By Pam Benson
For the first time, the Obama administration has publicly stated that U.S. military forces are engaged in direct action against suspected terrorists in Yemen and Somalia.
In a letter to Congress on Friday, President Barack Obama informed lawmakers of U.S. military actions in the two nations that have seen significant terrorist activity and civil unrest.
On Somalia, the president stated, "In a limited number of cases, the U.S. military has taken direct action in Somalia against members of al Qaeda, including those who are also members of al-Shabaab, who are engaged in efforts to carry out terrorist attacks against the United States and our interests."
Obama noted that U.S. forces have been working with Yemen to dismantle al Qaeda's powerful affiliate there.
"Our joint efforts have resulted in direct action against a limited number of AQAP (al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) operatives and senior leaders in that country who posed a terrorist threat to the United States and our interests," Obama wrote.
The War Powers Resolution of 1973 requires the White House to periodically inform Congress about American military forces who are deployed overseas for possible combat.
The disclosure comes at a time when the administration is fighting off accusations that it deliberately leaked classified information about its national security efforts for political gain. Recent reports revealed the administration's decision-making process in targeting terrorists for missile strikes, a U.S. cyber attack against an Iranian nuclear facility, and a mole inside al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula who helped thwart a bomb plot intended to strike an airliner headed for the United States.
A senior administration official denied the disclosure had anything to do with the leaks issue.
"In light of the significant political developments that have taken place in Yemen and Somalia over the last six months, the administration took a careful look at whether these facts should remain classified," the official said. "Mindful of this balance, and after a careful evaluation to ensure disclosure of this information could not in any way harm U.S. national security or jeopardize the safety of the American people, the administration has decided that we can publicly disclose the fact that the U.S. military has taken direct action in Yemen and Somalia against members of al Qaeda and its associated forces."
Pentagon spokesman George Little said the information on the Yemen and Somalia actions were made public because of "their growing significance in our overall counterterrorism effort."
He added: "the American people should know that we will do what is necessary to defend our country against those who would threaten us."
U.S. military actions in Somalia and Yemen have been alluded to in the past.
Then CIA Director Leon Panetta would not discuss specific U.S. military operations during his confirmation hearing last year to become Secretary of Defense, but he did say, "I think our approach has been that because of these nodes that have developed, our approach has been to - to develop operations in each of these areas that will contain al Qaeda and go after them so that they have no place to escape. So that, we are doing that in Yemen. ... Same thing is true for Somalia."
The administration has tried to be more open about its counterterrorism activities. Obama's top counterterrorism adviser John Brennan gave a detailed explanation this spring about the use of drones to fight terrorism.