Anwar al-Awlaki death: US keeps role under wraps to manage Yemen fallout
The death of the American-born radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki is a “major blow” to al-Qaida, according to president Barack Obama.
But while the president welcomed the death of the “YouTube Bin Laden”, the US authorities were in no hurry to overtly claim credit for the assassination as they managed the potential fallout of the killing in Yemen and across the Middle East.
Speaking a few hours after the drone strike that killed Awlaki, Obama made only a few brief remarks on the subject, describing his death as “another significant milestone” in America’s fight against al-Qaida. The US regarded Awlaki as one of al-Qaida’s most dangerous operatives because of his potential appeal to western radicals.
But Obama’s low key speech stood in marked contrast to the assassination of Osama bin Laden, which was rapidly followed by media briefings and photographs of the president and his team observing the operation.
“This is further proof that al-Qaida and its affiliates will have no safe haven anywhere in the world,” Obama said, before moving swiftly on.
In large part the reticence reflects US sensitivities about Yemen, a country in violent turmoil and where US involvement has provided a propaganda coup for Muslim radicals. Secret US diplomatic cables released last year by WikiLeaks and the Guardian reveal the secrecy that surrounded an offer by Yemen’s president to Washington of “unfettered access” to carry out unilateral strikes against top al-Qaida targets on his soil.
The cable narrates how president Ali Abdullah Saleh effectively “outsourced” Yemen’s own counter-terrorism efforts to the United States.
In line with the covert US approach detailed in the cables, details of the Awlaki operation remain scant. The Yemeni government announced that Awlaki was “targeted and killed” around 9.55am outside the town of Khasaf in a desert stretch of Jawf province, 87 miles (140km) east of the capital Sana’a. It gave no further details…