Yemen Tries to Claim US Drone Strikes as Yemeni Air Force Strikes

As MadDog alerted us this morning, there were multiple strikes against alleged terrorist targets in southern Yemen Friday night.  What stands out to me in scanning the various media reports about these attacks is that even though it is crystal clear that these attacks are carried out by US drones firing missiles, Yemeni defense officials try to claim that the attacks are carried out by the Yemeni air force.  This is an interesting contrast to the approach taken by Pakistani officials, where even though the official position of Pakistan’s government is that US missile strikes are not allowed, Pakistani officials make no efforts to claim the strikes as their own, allowing the assumption that the strikes are carried out by the US to go unchallenged.

The most recent report on the strikes in Yemen that I can find is this brief update from Reuters [Note: the Reuters article was revised and expanded significantly while this post was being written; the passage quoted is from the earlier version and no longer appears directly as quoted, but the drone death toll of 24 and government claim of responsibility survives.]:

The death toll from air strikes that killed a senior al Qaeda official in southern Yemen has risen to 24, local officials said on Saturday.

The Defense Ministry said Yemeni aircraft had carried out the attack on Friday night.

This report has the highest death toll I’ve seen on the story and includes the note that Yemeni officials claim they carried out the attacks.  By contrast, the CNN report on the attacks puts the death toll at only 7 and reports that there were three drone attacks.  This report, although it quotes Yemeni officials, is silent on responsibility for this attack, although it does reference the earlier attack that killed Anwar al-Awlaki as having been carried out by the US [Note: this article also was updated, with the death toll up to 9 now.]:

The son of U.S.-born militant cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki was among those killed in a trio of drone attacks in southern Yemen on Friday night, a security official said.

The attacks, carried out in the Shabwa district, killed seven suspected militants, the defense ministry said. It would not confirm that Abdul Rahman Anwar Awlaki was among them.

The senior security official in Shabwa, who did not want to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media, said the younger Awlaki had been hiding in the mountains of Shabwa for more than eight months. He had first-hand knowledge of the death, he said.

As also mentioned in a number of other reports, the CNN story goes on to mention that Ibrahim al-Banna, the head media officer for AQAP, was killed.  They cite Yemeni defense officials as the source of this information.

The same AP article that MadDog cited also is carried by the Washington Post.  Note that this article opens by flatly stating that the attacks were carried out by US drones and later actually cites confirmation by Yemeni “security officials”, with no reference to Yemeni defense officials trying to claim responsibility, even though the Defense Ministry is cited in identifying the key figures killed:

 An American drone strike in southern Yemen has killed seven al-Qaida-linked militants, including the media chief for the group’s Yemeni branch and the son of a prominent U.S.-born cleric slain in a similar attack last month, government officials and tribal elders said Saturday.


The Yemeni Defense Ministry identified the slain media chief as Egyptian-born Ibrahim al-Bana. Tribal elders in the area also said the dead included Abdul-Rahman al-Awlaki, the 21-year-old son of Anwar al-Awlaki, a gifted Muslim preacher and savvy Internet operator who became a powerful al-Qaida recruiting tool in the West. He, along with another propagandist, Pakistani-American Samir Khan, were killed in a Sept. 30 U.S. drone attack.


Security officials said the strike that killed them was one of five carried out over night by an American drones on suspected al-Qaida positions in Shabwa and the neighboring province of Abyan in Yemen’s largely lawless south.

Interestingly, this report indicates that there were five separate drone attacks Friday night, but reports only the death toll of seven from the most prominent single attack, rather than summing the toll from all five attacks to the higher level of 24 reported by Reuters.

Pakistan’s carries AFP’s report on the attacks in Yemen.  This report is noteworthy both because the Dawn headline puts both “US air” and “Qaeda militants” in quotation marks and because it does the best job of any of the media reports I’ve seen in adding some perspective to Yemen trying to claim responsibility for the attacks:

Apparent US air strikes killed seven suspected al Qaeda militants in southern Yemen, one of them the media chief of the jihadist network’s regional affiliate, a local official said on Saturday.

The Yemeni defence ministry confirmed the deaths but insisted that Friday evening’s strikes in Shabwa province, a militant stronghold east of the main southern city of Aden, were carried out by its own forces.

“Three strikes, apparently American, which were launched against positions held by al Qaeda militants in Azzan, one of the group’s bastions, killed seven of them, including the Egyptian, Ibrahim al-Banna’a,” the local official said.

The article conclude with this helpful explanation:

Yemen routinely denies that the United States carries out offensive operations on its territory, insisting that it plays a purely logistic and intelligence role in support of Yemen’s own counter-terror operations.

Accounts of drone attacks in Pakistan, by contrast, do not hesitate in noting that the drones are American, even though the official Pakistani position is that they do not approve of these actions.  Here is Pakistan’s Express Tribune carrying an AFP report on drone attacks there on Friday:

A US drone strike targeting a militant compound in a Pakistani tribal region killed four rebels in the fourth attack in two days near the Afghan border, security officials said Saturday.

The drones fired eight missiles Friday night at the compound in Baghar, 40 kilometres west of Wana, the main town of South Waziristan tribal district, where the military launched a ground offensive two years ago.

“The strike killed four militants and wounded three others,” a senior security official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The delicate dance relating to attribution of the drone strikes does not stop here, however. Despite the report leading with identifying the drones as American and no claims to the contrary coming from either Pakistan government officials or local officials at the attack site, this article concludes by noting that the US doesn’t officially admit to the use of drones:

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said for the first time that the United States was waging “war” in Pakistan against militants, referring to the covert CIA drone campaign that Washington refuses to discuss publicly.

