By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON – A U.S. airstrike that killed Yemeni-based terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki early this morning is a testament to the close cooperation between the United States and Yemen, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said today.
During a media availability with Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay at the Pentagon, Panetta said Awlaki -- a U.S.-born Muslim cleric who used his English-language skills to advocate violence against Americans as part of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula -- had long been a target of U.S.-Yemeni counterterrorism operations.
“This has been a bad year for terrorists,” he said. “We just have seen another major blow against al-Qaida, against someone who truly was an operational arm of al-Qaida in this node in Yemen.”
Awlaki was high on the military-intelligence list of terrorist targets, close behind Osama bin Laden, because he “continued to try to inspire people to attack this country,” Panetta said.
“This country is much safer because of the loss of Awlaki,” he added.
President Barack Obama announced the killing of Awlaki this morning at the retirement ceremony of Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Calling Awlaki “the leader of external operations” for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, Obama said his death “marks another significant milestone in the broader effort to defeat al-Qaida and its affiliates.”
Obama and Panetta congratulated the Yemenis on their intelligence and operational assistance in targeting Awlaki.