|The leaked documents show Saleh was willing to let the US troops tackle al-Qaeda on Yemeni soil [GALLO/GETTY]|
Yemen’s president secretly offered US forces access to his country to take on al-Qaeda, according to the latest diplomatic cables released by whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.
Ali Abdullah Saleh told John Brennan, the US president’s deputy national security adviser, that the US had an “open door on terrorism” in Yemen, according to reports in The Guardian and The New York Times on Friday.
“I have given you an open door on terrorism. So I am not responsible,” Saleh told Brennan back in September 2009, the papers reported.
But both newspapers said that Yemen has in fact put limits on access by US forces in order to avoid domestic criticism.
Washington fears the country, the poorest in the Arab world, has become a haven for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Saleh also admitted misleading his people by claiming that US cruise missile attacks on al-Qaeda in Yemen last December were the work of Yemeni forces, with the support of American intelligence authorities, the papers said.
“We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours,” Saleh told General David Petraeus, then head of US Central Command, on January 2, The Guardian said, citing the leaked cables.
Other diplomatic documents released by WikiLeaks concerning Yemen showed that US officials suspected the country had a secret cache of shoulder-fired missiles that could have threatened US forces if they fell in the wrong hands.
An embassy cable marked “secret” and dated August 4, 2009 said that an informant, whose name has been redacted, told US political officers that Yemen’s defence ministry “does indeed have ‘Manpads’, but would never speak of them because they are considered a state secret”.
Man Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS) are shoulder-fired missiles designed to down aircraft, and were most famously used by Afghan fighters in the 1980s to shoot down helicopters and eventually drive out Soviet forces.
In other documents it appeared that Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, had caused a month-long nuclear scare in 2009 when he delayed the return to Russia of radioactive material.
The Guardian said the leaked secret diplomatic cables showed that seven metal casks sealed only for transport, not for storage, were left at a Libyan nuclear facility with a single armed guard in November 2009.
Scientists warned that the 5.2 kilogrammes of uranium in the casks was highly radioactive and rapidly heating up, making it liable to crack the containers and leak into the atmosphere.
The seven casks of spent nuclear fuel were due to be flown to Russia for disposal on a specialised transport aeroplane as part of Gaddafi’s promise to abandon Libya’s programme of weapons of mass destruction.
But instead Libya refused permission and the Russian aircraft took off without them.
The reason for the sudden change of plan appeared to be that Gaddafi had taken offence at his treatment during his visit to New York to address the United Nations two months earlier.
Gaddafi had felt “humiliated” after being barred from pitching his large Bedouin tent in New York and from visiting the Ground Zero site of the September 11, 2001 attacks, the diplomatic cable showed Saif al-Islam, Gadaffi’s son, as telling Gene Cretz, the US ambassador to Tripoli.