Counterterrorism adviser John Brennan (Flickr Photo by CSIS)

In a feature story for The Times (London), journalist Iona Craig reports a Times investigation found “Saudi Arabian fighter jets joined the United States’ secret war in Yemen.” The support came in a year when the number of drone strikes in the Arabian Peninsula more than doubled and surpassed the number of drone strikes in Pakistan.

According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, there were 25 confirmed US operations in 2012 up from 13 confirmed operations in 2011. There were 58 possible US operations in 2012 up from 17 possible operations in 2011.

A US intelligence source reportedly claims, “Some of the so-called drone missions are actually Saudi air force missions.” Bruce Riedel, an ex-CIA officer, says, “We outsource this problem [of AQAP] to the Saudis, make it their problem. It is their problem.”

It is believed that drones operate from bases in Saudi Arabia. “The US has its own F15s based only 120 miles off Yemen’s coastline at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, also home to a fleet of US Predator and Reaper drones.”

The Times report details a September 2, 2012, air strike that killed 12 civilians, including three children.

…The first missile hit the vehicle, flipping it over. A second was aimed at survivors as they scrambled from the wreckage. One witnesses told how the aircraft looked “like an arrow”, as he drew the silhouette of a fighter jet.

Similarly, witnesses to the Jaar airstrike said a fighter jet rather than a drone carried out the attack. “It wasn’t Yemeni. It was a black plane. It was Saudi,” said one resident. The Royal Saudi Air force is largely made up of F15 Eagle and Tornado fighter jets. The latter were bought from Britain as part of BAE Systems’ Al Yamamah arms deal with the Kingdom…

A Washington Post feature story published on December 24 further described the September 2 attack. In the story, “US officials in Washington,” speaking anonymously, said the strike had come from ”a Defense Department aircraft, either a drone or a fixed-wing warplane, that fired on the truck.”

The Radaa attack was the worst attack since a December 2009 attackthat killed dozens of people including women and children. It inspired hate and a thirst for revenge. As one Yemeni wounded in the attack said, “Our entire village is angry at the government and the Americans…If the Americans are responsible, I would have no choice but to sympathize with al-Qaeda because al-Qaeda is fighting America.”

The story goes on to highlight the killing of Yemen army officer Adnan al-Qadhi the day after President Barack Obama was re-elected. He was killed in a “night strike on his car near Beit al-Ahmar, nine miles from Sanaa,” the capital of Yemen and “had previously been arrested and sentenced in connection with an attack on the US Embassy in Sanaa in 2008 that left 19 dead but was later released.”

His brother, Himyar al-Qadhi asked afterward, “Why was he killed rather than captured? If Adnan was guilty of any crime, then arrest him, put him on trial.” Instead he was “murdered.”

Most suspected of terrorism in Yemen are simply being killed because there is consensus among US agencies that there is nowhere for captured suspects to be detained. They cannot be transferred to Guantanamo Bay. The agencies do not want to have the Yemeni government imprison them because they fear they may escape. As the story notes, ”in February 2006, 23 inmates escaped from Sanaa’s maximum-security Political Security prison by digging their way out to a nearby mosque. Nasir al-Wuhayshi, the current head of [Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)], was one who escaped.”

Over five years later, in June 2011, gunmen attacked a prison in al-Mukalla and 60 escaped. Fifty-seven of them were known Al Qaeda militants.

Chief counterterrorism adviser to Obama, John Brennan, is profiled as the individual largely responsible for this relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia. He served as CIA station chief in Riyadh in the late 1990s. Now, as the person leading the team that adds targets to a kill list, he is able to take advantage of relations with Saudi Arabia by carrying out a strategy he considers to be “a true model” of what the US counterterrorism community should be doing—fighting an undeclared war in Yemen.

A US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks from February 2010 shows the US has previously provided “imagery” of the Yemeni border area to the Saudi government:

Ambassador met with Assistant Minister of Defense and Aviation Prince Khaled bin Sultan to relay U.S. concerns about sharing USG imagery with Saudi Arabia in light of evidence that Saudi aircraft may have struck civilian targets during its fighting with the Houthis in northern Yemen. Prince Khaled described the targeting decision-making process and while not denying that civilian targets might have been hit, gave unequivocal assurances that Saudi Arabia considered it a priority to avoid strikes against civilian targets. Based on the assurances received from Prince Khaled, the Ambassador has approved, as authorized in reftel, the provision of USG imagery of the Yemeni border area to the Saudi Government.

The Saudis have fought against Houthis in northern Yemen rebelling against the Yemen government. Reference to this conflict appears in multiple US diplomatic cables, including cables on diplomatic conversations with former Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

According to at least one cable, the US had not approved of helping Saudi Arabia or Yemen if aid was going to be used to fight Houthis. However, it would not be surprising to learn the US was looking the other way in order to have the full support of Saudi Arabia.

“In October 2010,” according to a Congressional Research Service report, “Congress was notified of proposed sales to Saudi Arabia of dozens of F-15 fighter aircraft, helicopters, and related equipment and services, with a potential value of $60 billion.” This equipment is likely being used to provide support America’s undeclared war, much of which is kept concealed from the public.