In a defiant audio recording, Said al-Shihri seemed to have come back from the dead. In September, the Yemeni Ministry of Defense announced that they had taken out Shihri, the deputy leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). But when he apparently reemerged one month later to swear revenge—if the recording was indeed authentic—Shihri’s seemingly botched killing transformed a counterterrorism victory into a chilling metaphor of Al Qaeda’s resilient presence in conflict-wracked Yemen.Progress in the battle against AQAP has undeniably been made. In the midst of last year’s uprising against former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, Ansar al-Sharia—an Al Qaeda-linked militant group—was able to take hold of swathes of territory in the restive southern provinces of Abyan and Shabwa. Shortly taking office this February, Saleh’s successor, Abdo Rabbu Mansour Hadi, proceeded to launch a sustained military offensive against the extremists, and by early June, Yemeni troops—backed by U.S. intelligence and air support, as well as local warriors—were able to push Ansar al-Sharia out of areas they had controlled for more than a year.
Drones have become the go-to weapon of the U.S.’s counter-terrorism strategy, with strikes in Yemen in particular increasing steadily. U.S. drones reportedly killed twenty-nine people in Yemen recently, including perhaps ten civilians.
Administration officials regularly celebrate the drone war’s apparent successes— often avoiding details or staying anonymous, but claiming tacit credit for the U.S.
In June, a day after Abu Yahya Al-Libi was killed in Pakistan, White House spokesman Jay Carney trumpeted the death of “Al Qaeda’s Number-Two.” Unnamed officials confirmed the strike in at least ten media outlets. Similarly, the killing of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki by a CIA drone last September was confirmed in many news outlets by anonymous officials. President Obama called Awlaki’s death “a tribute to our intelligence community.”
But when it comes to details of that process, the administration clams up. Read More
July 9, 2012
Drones are a divisive issue among Yemenis. Some support the U.S. and Yemeni governments’ efforts to target militant groups. Others complain that the drone strikes kill too many civilians and remain distrustful of the Yemeni government and the U.S. NPR’s Kelly McEvers talks about the consequences.
NEAL CONAN, HOST:
Last month, President Obama acknowledged that the United States takes direct action to fight militant groups in Yemen. Groups aligned with al-Qaida control parts of that country and have launched attacks against the United States. The country is also desperately poor. NPR foreign correspondent Kelly McEvers was one of two Western journalists allowed exclusive access to battlegrounds in Southern Yemen. She has reported some powerful stories from that region, including one you may remember from ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, where she met a group of children whose father and brother died in an air strike.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)
KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: Nine, 10, 11, 12, 13. Thirteen children. One of the boys was there when the strike hit. He says he and his father and brother were grazing camels in an area known to be controlled by al-Qaida. Night fell. Then came the strikes.
AZZEDINE: (Speaking foreign language)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: He said he did not move until the morning. And then when he woke up, he was kind of scared. He went to see his father and his brother. He saw them scattered into pieces.
MCEVERS: The boy says his father fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s, with men who later join al-Qaida. The family says the father recently renounced his ties with the group. Either way, his sons now have one thing in mind.
AZZEDINE: (Speaking foreign language)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: He said his feeling is only to take revenge for his father.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula may have been pushed back in Yemen, but it is not defeated. At least that’s the opinion of one of the country’s top reporters.
The United States’s covert war has this year been most fiercely fought in Yemen. With al-Qaeda reportedly all but destroyed in Pakistan, the US now believes that the most potent terrorist threat to its own security comes from this impoverished Gulf state.
But in an interview with the Bureau, Hakim Almasmari, a reporter for CNN and editor of the Yemen Post, an English-language newspaper, said he didn’t think al-Qaeda was defeated in Yemen.
‘Because I believe that al-Qaeda wasn’t defeated and they evacuated, I do believe al-Qaeda will have many gains over the next couple of weeks,’ he said.
He also believes that a deal could have been made between al-Qaeda and the government. ‘Yesterday alone five senior members escaped a prison, a highly secured prison in Yemen. Two days ago, two suspected al-Qaeda militants escaped Aden prison…. Eighty-eight suspected al-Qaeda militants have escaped prison over the last four months alone. It’s a strategy – President Hadi needs to be powerful, he needs the image of being a leader. And sometimes that could mean cooperating or coming to agreements with al-Qaeda to evacuate but in return have some of their members released.’
Yemen has asked for U.S. drones to be used “in some cases” to target al-Qaeda leaders in the country, its foreign minister told AFP on Wednesday.
“Drones were used upon Yemen’s request in some cases against fleeing al-Qaeda leaders,” Abu Bakr al-Kurbi told AFP on the sidelines of a counter-piracy conference in Dubai, in a first official Yemeni confirmation.
Yemeni troops have this month recaptured a string of towns which al-Qaeda militants overran last year across the province of Abyan.
In an interview with ABC television’s “This Week,” U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta defended in May the use of drones as “the most precise weapons we have” in the campaign against the militant group.
His comments were the first time the U.S. formally acknowledged the use of unmanned drones against al-Qaeda suspects in Yemen, where such reports had not been confirmed.
Ibrahim Mothanta | New York Times
“DEAR OBAMA, when a U.S. drone missile kills a child in Yemen, the father will go to war with you, guaranteed. Nothing to do with Al Qaeda,” a Yemeni lawyer warned on Twitter last month. President Obama should keep this message in mind before ordering more drone strikes like Wednesday’s, which local officials say killed 27 people, or the May 15 strike that killed at least eightYemeni civilians.
Drone strikes are causing more and more Yemenis to hate America and join radical militants; they are not driven by ideology but rather by a sense of revenge and despair. Robert Grenier, the former head of the C.I.A.’s counterterrorism center, has warned that the American drone program in Yemen risks turning the country into a safe haven for Al Qaeda like the tribal areas of Pakistan — “the Arabian equivalent of Waziristan.”
Anti-Americanism is far less prevalent in Yemen than in Pakistan. But rather than winning the hearts and minds of Yemeni civilians, America is alienating them by killing their relatives and friends. Indeed, the drone program is leading to the Talibanization of vast tribal areas and the radicalization of people who could otherwise be America’s allies in the fight against terrorism in Yemen.
The first known drone strike in Yemen to be authorized by Mr. Obama, in late 2009, left 14 women and 21 children dead in the southern town of al-Majala, according to a parliamentary report. Only one of the dozens killed was identified as having strong Qaeda connections.
Misleading intelligence has also led to disastrous strikes with major political and economic consequences. An American drone strike in May 2010 killed Jabir al-Shabwani, a prominent sheik and the deputy governor of Marib Province. The strike had dire repercussions for Yemen’s economy. The slain sheik’s tribe attacked the country’s main pipeline in revenge. With 70 percent of the country’s budget dependent on oil exports, Yemen lost over $1 billion. This strike also erased years of progress and trust-building with tribes who considered it a betrayal given their role in fighting Al Qaeda in their areas.
Yemeni tribes are generally quite pragmatic and are by no means a default option for radical religious groups seeking a safe haven. However, the increasing civilian toll of drone strikes is turning the apathy of tribal factions into anger.