Drone presence increases, civilians die in recent strike
The strike hit two vehicles mistakenly believed to be carrying Al-Qaeda members. The civilians were returning to their village.
Yemeni officials have sent tribal representatives to investigate, Agence France-Presse reported. Yemeni President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi ordered the establishment of a fact-finding committee to investigate the strike, according to a statement by the Supreme Security Committee. The committee will review the findings and take the necessary legal procedures, the statement said.
“We have been sent by the government to establish the reasons for the error,” delegation member Tawfic Al-Jahmi said to AFP.
Abdulsalam Mohammed, head of the Abad Center for Strategic Studies, said the strike was likely carried out by the U.S. using a drone. While the Yemeni government has claimed responsibility for similar strikes in the past, their capabilities are limited, he said.
“These strikes are carried out by U.S. drones,” Mohammed said. “The Yemeni Air Forces can carry out strikes only if they have MiG-29s, but they’re likely using MiG-21s and Sukhoi-23s, he said, referring to the Soviet-made aircraft. The MiG-21s and Sukhoi-23s are popular makes still in use by many countries today. MiG-29s come with the avionics necessary to carry out precision attacks on AQAP. ”
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) released a report earlier this year calling the Yemeni Air Force “barely functional” and pointing to U.S. involvement in the strikes. Widespread corruption means the air force is without basic navigation instruments that would allow aircrafts to function at night, ruling out the possibility that night strikes were carried out by Yemeni security forces. Yemeni security forces continue claiming responsibility for a number of attacks, though Mohammed said he thinks the U.S carries out the bulk of them.
A U.S. diplomatic cable released two years ago by WikiLeaks revealed that former President Ali Abdullah Saleh told then-commander of United States Central Command General David Petraeus—now director of central intelligence—that Yemen would “continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours.”
U.S. drone strikes in Yemen are not only a threat to Yemeni sovereignty, but arouse resentment and hostility toward the U.S. and Yemeni governments when civilians are killed, according to Mohammed.
“These strikes are supposed to be carried out by Yemeni warplanes based on accurate information,” Mohammed said. “Otherwise, they will obstruct peaceful transition of power in Yemen and will make victims’ relatives angry—they could resort to supporting or even joining Al-Qaeda and its affiliates.”
Sheikh Khaled Al-Dhahab, a tribal leader from Rada'a, said residents and prominent leaders in Rada’a highly condemn such attacks, which lead many to seek revenge.
Various wire stories have reported that protestors blocked the main road out of Rada’a, and relatives of the dead tried to bring the bodies to President Hadi’s residence in Sana’a, but they were blocked by security forces.
“Everyone here sympathizes with those who were unfairly killed,” he said. “What were they doing to be killed in this horrifying way? It’s not the first time these drones have killed our innocent people.”
Al-Dhahab said such attacks cannot stop Al-Qaeda activities.
“On the contrary, these attacks help strengthen Al-Qaeda activities over through the area.”
The National Authority for Defending Rights and Freedoms (HOOD) said in a statement Monday that the Yemeni government must value the life of its citizens and work on protecting the dignity of its people and the sovereignty of the country.
HOOD said the Yemeni government is “colluding with these horrible offenses and not valuing the blood of Yemenis. These crimes arouse the feelings of Yemenis and encourage them to retaliate—no one will be safe from its consequences."
Sara Jamal, a prominent activist and sociologist living in Sana’a, laid out several objections to U.S. drone strikes in Yemen. Drone strikes are an invasion of Yemen’s authority and sovereignty, she said.
“I feel like I live under occupation, with all these foreign aircrafts in the sky.”
Jamal is opposed to the civilian deaths that result from drone strikes.
“I have a problem with killing AQAP (Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) without trial, let alone civilians,” she said. “You don’t solve this [problem] by killing innocent people, you solve it with development. This was another ugly attack, and sadly, no one will be speaking about it.”
Hundreds of people protested in Hadramout on Monday, demanding the government take action against the strikes, Xinhua news agency reported. Demonstrators, including four tribal leaders, chanted and held signs, displaying their anger at the strike. They chanted, “No for killing innocent people” and “End alliance with the U.S. government,” witnesses told Xinhua.
Pattern of increased drone strikes
TBIJ reports five confirmed drone strikes for the month of August and two drone strikes during the first two days of September. There have been 31 confirmed airstrikes since the beginning of this year, according to the Long War Journal, which also reported that increased drone strikes are a result of the U.S. combatting AQAP’s control of territory in southern Yemen. The minimum number of people killed in strikes since 2002 is 207 people, with 168 of them killed in 2012, according to TBIJ.
The U.S. has increased military aid to and cooperation with Yemen as part of the war on terror. Since Saleh’s removal from power following 2011’s political uprising, the U.S. has further increased aid in hopes of helping Hadi stabilize the country. Following Saleh’s departure, the U.S. feared AQAP would take advantage of the security and power vacuum. The U.S. has more than doubled aid to Yemen this year, reaching an estimated $345 million according to a statement by Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, at this week’s Donors Conference in Riyadh.
Another contributor to increased drone strikes is the Obama administration’s new policy, outlined earlier this year, allowing the U.S. to target individuals believed to be plotting against Americans in the U.S., even if the identities of the accused individuals cannot be verified.
"What this means in practice is there are times when counterterrorism professionals can assess with high confidence someone is an AQAP leader, even if they can't tell us by name who that individual is," one official told the Associated Press.