America’s failing drone war in Yemen

Micah Zenko writes: There are three excellent pieces of journalism from Yemen this week, which demonstrate that the administration has failed to use force in a manner that has not radicalized Yemenis, or increased the size of AQAP. While actual Yemenis and journalists reporting from the country (see here, here, and here) have found repeatedly that the vast majority of Yemenis hate drones strikes, these latest pieces provide additional updated, confirming evidence. It hardly seems necessary to continue stating the obvious point that people — who also do not welcome Islamic militants from operating among them—hate foreign military or intelligence agencies bombing them.

In yesterday’s Washington Post, Sudarsan Raghavan reported on how the government of Yemen has tried to conceal civilians killed by U.S. drones and fixed-wing aircraft as having been killed by its own Soviet-era combat aircraft. As Raghavan wrote: “the weak government has often tried to hide civilian casualties from the public, fearing repercussions in a nation where hostility toward U.S. policies is widespread. It continues to insist in local media reports that its own aging jets attacked the truck.”

This is an especially egregious abdication of responsibility since the United States also blames Yemen in its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: 2011 for civilian killed by airstrikes:

“The government also employed air strikes against AQAP and affiliated insurgents in Abyan, with some strikes hitting civilian areas. Although some accused the government of intentionally striking civilians in Abyan, most if not all noncombatant casualties from these bombardments were attributed to a lack of air force training and technical capability.”

As I wrote in May 2012 about this State Department characterization:

“Because U.S. targeted killings in Yemen are “covert,” the State Department cannot acknowledge American complicity or collusion. But it stands to reason that some, if not a majority, of these air strikes were carried out by CIA or Joint Special Operations Command drones, or even U.S. Navy assets offshore. Even the most careful, discriminate, and “surgical” uses of force can unintentionally kill civilians. According to three Yemeni officials, for instance, two drone strikes earlier this month killed seven suspected AQAP militants and eight civilians…

Although some of these strikes could have been carried out by Yemeni forces, civilians on the ground are hardly able to distinguish among Yemeni, CIA, and JSOC missiles. It would be difficult to devise a counterterrorism strategy that did a better job at creating a common enemy among victims or neutral third parties.”

Also yesterday, in the Los Angeles Times, Jeffrey Fleishman and Ken Dilanian quoted various Yemeni parliamentarians and analysts who are demanding that President Hadi end the practice of endorsing U.S. airstrikes. As an analyst on Islamic militants Ahmed al Zurqua stated: “The drones have not killed the real al Qaeda leaders, but they have increased the hatred toward America and are causing young men to join al Qaeda to retaliate. President Hadi is distorting and violating Yemen’s sovereignty by cooperating with the Americans.”

Finally, today at Foreign Policy Letta Tayler writes from Yemen about the September 2, 2012, U.S. airstrike in al-Bayda government, which killed twelve civilians, including three children.

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