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.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times
Mike Whitney
Power-Mad Erdogan Launches War in Attempt to Become Turkey’s Supreme Leader
Ellen Brown
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
Stephen Lendman
Russia Challenges America’s Orwellian NED
Will Parrish
The Politics of California’s Water System
John Wight
The Murder of Ali Saad Dawabsha, a Palestinian Infant Burned Alive by Israeli Terrorists
Jeffrey Blankfort
Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington
Geoffrey McDonald
Obama’s Overtime Tweak: What is the Fair Price of a Missed Life?
Brian Cloughley
Hypocrisy, Obama-Style
Robert Fantina
Israeli Missteps Take a Toll
Pete Dolack
Speculators Circling Puerto Rico Latest Mode of Colonialism
Ron Jacobs
Spying on Black Writers: the FB Eye Blues
Paul Buhle
The Leftwing Seventies?
Binoy Kampmark
The TPP Trade Deal: of Sovereignty and Secrecy
David Swanson
Vietnam, Fifty Years After Defeating the US
Robert Hunziker
Human-Made Evolution
Shamus Cooke
Why Obama’s “Safe Zone” in Syria Will Inflame the War Zone
David Rosen
Hillary Clinton: Learn From Your Sisters
Sam Husseini
How #AllLivesMatter and #BlackLivesMatter Can Devalue Life
Shepherd Bliss
Why I Support Bernie Sanders for President
Louis Proyect
Manufacturing Denial
Howard Lisnoff
The Wrong Argument
Tracey Harris
Living Tiny: a Richer and More Sustainable Future
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
A Day of Tears: Report from the “sHell No!” Action in Portland
Tom Clifford
Guns of August: the Gulf War Revisited
Renee Lovelace
I Dream of Ghana
Colin Todhunter
GMOs: Where Does Science Begin and Lobbying End?
Ben Debney
Modern Newspeak Dictionary, pt. II
Christopher Brauchli
Guns Don’t Kill People, Immigrants Do and Other Congressional Words of Wisdom
S. Mubashir Noor
India’s UNSC Endgame
Ellen Taylor
The Voyage of the Golden Rule
Norman Ball
Ten Questions for Lee Drutman: Author of “The Business of America is Lobbying”
Franklin Lamb
Return to Ma’loula, Syria
Masturah Alatas
Six Critics in Search of an Author
Mark Hand
Cinéma Engagé: Filmmaker Chronicles Texas Fracking Wars
Mary Lou Singleton
Gender, Patriarchy, and All That Jazz
Patrick Hiller
The Icebreaker and #ShellNo: How Activists Determine the Course
Charles Larson
Tango Bends Its Gender: Carolina De Robertis’s “The Gods of Tango”