he would manage to insert into almost every item of discussion during the hour and half-long meeting, Saleh requested that the U.S. provide the ROYG with 12 armed helicopters. Possessing such helicopters would allow the ROYG to take the lead in future CT operations, “ease” the use of fighter jets and cruise missiles against terrorist targets, and allow Yemeni Special Operations Forces to capture terrorist suspects and identify victims following strikes, according to Saleh. The U.S. could convince Saudi Arabia and the UAE to supply six helicopters each if the American “bureaucracy” prevented quick approval, Saleh suggested. The General responded that he had already considered the ROYG’s request for helicopters and was in discussions with Saudi Arabia on the matter. “We won’t use the helicopters in Sa’ada, I promise. Only against al-Qaeda,” Saleh told General Petraeus…

4. (S/NF) Saleh praised the December 17 and 24 strikes against AQAP but said that “mistakes were made” in the killing of civilians in Abyan. The General responded that the only civilians killed were the wife and two children of an AQAP operative at the site, prompting Saleh to plunge into a lengthy and confusing aside …

5. (S/NF) President Obama has approved providing U.S. intelligence in support of ROYG ground operations against AQAP targets, General Petraeus informed Saleh. Saleh reacted coolly, however, to the General’s proposal to place USG personnel inside the area of operations armed with real-time, direct feed intelligence from U.S. ISR platforms overhead. “You cannot enter the operations area and you must stay in the joint operations center,” Saleh responded. Any U.S. casualties in strikes against AQAP would harm future efforts, Saleh asserted. Saleh did not have any objection, however, to General Petraeus’ proposal to move away from the use of cruise missiles and instead have U.S. fixed-wing bombers circle outside Yemeni territory, “out of sight,” and engage AQAP targets when actionable intelligence became available. Saleh lamented the use of cruise missiles that are “not very accurate” and welcomed the use of aircraft-deployed precision-guided bombs instead. “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours,” Saleh said, prompting Deputy Prime Minister Alimi to joke that he had just “lied” by telling Parliament that the bombs in Arhab, Abyan, and Shebwa were American-made but deployed by the ROYG.*

Of course, the attacks that Crowley denied happened before the 17 and 24 December strikes that Petraeus and Saleh discussed.  Which is more likely: That US firepower “was employed” in earlier attacks as well? Or that Crowley was telling the truth, and that the US government completely reversed its policy toward Yemen during the two to three days after Crowley spoke?

An unexploded BLU 97 cluster bomblet found in Yemen. From Amnesty International.

Five days after the December 17 attacks, Crowley again told the American public that the US had no “direct role” in Yemen (He first quipped, “I’m sure that those of you in the room understand the importance of freedom of the press.video).

QUESTION: Okay. Do you believe that Iran is supporting Houthi rebels in Yemen making border incursions into Saudi Arabia? And has the U.S. been asked for assistance by the Saudis to deal with these incursions?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, obviously, this is something that we want to see resolved as quickly as possible. We remain concerned about the loss of life that’s occurring on both sides. We continue to provide advice, training, and equipment to both Saudi Arabia and Yemen as part of our ongoing security cooperation. We have no direct role in what’s happening along the border. As to what is driving this, it’s hard for us to know, but we clearly will continue to work with both countries and try to have this come to a successful conclusion as quickly as possible.

Quickly shipping arms from the US to Yemen via Saudi Arabia is distinctly different than having no “military role.”

US strikes –presumably– against Al- Qaeda operatives in Yemen have continued.  According to Amnesty International, a June 2010 strike using US missiles killed 41 civilians.   Additionally, President Obama has singled out Anwar_al-Awlaki, an American citizen living in Yemen for “targeted killing.”  al-Awlaki communicated with the Fort Hood shooter, the Underwear Bomber, and other members of Al-Qaeda who committed terrorist attacks.

The debate rages about the extent wikileaks harms US national security; whether it helps or harms transparency; and even if the phenomenon is good or evil.

In this case (and surely others) wikilieaks exposed that a US State Department Assistant Secretary was less than truthful to the American public.

* Saleh also told Petraeus to “Tell (Djiboutian President Ismail Guelleh that I don’t care if he smuggles whiskey into Yemen –Provided it’s good whiskey ) but not drugs or weapons.”

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Ron permalink
    December 11, 2010 8:23 am

    Several thousand Americans were privy to these lies (Think State Dept, DOD, DIA, CIA, et al). Ask any of them, today, which is the truth and they will respond “no comment”. The very nature of having access to confidential information is to force the holder of that information to lie in public.

    The emphasis on “the liar” is misdirected. The question is, was classification of this information justified? If the answer is, yes, then the lie is also appropriate.

  2. Misery permalink
    January 4, 2011 10:02 am

    Hurray for wiki leaks at least we get some sort of transparency.. Of course they all lie.
    The only defense they have it to try and discredit the informer and lock him up .

    How convenient. Sounds like the got that idea from merry old England where off to the tower they went and then it was off with their heads.

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