By KIMBERLY DOZIER | AP
WASHINGTON: Preparing for a worst-case scenario in Yemen, the United States is building a secret CIA air base in the Gulf to target Al-Qaeda terrorists there, in case anti-American factions win the current power struggle and shut US forces out, The Associated Press has learned.
The White House has already increased the numbers of CIA officers in Yemen, in anticipation of that possibility. And it has stepped up the schedule to construct the base, from a two-year timetable to a rushed eight months.
The Associated Press has withheld the exact location of the base at the request of US officials. They spoke on condition of anonymity because portions of the military and CIA missions in Yemen are classified.
The current campaign is run by a military counterterrorism unit, the Joint Special Operations Command, with the CIA providing intelligence support. JSOC forces have been allowed by the Yemeni government of Ali Abdullah Saleh to conduct limited strikes there since 2009. Saleh loyalists have recently allowed expanded strikes by US armed drones and even warplanes against Al-Qaeda targets who are taking advantage of civil unrest to grab power and territory in Yemen.
CIA Director Leon Panetta said last week that agency officers were working in Yemen together with JSOC, as well as other areas where Al-Qaeda is active. But the CIA would not confirm the White House decision to build the CIA base or expand the agency’s operations in Yemen.
The new base suggests a long-term US commitment to fighting Al-Qaeda in the region, along the lines of the model used in Pakistan, where CIA drones hunt militants with tacit, though not public, Pakistani government approval. Drones like Reapers and Predators are unmanned aircraft that can be flown from remote locations and hover over a target before firing a missile. read more