FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Blowback From Drone Strikes Over Yemen

by

An intensive bombing campaign carried out jointly by US drones and Yemeni government forces has left a reported 68 people dead in a three-day-long operation against al-Qa’ida suspects in the south of the country.

The “massive and unprecedented” operation – as one Yemeni official was quoted as describing it – marks a significant escalation in Yemen’s fight against the extremist group. As of today, officials said 65 militants were among the dead, as well as three civilians.

The US has targeted al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is based in Yemen, claiming it is the most dangerous al-Qa’ida affiliate in the world. A more likely explanation is that a drone campaign there is  easy to conduct because the Yemeni government supports the attacks.

Al-Qa’ida affiliates and jihadist movements exactly similar to al-Qa’ida, such as Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis), are much stronger in Iraq and Syria than they are in Yemen.

The drone strikes at the weekend were directed at what was called an al-Qa’ida base in the far south of the country, built in recent months and said to contain a training ground and storehouses for weapons, food  and vehicles.

The US has stepped up its drone offensive against AQAP in Yemen in the past two years after the group had captured and later lost several southern cities in 2011. In a show of defiance, AQAP recently posted a video showing its leader, Nasser al-Wahishi, meeting openly with dozens of militants in Abyan province in the south.

Columns of smoke could be seen rising from vehicles hit by drones at the weekend, according to local tribal leaders. The attacked base is in a remote mountain valley called Wadi al-Khayala in the rugged al-Mahfad region at the border between Abyan and the neighbouring provinces of Shabwa and al-Bayda. The Yemeni government said the drone strikes the day before had killed at least 55 militants – though others gave higher figures – including three prominent al-Qa’ida-linked figures.

A drone strike on Sunday night killed three militants, one of whom may have been a senior commander, when a missile blasted their off-road vehicle in the southern Shabwa province, an official said. Witnesses confirmed the vehicle was destroyed and said they saw the charred remains of three individuals.

Shortly after the attack, commandos in an unmarked helicopter arrived to retrieve the bodies, they said. One witness told a reporter from Agence France-Presse that “the operation seems to  indicate that one of the dead could be an important leader of al-Qa’ida”.

On Saturday, a drone strike in the central province of al-Bayda killed 10 al-Qa’ida suspects and three civilians, the official Saba news  agency said.

Yemen is an easy place for the US to be seen to be ramping up “the war on terror”, though local observers doubt the long-term effectiveness of the drone strikes.

The Yemeni branch of al-Qa’ida was held responsible for two abortive but well-publicised attempts to bring down planes with explosives hidden in a bomber’s underwear and, in another case, concealed in toner cartridges.

AQAP finds it easy to operate in Yemen, which is larger than California, has a population of 25 million and has well-developed smuggling networks for weapons, drugs and people. The political system is dominated by tribes which share out power.

The drones are often successful in hitting vehicles deep in the mountains but there is uncertainty about the importance of individuals killed and, on occasion, these turn out to be innocent civilians.

PATRICK COCKBURN is the author of  Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

More articles by:
May 30, 2016
Ron Jacobs
The State of the Left: Many Movements, Too Many Goals?
James Abourezk
The Intricacies of Language
Porfirio Quintano
Hillary, Honduras, and the Murder of My Friend Berta
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes on ISIS are Reducing Their Cities to Ruins
Uri Avnery
The Center Doesn’t Hold
Raouf Halaby
The Sailors of the USS Liberty: They, Too, Deserve to Be Honored
Rodrigue Tremblay
Barack Obama’s Legacy: What happened?
Matt Peppe
Just the Facts: The Speech Obama Should Have Given at Hiroshima
Deborah James
Trade Pacts and Deregulation: Latest Leaks Reveal Core Problem with TISA
Michael Donnelly
Still Wavy After All These Years: Flower Geezer Turns 80
Ralph Nader
The Funny Business of Farm Credit
Paul Craig Roberts
Memorial Day and the Glorification of Past Wars
Colin Todhunter
From Albrecht to Monsanto: A System Not Run for the Public Good Can Never Serve the Public Good
Rivera Sun
White Rose Begins Leaflet Campaigns June 1942
Tom H. Hastings
Field Report from the Dick Cheney Hunting Instruction Manual
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Julian Vigo
The Government and Your i-Phone: the Latest Threat to Privacy
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail