American drone attacks could provoke terrorism in Yemen

Given the Obama Administration's relentless drone war, don't be surprised if al-Qaeda gains support in Yemen Photo: AP

WASHINGTON, August 12, 2013 — The Obama administration’s relentless drone war gives the lie to the old saying that terrorism is a weapon of the weak: The world’s most powerful military superpower practices terrorism too.

Yemenis have grown enraged by an onslaught of recent drone strikes - 8 strikes in 13 days - ordered by Washington.

The first bombing was purportedly aimed at al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s top bomb maker, Ibrahaim al Asiri, but he wasn’t among the four suspected militants killed, according to McClatchy. “In one strike, on August 1, Western news reports claimed the people killed were “militants” but “locals in the area of Hadramawt where it took place have claimed that the dead had no links to the al-Qaeda group and included a child.”

“The resumption of U.S. drone strikes in late July unleashed terror in the regions that were most affected,” Farea al-Muslimi, a Yemeni youth activist, wrote on Sunday. The gap between the U.S. and al-Qaeda, he adds, “has actually shrunk in the eyes of many Yemenis: there is very little difference between what the two are doing to ordinary people.”

The Obama administration’s hackneyed justifications for drone strikes - that they are undertaken with care and precision and are instrumental in fighting al-Qaeda - are becoming transparently deceitful and misguided. Not only are drone strikes killing scores of innocent people and terrorizing the local population, they are generating increasing support for al-Qaeda.

“What radicals had previously failed to achieve in my village,” al-Muslimi told a Senate committee back in April, “one drone strike accomplished in an instant: there is now an intense anger and growing hatred of America.”


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Robert Grenier, who headed the CIA’s counter-terrorism center from 2004 to 2006 and was previously a CIA station chief in Pakistan, said recently that the drone program is too indiscriminate and may be creating terrorist safe havens rather than eliminating them. 

“We have gone a long way down the road of creating a situation where we are creating more enemies than we are removing from the battlefield,” Grenier cautioned, adding that he is “very concerned about the creation of a larger terrorist safe haven in Yemen.”

In four years, the U.S. has bombed Yemen at least 75 times and killed a minimum of 600 people. After all that, writes Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen expert at Princeton University, AQAP “continues to attract more members, growing from 300 in 2009 to well over a thousand today.”

Obama insists on keeping the drone war secret, demanding Americans simply take his word for it that they are necessary, legal, and effective. But imagine if the roles were reversed: imagine if the Yemeni government was conducting a multi-year secret bombing campaign throughout the American countryside, killing hundreds of people and declaring it was a national security necessity beyond reproach. 

Is there any doubt such actions would provoke a furious upheaval in America and prompt fervent calls for violent revenge? Why should we expect a different reaction in Yemen? 

After a September 2012 drone strike that killed 13 civilians, a local Yemeni activist told CNN, “I would not be surprised if a hundred tribesmen joined the lines of al-Qaeda as a result of the latest drone mistake. This part of Yemen takes revenge very seriously.”

The sentiment that al-Muslimi voices, the one that draws an equivalence between drone strikes and al-Qaeda bombings, is widespread in Yemen. 

“The U.S. sees al-Qaeda as terrorism,” a Yemeni tribesman told The Nation’s national security reporter Jeremy Scahill last year, “and we consider the drones terrorism.”

To bolster his case for the drone war, and surely to block any proposed limitation on his kingly authority to bomb other countries for years on end without any effective oversight, President Obama has repeatedly claimed al-Qaeda has been decimated. 

The administration’s recent decision to shutter almost two-dozen diplomatic posts throughout the Middle East in anticipation of an alleged al-Qaeda attack seems to discredit these claims. 

But it’s not difficult to figure out why al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has strengthened and anti-American sentiment has intensified. Just ask a Yemeni. 

Al-Qaeda was motivated to attack the U.S. on 9/11 because of its opposition to U.S. foreign policy, specifically American support for Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, propping up ‘apostate’ dictatorships in the Middle East, and military interventionism in Muslim countries. 

Unfortunately, the predominant U.S. response in the 12 years since those attacks has been to double down on all of those ill-advised policies. Support for Israeli policies has increased, promotion of Middle East dictatorship has hardened, and military interventions - in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and beyond - have proliferated.  

Don’t be surprised if the blowback in the form of al-Qaeda proliferates as well. 


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John Glaser

John Glaser is Editor of Antiwar.com. He has been published at The Huffington Post, Al Jazeera English, The American Conservative, and The Daily Caller, among other outlets. He lives in Alexandria, Virginia.

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