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Middle East and North Africa

Drone strikes stir up anger in Yemen

Over twenty highers-up involved in one of al-Qaeda’s franchise organizations, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) are purported to be hiding out in Yemen, AQAP’s main stronghold. In order to take out these individuals, who are viewed as a threat to the international community, the United States has engaged in around 100 drone strikes over the past four years, killing over 900 people, many of whom were innocent civilians, and only four of whom were actual high-level targets. 

The high collateral damage rate of these attacks is largely a result of signature strikes, when those with suspicious behavior, like getting into cars with groups of suspicious figures, visiting suspected sleeper cells in other countries, or phone contacts with AQAP agents, are targeted without the U.S. actually knowing their identities or whether they are actually threats. This leads to many who are merely connected to AQAP figures through tribal or other ties, which remain highly important in Yemen, to be caught in the line of fire.

The civilian casualties have led to widespread rage towards the U.S. in both Yemen and the international community. It is notable that this outrage, at least in Yemen, is not directed at the killing of the legitimate targets, like Anwar al-Awlaki in 2011, which indicates that many in Yemen do not, as of yet, object to the American aim to neutralize AQAP. However, as civilian deaths grow more and more common, and outrage at these deaths grows, Yemeni goodwill towards the U.S. may decrease.

Much of this changing attitude was captured in a letter a Yemeni civilian wrote to the presidents of both Yemen and the U.S. this week. To coincide with a meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi in Washington this week, an engineer named Faisal bin Ali Jaber wrote a letter to the two leaders expressing the effects of American drone strikes on ordinary Yemeni civilians.

Jaber, a denizen of Hadramout who is employed by the Yemeni equivalent of the American Environmental Protection Agency, notes that one of his relatives who was killed was in fact a strongly anti-militant imam who had spoken out repeatedly against al-Qaeda and the other anti-U.S. and anti-Yemeni government militants in his sermons. He noted, “because word of the killing spread immediately through the region, I fear you have lost thousands” of ordinary Yemenis who might otherwise support the anti-al-Qaeda actions of the U.S. military.

This dissatisfaction among the Yemeni people is not only directed at the U.S., but also at their own government. Hadi was the deputy to and replacement for Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was president of Yemen for over three decades, and who was pushed to resign from office during Yemen’s persisting Arab Spring protests in 2012. This was hardly the drastic change many Yemeni protestors were hoping for, and now, many consider him to be merely a follower of Saleh’s ways. Majida al-Maqtari, a schoolteacher, bitterly complained, “Hadi has done nothing for Yemen, except to let American planes kill people whose guilt is not known.” 

By Laura Gates

Source: Pravda, Bloomberg, Reuters

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