Yemen

DRONE WATCH: Yemen — 4 Attacks, 4 Days

While Washington, D.C., reveled in the ceremonies and parties surrounding Inauguration Day, U.S. drones were busy in Yemen. According to Reuters, four attacks in four days, from Saturday to Tuesday, killed at least 14 people. The attacks led to a protest blockade by angry tribesmen:

“On Sunday armed tribesman, angry at what they said was a drone attack on an area inhabited by civilians, blocked the main road linking Maarib with Sanaa. Earlier this month, dozens of armed tribesmen also took to the streets in southern Yemen to protest against drone strikes that they said had killed innocent civilians and fuelled anger against the United States.”

In another protest, Reuters reported a rare criticism of drone strikes by a member of the Yemeni cabinet. Human rights minister Hooria Mashhou, who was formerly a top activist in the movement that ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh a year ago, said during a U.N. Yemen humanitarian appeal meeting in Dubai:

"I am in favour of changing the anti-terrorism strategy. I think there are more effective strategies. We're committed to fighting terrorism but we're calling for changing the means and strategies. These means and strategies can be applied on the ground without harming civilians and without leading to human rights violations."

DRONE WATCH: What We Know … And What We Don’t Know

For a number of months, I’ve reported and commented on news of drone strikes, the drone program, and legal and political challenges to it. But with the administration’s refusal to officially acknowledge the program, there’s a a lot we don’t know. Cora Currier at Pro Publica has an informative summary of what we know and what we don’t know about drone strikes. 

DRONE WATCH: Escalation in Yemen

Drone strikes are being escalated in Yemen with the fifth attack in the past ten days occurring on Thursday. Reuters reports:

“At least three suspected al Qaeda militants including a local commander were killed on Thursday in Yemen by a strike from an unmanned aircraft, residents and a local official said.”

Today, in response, Yemeni tribesmen organized a protest in front of a government administration building. According to Reuters:

“Dozens of armed tribesmen took to the streets in southern Yemen on Friday to protest against drone strikes that they say have killed innocent civilians and increased anger against the United States. …

“One tribesman participating in a sit-in in front of the government administration building in Redaa told Reuters by telephone that at least seven innocent civilians were killed in the recent raids.”

Unlike Pakistan, the Yemeni government openly supports the U.S. strikes.

DRONE WATCH: High-Tech Killing

University of Notre Dame Law School Professor Mary Ellen O’Connell writes in Peace Policy of the “high-tech killing” made possible by drones, and the apparent violations of international law this creates.

“The arguments for drones continue to mutate as the technology advances to ever more powerful killing machines:  Predators, Reapers, and now the Avenger. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced on November 20, 2012, that the Pentagon plans to expand the use of drone attacks in Libya, Mali, and Nigeria. He said that al Qaeda has “metastasized to other parts of the global body.’’ Now the policy of targeted killing with drones is spreading to other parts of the globe.”

DRONE WATCH: Rare Strike in Northern Yemen Kills Four.

Reuters reports on a rare drone strike in northern Yemen, near the Saudi border.

“At least four men suspected of being al Qaeda members were killed in what a local official said was a U.S. drone strike on Islamist militants in northern Yemen on Sunday.

“It was a rare attack on al Qaeda-linked targets in northern Yemen, an area dominated by Shi'ite Muslim Houthi rebels battling Yemeni government forces for control of the rugged mountainous region.

“The official said that a drone attacked two houses in the Abu Jabara area in Saada Province, killing four people.”

DRONE WATCH: Drone Kills Four In Yemen

The second drone strike in four days killed four in Yemen. AFP reports

Four members of the Al-Qaeda extremist network including a local chief were killed in Yemen Sunday in a strike presumed to have been carried out by a US drone against their vehicle in Maarib province, tribal and police sources said. "A drone fired a missile at a car which had four Al-Qaeda militants in it, destroying the vehicle and killing the occupants," the tribal source said,

 

 

DRONE WATCH: Opposition to Drones in Yemen.

