Yemen requests armed drones from US to combat al Qaeda

Yemeni president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi is requesting Washington hand over a number of armed drones to his forces, to combat al Qaeda forces based in the southern part of the country. 

"I have discussed the issue of helping us acquire this technology with the U.S. administration," Hadi reportedly told local media outlets, according to Reuters

Yemen is one of several countries that U.S. military and intelligence forces have conducted armed drone strikes against suspected terrorist groups. 

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Hadi acknowledged he had approved the U.S. drone strikes in Yemen because his forces did not have the ability or know-how to operate the unmanned aircraft on their own. 

However, on Thursday, Hadi said Yemeni troops were ready to conduct aerial drone strikes on their own but needed the Obama administration to provide the aircraft and munitions to Sanaa. 

The White House and Pentagon have yet to publicly respond to Hadi's request for the armed, unmanned aircraft. 

Southern Yemen has long been the stronghold of al Qaeda's main faction in the country, known as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). 

The Pentagon and White House recently ramped up those attacks against AQAP, considered the most dangerous and well-funded of the group's terror cells, after a terror threat by the group against U.S. targets in the Middle East and North Africa. 

Yemen is not the only country in the Mideast to request armed drone operations. 

In April, Iraqi intelligence inquired about having U.S. drones take out targets along the Syrian border. 

While no formal request from Baghdad has been made to the CIA or the Defense Department for the unmanned aircraft, drone strikes would be the first real offensive use of American military firepower against either side involved in the Syrian conflict. 

Iraq reportedly requested the drone strikes after gunmen from al Qaeda's Syrian and Iraqi factions ambushed a convoy of Iraqi and Syrian troops along the border that month. 

The attack by members of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and Al-Nusra Front in Syria left 48 soldiers dead, The Associated Press reported at the time. 

On Thursday, Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP senators appalled by 'ridiculous' House infighting MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace, Chris Christie battle over Fox News Trump's attacks on McConnell seen as prelude to 2024 White House bid MORE (R-Ariz.) ripped the Obama administration for its inaction to resolve the Syrian civil war. 

The White House's reluctance to act on recent allegations of chemical weapons attacks by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad against anti-government rebels has denigrated the administration's reputation in the region, according to McCain. 

“American credibility in the Middle East has never been lower,” McCain said in a statement. “Red lines on Syria have been threatened with no action taken. 

"Threats to cut off assistance to Egypt have been made and then reneged. Our friends and enemies alike, both in the Middle East and across the world are questioning whether America has the will and the capacity to do what it says," he added. 

On Monday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey reiterated the Pentagon's position that it is not planning any military action in Syria. 

Any U.S. military intervention in Syria "would not be militarily decisive" in ending the civil war, but only draw American forces deeper into a conflict that is increasingly leaving Washington with no good options. 

But Yemen's desire to have its own armed drone fleet comes as the Defense Department continues to pump millions in weapons and equipment into the country to support counterterrorism operations there. 

U.S. counterterrorism officials at the Pentagon are setting aside more than $40 million to outfit the Yemeni military with a fleet of new spy planes to battle al Qaeda elements operating in the country. 

Defense Department leaders plan to buy 12 Seabird Seeker surveillance aircraft for Yemen, according to a department notice of the program sent to Capitol Hill. 

The fleet of small, fixed-wing surveillance planes will be equipped with electro-optic and infrared sensors, at a cost of $27.2 million, according to the Pentagon notice. 

American military planners have also cordoned off $11.4 million in funding to buy 48 surveillance "stations", which will allow Yemeni forces to track imagery intelligence gathered from the spy planes. 

The program is funded through the joint Pentagon and State Department "Security Assistance Fund," known inside the department as Section 1206 funding, after the section in the 2006 defense authorization act that created the fund. 

Programs funded under the 1206 account are specifically geared to assist counterterrorism operations in foreign countries by partner nation forces. 

Machine guns, sniper rifles, aerial drones and two new operating bases were all part of a $75 million Pentagon counterterrorism package sent to Yemen last year.