U.S. drone strikes in Yemen increase

 

McClatchy Newspapers

In the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden, Yemen – home to al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula – has come close to eclipsing Pakistan as a key focus of American counter-terrorism efforts.

In 2011, then-CIA director David Petraeus characterized the group as the “most dangerous node in the global jihad” and the American government’s action has appeared to echo the rhetoric. Notably, the number of American airstrikes in Yemen, largely carried out by unmanned drones, has surged over the past year, as much as tripling in frequency in comparison with 2011.

The airstrikes are just one element of a multifaceted engagement in Yemen. A small number of U.S. forces are stationed there to provide strategic assistance to the Yemeni military, while Washington has provided more than $300 million, split among military, humanitarian and development aid.

Even as the drone strikes have increased in frequency, they remain a center of debate, overshadowing most other facets of the American and Yemeni governments’ efforts against al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

In contrast to those in Pakistan, drone strikes in Yemen take place with the government’s permission. Yemen’s president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who took power last February in the wake of an Arab Spring-inspired uprising against former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, has gone as far as publically endorsing the strikes. That’s a marked shift from the official silence of his predecessor.

In remarks made during a September visit to the United States, Hadi echoed Obama administration officials and cast the strikes as a key tool in the battle against al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. He explicitly contrasted the drones’ capabilities with those of the aging fleet of the Yemeni air force, which is largely unable to operate at night.

While Saleh was once – controversially – characterized as a key American counter-terrorism ally, officials on both sides have spoken of a sharp improvement in cooperation since Hadi’s inauguration. They said the strengthened relations already had begun to yield results, pointing to last spring’s offensive in the southern Abyan province, when Yemeni troops and local fighters, backed by American air and intelligence support, dislodged militants affiliated with al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula from territory they’d held for more than a year.

Regardless, the al Qaida group and affiliated fighters have shown little sign of giving up the fight. Militants have continued to launch attacks in Abyan and elsewhere, appearing to push back against suggestions that they’ve been contained, while bombings and assassinations by alleged al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula operatives in urban areas have underscored the group’s ability to strike within Yemen’s cities.

A key stated goal of American airstrikes in Yemen is targeting specific high-ranking militants in the al Qaida group. But despite the surge in drone strikes, the group’s core leadership has survived the year nearly intact, while its rank and file is estimated to have more than tripled since 2009. The group’s resilience, analysts say, strongly suggests that the strategy being used to combat it is deeply flawed.

“Essentially what the U.S. is doing is bombing suspected AQAP targets in Yemen in the hopes that AQAP doesn’t bomb the U.S.,” said Gregory Johnsen, the author of “The Last Refuge, a recently released book on Yemen and al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. “In my view, this is neither sustainable nor wise. We have seen AQAP grow incredibly fast in a remarkably short amount of time, expanding from 200-300 fighters in 2009, when the U.S. bombing campaign began, to more than 1,000 fighters today. That is more exacerbating and expanding the threat than it is disrupting, dismantling and defeating it.”

Even if Yemen’s new president has backed them, American drone strikes remain deeply controversial here.

Many see targeted killings as a violation of the nation’s sovereignty and a sign of disrespect for the rule of law. Critics point to cases of civilian casualties in expressing their misgivings.

A botched drone strike in the central town of Rada left 12 civilians dead this fall, inflaming widespread apprehensions about the strikes.

“They’re having a huge effect in how people see the U.S.,” said Intisar al Qadhi, a political activist who’s the daughter of a prominent tribal leader from the province of Mareb, the site of numerous drone strikes. “When we think about America, we see an image of a plane, dropping bombs on our people.”

But while emotions often are charged, some Yemenis have offered qualified support for the strikes, casting them as the best of a slate of bad options. Owing to its technological superiority, they say, the American government is able to play a positive role in the battle against al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula – assuming airstrikes are used judiciously, and deaths of innocents are avoided.

“We’re all aware of the state of the Yemeni military,” said Jamal Saleh, who bears scars from injuries he suffered while fighting militants as part of an anti-al Qaida militia in his hometown in Abyan. American “strikes that kill al Qaida are one thing. But strikes that kill civilians are another.”

Baron is a McClatchy special correspondent. Twitter: @adammbaron

Read more World Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  • Taliban kill 14 Shiites in Afghanistan road attack

    An Afghan official says Taliban insurgents halted minibuses in western Afghanistan, identified 14 Shiite passengers and shot them dead by the side of the road.

  • Philippine soldiers clash with militants; 5 dead

    The Philippine military says soldiers attacked a Muslim militant hideout on southern Basilan island, triggering a clash that killed three Abu Sayyaf members believed to have been involved in the 2011 kidnapping of an American woman and her teenage son. Two government militiamen were killed and two others were wounded.

  •  
In this July 8, 2014, the Lotte World Tower under construction is seen in Seoul, South Korea. Plans for the super-high tower first surfaced in 1995 and it took another 15 years to get a green light after the Air Force objected to it as a risk to a nearby military airport used for VIP flights. Now it faces new doubts as South Korea reels from the Sewol ferry sinking in April that killed hundreds of teenagers. The disaster provoked a scathing reassessment of an ethos of economic progress first, safety last that was largely unquestioned over several decades as the country rapidly industrialized.

    Towering worry: Small holes cause big jitters

    For the developers of the world's sixth tallest building near Seoul, a mysteriously shrinking lake and the appearance of small sinkholes in residential neighborhoods couldn't have come at a more inopportune time.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category