General Petraeus’ Meeting With Saleh On Security Assistance, Aqap Strikes

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Classified By: Ambassador Stephen A. Seche for reasons 1.4(b) and (d).

¶1. (S/NF) SUMMARY: Commander of the U.S. Central Command
General David Petraeus congratulated President Saleh on
recent successful operations against AQAP, and informed him
that U.S. security assistance to the ROYG would increase to
USD 150 million in 2010, including USD 45 million to equip
and train a CT-focused aviation regiment under the Yemeni
Special Operations Forces. Saleh requested that the U.S.
provide 12 armed helicopters and train and equip three new
Republican Guard brigades. Saleh rejected the General’s
proposal to have USG personnel armed with direct-feed
intelligence present inside the area of CT operations, but
agreed to a have U.S. fixed-wing bombers circle outside
Yemeni territory ready to engage AQAP targets should
actionable intelligence become available. END SUMMARY.


¶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.

¶3. (S/NF) Saleh agreed to General Patraeus’ proposal to
dedicate USD 45 million of 2010 security assistance funds to
help establish and train a YSOF aviation regiment, allowing
YSOF to focus on al-Qaeda targets and leaving Sa’ada air
operations to the Yemeni Air Force. Without giving much
detail, Saleh also requested that the U.S. equip and train
three new Republican Guard brigades, totaling 9,000 soldiers.
“Equipping these brigades would reflect upon our true
partnership,” Saleh said. The General urged Saleh to focus
first on the YSOF aviation regiment.


¶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 with Deputy Prime Minister
Alimi and Minister of Defense Ali regarding the number of
terrorists versus civilians killed in the strike. (Comment:
Saleh’s conversation on the civilian casualties suggests he
has not been well briefed by his advisors on the strike in
Abyan, a site that the ROYG has been unable to access to
determine with any certainty the level of collateral damage.
End Comment.) AQAP leader Nassr al-Wahishi and extremist
cleric Anwar al-Awlaki may still be alive, Saleh said, but
the December strikes had already caused al-Qaeda operatives
to turn themselves in to authorities and residents in
affected areas to deny refuge to al-Qaeda. Saleh raised the
issue of the Saudi Government and Jawf governorate tribal
sheikh Amin al-Okimi, a subject that is being reported
through other channels.


¶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.


¶6. (S/NF) General Petraeus praised cooperation between the
Embassy and the NSB, YSOF, Yemeni Coast Guard (YCG), and
Counterterrorism Unit (CTU), but singled out relations with
the Yemeni Air Force as problematic. Only four out of 50
planned U.S. Special Operations Forces Command training
missions with the Yemeni Air Force had actually been executed
in the past year, he said. Saleh said he would personally
instruct Minister of Defense to improve the situation. The
General also urged Saleh to stop Yemeni Customs’ habit of
holding up Embassy cargo at the airport, including shipments
destined for the ROYG itself, such as equipment for the CTU.
Saleh laughed and made a vague pledge to have the customs
issue “taken care of.” Saleh complained that the ROYG had
not yet received the necessary training to operate 17 Iraqi
Light Armored Vehicle (ILAVs) provided by the USG in 2008,
saying that YSOF needed the training in order to use the
ILAVs for CT operations. The General said he would look into
having U.S. Special Operations Forces personnel conduct the

¶7. (S/NF) Pointing to the ROYG’s problems in combating
rampant drug and arms smuggling, Saleh told General Petraeus
that U.S. maritime security assistance was insufficient to
cover Yemen’s nearly 2,000 km of coastline. “Why not have
Italy, Germany, Holland, Japan, Saudi, and the UAE each
provide two patrol boats?” Saleh suggested. The General told
Saleh that two fully-equipped 87-foot patrol boats destined
for the Yemeni Coast Guard were under construction and would
arrive in Yemen within a year. Saleh singled out smuggling
from Djibouti as particularly troublesome, claiming that the
ROYG had recently intercepted four containers of
Djibouti-origin TNT. “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,”
Saleh joked. Saleh said that smugglers of all stripes are
bribing both Saudi and Yemeni border officials.


¶8. (S/NF) Saleh told the General that he welcomed PM Gordon
Brown’s announcement of the London conference and said that
the cooperation on Yemen between the U.S., EU, Saudi Arabia,
and the UAE would be benefitial. Qatar should not be
involved, however, because “they work with Iran.” In this
regard, Saleh also identified Qatar as one of those nations
working “against Yemen,” along with Iran, Libya, and Eritrea.

¶9. (U) General Petraeus did not have an opportunity to clear
on this cable.