The government of Yemen appears to have tricked the US into taking out a local political nuisance with a missile strike, top military leaders involved in the attack tell the Wall Street Journal. Yemeni officials alerted the US to a gathering of al-Qaeda leaders on May 25, 2010, and the US launched a strike on the strength of that intel. Hours later, they learned the strike had killed Mareb province Deputy Governor Jabir Shabwani—who had been a thorn in President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s side.
“We think we got played,” one Journal source said. A senior Yemeni official says they didn’t know Shabwani would be at the gathering, but Shabwani’s father tells a different story: “The government knew,” he says, “because they sent him there.” He says the government asked Shabwani to try to convince the militants to renounce al-Qaeda. Further, a Yemeni intelligence officer was reportedly present (and, according to local officials, survived the attack), fueling suspicions that Yemen had to be aware of Shabwani's presence. Not all US officials believe the attack was a set-up, but it led to a year-long pause of Yemen strikes, tighter restrictions on targets, and the relocation of Predator drones to a base closer to the country. (Read more Jabir Shabwani stories.)