Christopher Swift, adjunct professor of national security studies at Georgetown University, traveled to Yemen this summer to interview 40 Yemeni tribal and religious leaders about the increasing U.S. drone attacks on that country. He found that the Yemeni public does not support the attacks. According to National Defense magazine, in a recent panel discussion at Georgetown, Swift said

“There is currently a shift in Yemen from drone attacks that target a particular individual to attacks that are “based upon generalize patterns of what we believe are militant characteristics and militant behavior," he said. Swift advocated a decrease in these “signature strikes,” saying they add to Yemeni concerns about civilian casualties and the United States impeding on their nation’s sovereignty.”

A report this morning by Reuters came to the same conclusion:

“Yemen's interim president has won U.S. praise for cooperating in a war on al Qaeda, but his recent public support for drone strikes that sometimes kill civilians could undermine his domestic popularity and stir sympathy for militants. ... Yemenis complain the U.S. focus on militants is a violation of sovereignty that is driving many towards al Qaeda and diverting attention from other pressing issues such as unemployment, corruption, water depletion and economic revival.”

 

DRONE WATCH: Nine Deaths in Yemen.

A U.S. drone attack early Thursday morning killed nine suspected militants. Reuters reports:

"Nine suspected al Qaeda militants were killed in what a security source and residents said was a U.S. drone attack on a farmhouse outside a town in southern Yemen that was held by militants last year.

"The farmhouse just west of Jaar, one of two southern towns that Yemen's army took back from rebel control this summer, was hit by three separate missile strikes at dawn, they said.

"The residents said they found six charred bodies and the scattered remains of three other people, including Nader al-Shaddadi, a senior al Qaeda militant in the southern Abyan province who led the group that occupied Jaar."

DRONE WATCH: Yemen President Approves Drone Strikes

In a speech last week at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, Yemen’s president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadiexpressed his support for U.S. drone strikes in that country.  According to the New York Times,

“They pinpoint the target and have zero margin of error, if you know what target you’re aiming at,” said Mr. Hadi, a former army officer and the successor to Ali Abdullah Saleh, who stepped down after protests against his three-decade rule.

The United States “helped with their drones because the Yemeni Air Force cannot carry out missions at night,” he said. “The electronic brain’s precision is unmatched by the human brain.”

In an interview with reporters and editors from the Washington Post, Hadi said that he personally approves all drone strikes in Yemen. According to the piece:

“Every operation, before taking place, they take permission from the president,” Hadi said in an interview with reporters and editors from The Washington Post in his hotel suite in the District. …

“Hadi’s comments mark the first time he has publicly acknowledged his direct role in a campaign of strikes by U.S. drones and conventional aircraft targeting an al-Qaeda franchise that is seen as the most potent terrorist threat to the United States.”

How To (and Not To) Respond to the Current Crisis in the Middle East

A shared meal in Hebron.

A shared meal in Hebron.

My heart is heavy.   

Every day for the last week, media outlet have told their version of the current uprising stretching across the Middle East (Egypt, Libya, Yemen).  Whether it’s pictures of embassies burned to the ground, rioting citizens, or highly politicized comics, the surge of content has been anything but “feel-good” and hopeful.

And that’s because the events and corresponding responses have been anything but “feel-good” and hopeful.     

My heart breaks because I know the events that are unfolding do not represent the majority of those who inhabit the Middle East. I spend a significant amount of time in there and have built deep, life-long friendships.

Just two weeks ago I sat around a table and shared a meal with Christians, Jews and Muslims in the home of a devout Muslim family in the region. A day after that, I served alongside Muslim youth workers who are promoting non-violence and reconciliation in the face of oppression and poverty.  

On the same day, I sat with an Arab Christian who embodied Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount in dealing with daily injustice by saying, “We refuse to be enemies.” Lastly — and what keeps playing over and over in my head — are the words spoken to me by a Muslim friend named Omar who said,

“Please give this message to all of your American friends. We (Arab Muslims and Christians) desire peace.  The violence you see in the news does not represent us.  It is not the majority, it is the smallest minority of extremism.  Please listen to our story and accept our friendship.”

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