Yemen

Peering in the Dark Corners

JEREMY SCAHILL SPENT years working out his notions of social justice in homeless shelters and conflict zones and among peace activists. In 2007, Scahill’s award-winning investigative reporting made waves when he published Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, a comprehensive exposé on the secret role of private military contractors in the United States’ “war on terror,” which prompted several congressional inquiries. Scahill’s newest book, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, digs into the obscure underbelly of U.S. covert wars.

“In one of my trips to Yemen, I traveled in the south of the country where most of the U.S. drone strikes in Yemen have happened,” Scahill said during a recent visit to Sojourners’ Washington, D.C. office. “I was interviewing a number of tribal leaders. This guy from Shabwa province said to me, ‘[Americans] consider al Qaeda [to be] terrorism. We consider your drones [to be] terrorism.’ I heard that over and over in a variety of countries. ... Many people, in Yemen or in Somalia, would not be predisposed to think of al Qaeda as anything positive. Al Qaeda is a reviled organization in Yemen. ... But there are tribal leaders who are saying, ‘You know, you pushed us into a corner where our people are now sympathetic with al Qaeda.’ After years of traveling in these countries, I really believe that we’re creating more enemies than we’re killing.”

In some respects, drones are simply a new tool of old empire. Scahill’s book title, Dirty Wars (and film of the same name), is partly “a macabre tip-of-the-hat to the dirty wars in Central America, fueled by the United States ... targeting people who are insurgents and claiming they were communists. The new version of this is targeting people who are fighting us and claiming they’re al Qaeda.”

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Hellfire from Above

ON THE AFTERNOON of Dec. 14, President Obama stood in the White House press room, tears in his eyes, and spoke for many Americans who had watched the terrifying events unfolding in Newtown, Conn.

“I know there’s not a parent in America who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do. The majority of those who died today were children: beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old,” he said. “They had their entire lives ahead of them—birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own.”

A little more than a month later, on Jan. 23, a pilotless aircraft owned and operated by the United States and controlled remotely by an individual on U.S. soil launched a targeted attack on the riders of two motorcycles in Yemen. The attack missed its target. It hit the house of Abdu Mohammed al-Jarrah instead, killing several people—including al-Jarrah’s two children.

There was no press conference for the al-Jarrah children.

It was President Obama himself, in fact, after his inauguration in 2009, who authorized an expansion of the U.S. drone program launched under George W. Bush. The “Authorization for Use of Military Force,” passed shortly after Sept. 11, gives the president broad authority to use force against those involved in the 9/11 attacks or those who harbor them. Drones have become President Obama’s weapon of choice.

The first reported drone strike against al Qaeda occurred in Yemen in 2002. U.S. covert drone strikes have killed more than 3,000 people since 2004, in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Of that number, nearly 1,000 were civilians—including an estimated 200 children. (The U.S. military has also used drones in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.)

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DRONE WATCH: Yemen Drone Strikes

After nearly a month’s lull, two drone strikes were carried out in Yemen over the weekend, killing at least six suspected militants. Reuters reports:

Two suspected al Qaeda militants were killed on Monday in a drone strike on their vehicle south of the capital Sanaa, tribal and government sources said. The strike follows another on Saturday in which at least four militants were killed in Abyan governorate, in southernYemen.

Read more here.

DRONE WATCH: Attacks in Pakistan and Yemen

The month-long break in drone strikes appears to have ended.

On Wednesday, a strike on a training camp in Pakistan killed at least five people. According to Al Jazeera:

“A US drone has fired two missiles into a Taliban training camp in Pakistan, destroying the compound and killing at least five people, local officials have said.“Wednesday's strike took place in the Baber Ghar area of the South Waziristan tribal district on the Afghan border, a stronghold of Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud where the faction runs several camps.”

Also on Wednesday, two separate strikes in Yemen killed five. The Associated Press reported:

“Two U.S. drone strikes Wednesday killed at least five suspected al-Qaida militants and destroyed the house of one of them in a mountainous area south of the capital, Sanaa, a Yemeni security official and witnesses said.

“The four were killed in the first strike while riding a vehicle in the desert area of Oussab al-Ali, about 140 kilometers (90 miles) south of Sanaa, the official said. The second strike killed a fifth suspected jihadi, Hamed Radman. A drone bombed his house, the official said.” 

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,

 

 

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