Friday, April 27, 2012
Obama gives green light for expansion of Yemeni drone attacks
The U.S. is becoming more involved in Yemen. Drone strikes have been increasing this year and there are also special forces troops on the ground. Of course the movements of the latter are not reported except when there are reports of their being attacked as happened a while ago. Now Obama is giving the green light for broadening targets of drone strikes.
Militants of various stripes have occupied considerable swaths of southern Yemen. The media no doubt encouraged by U.S. officials tend to describe all the militants as either Al Qaeda or Al Qaeda linked. As good example of this are the group Ansar al Sharia who are now sometimes not even identified as a group separate from Al Qaeda. The main Al Qaeda group is AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula)
Senior officials claim that now fighters may be targeted whose names are not known but supposedly are deemed high value terrorism targets. This is just a repeat of official spin. Elsewhere the description has been that activity at known militant compounds such as loading weapons or unloading ammunition could be targeted. In fact they will target whatever they think might be useful in their fight against the militants. From the very start the drone attacks have been far from directed at limited targets based on hard intelligence. See for example the first attack under Obama. Another attack killed an important provincial official. This article claims that critics suggest the administration is being too cautious and should do even more to help the Yemeni government fight militants. The article fails to note that the Yemeni government is fighting not only militants but also at least two separatist movements and also on occasion tribes opposed to the regime.
Intelligence reports show that AQAP has grown stronger since the U.S. born Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in a drone attack. This is not surprising as many critics have pointed out tribal societies have a culture that demands vengeance against those who kill one of their members. Hence the drone attacks create a recruiting opportunity for Al Qaeda.
However, that these attacks are counter-productive in stopping Al Qaeda does not mean that they are counter-productive in terms of domestic U.S. politics. Quite the opposite. There are continual reports of high value targets and leaders being killed and this can bring increased voter support in the U.S. For more see this article. Yemeni intelligence officers say that the attacks occur with the consent of the Yemeni government but that the government has the power to roll back the drone program. One wonders if this is actually the case!