And there we have the lovely circumstances regarding the US reliance on drones to carry out attacks that in some cases are described as amounting to illegal extrajudicial executions.  The US refuses to publicly acknowledge these actions, citing their “covert” nature in a convenient dodge from accepting responsibility for controversial (or possibly illegal) measures.  Yemen is quick to falsely claim responsibility, perhaps to curry favor with the US and perhaps as an attempt to enhance the posture of a government facing a very popular citizen uprising that appears to be poised on ousting the President.  By contrast, Pakistan does not fear public disagreements with the US.  Its government has a stronger grip on power.  That allows it to maintain its public position that Pakistani forces alone should be in charge of attacking militants in Waziristan, and allows the Pakistani government to object to US drone strikes as a breach of sovereignty, especially when innocent civilians are killed.

Whatever the posturing by the host countries, however, the US drones on, determined to strike “enemies” wherever they are to be found.

14 replies
  1. MadDog says:

    As I commented on just now to orionATL in the previous thread, it would seem that Anwar al-Awlaki’s son, Abdul-Rahman al-Awlaki was also a US citizen by parentage.

    In which case, another US citizen is executed without due process by the US government under cover of the CIA’s tenuous pretension of “plausible deniability”.

    Perhaps the fodder of the Yemeni government claim that their own “Air Force” was responsible was a CIA “suggestion” to help shelter the US government from another round of “execution without due process” blogger and MSM “hysteria”.

    Can you say “I don’t think that’s gonna work”? I thought you could.

  2. rg says:

    I wonder what exactly is a “media chief”, if not something that could be called a “press secretary” or “communications director”, or even “spokesman”. These do not seem to warrant the title of “militant” or even “suspected militant” and certainly do not warrant a death sentence.

  3. Jim White says:

    @MadDog: Okay, I won’t say another word about Abdul-Rahman al-Awlaki being a US citizen who was extrajudicially executed by the US in Yemen. At least until the next time I talk about it.

    Also, just for grins and because I can: JOSHUA CLAUS.

  4. MadDog says:

    @Jim White: In the voice of W.C. Fields, I imagine this conversation taking place while strolling down the Washington Mall:

    Venerable MSM National Security Reporter: Can you confirm that Abdul-Rahman al-Awlaki who was killed in the latest drone strike in Yemen was a U.S. citizen?

    Senior Administration Official: A mere technicality mah boy, a mere technicality.

    Venerable MSM National Security Reporter: But…but…what about the Constitution’s 5th Amendment guaranteeing Due Process?

    Senior Administration Official: Mah boy, I’m glad you brought that up. It reminds me that we are standing on the bosom of American history. Right here mah boy, right here!

    Venerable MSM National Security Reporter: What…what…?

    Senior Administration Official: Look, over there! I’m reliably informed that during our Revolutionary War an outhouse stood right there. Yes mah boy, I’m reliably informed that George Washington’s wife Martha took a dump right there. Hallowed ground mah boy, hallowed ground!

    Venerable MSM National Security Reporter: But…but…what about Abdul-Rahman al-Awlaki?

    Senior Administration Official: Watch yer step mah boy, watch yer step. No, I’m sure that’s Martha’s. Makes you proud to be an American.

    Venerable MSM National Security Reporter: What…what…?

  5. rg says:

    @MadDog: Another question a reporter might ask is: Given the view that Awlaki senior was a threat to the US because of his rhetorical prowess, what basis is there for viewing his son as a threat? Would it be that his continued existence provided a symbol of his father’s threat, or did he have rhetorical powers in his own right?

  6. MadDog says:

    @rg: Could it be that the US government is taking a page from the Columbian drug cartel’s playbook where they kill not only their competition, but the families of their competition?

    The purported rationale is to prevent future retaliation from family members.

  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    This is a shooting war and we are doing the shooting. We have just given our snipers bigger long guns with which to execute their assassinations.

    One would think Congress should be authorizing these sorts of military-led and empowered killings. That assumes, of course that one could find a politician willing to put his or her name to such killings – and, more importantly, a congresscritter willing to compensate the families of the many dead innocents who happen to stroll past or even have a chat with whomever we have identified as sufficiently “bad” to kill at long range, with no process whatever, due or otherwise. Congress might also want to debate and establish the prudence, if it can, and the justification for performing these acts through civilian government employees, let alone mercenary contractors.

  8. MadDog says:

    An updated AP piece has some interesting information worth pondering:

    US strike kills 9 al-Qaida militants in Yemen

    …Yemeni officials familiar with the U.S. military drive against al-Qaida in Yemen said a shift of strategy by the Americans was finally yielding results, with human assets on the ground directly providing actionable intelligence to U.S. commanders rather than relying entirely on Yemen’s security agencies the Americans had long considered inefficient or even suspected of leaking word on planned operations.

    They said there were as many as 3,000 informers on the U.S. payroll around the country – some without even knowing it.

    The Saudis, on the other hand, have traditionally kept an elaborate patronage system and an information network in Yemen, their neighbor to the south. They have for decades paid monthly stipends to key tribal leaders, military commanders and politicians to secure their loyalty. They also paid ordinary Yemenis to provide them with intelligence.

    “The Saudis are making their information available to the Americans,” said one of the defense officials, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to share the information. “Both them and the Americans are broadening their cooperation without direct Yemeni involvement…”

    I would make the point that if there are 3,000 on-the-ground Yemeni informants being paid by the US, and the US is not using the Yemeni intelligence and security forces entirely, then contact and payouts with these 3,000 informants has to be occurring by somebody else.

    JSOC? CIA? A combination of both?

  9. MadDog says:

    @MadDog: And the NYT’s Laura Kasinof substantiates the US citizenship of Abdel Rahman al-Awlaki, as well as listing his age as 17:

    Strikes Hit Yemen as Violence Escalates in Capital

    Airstrikes, believed to have been carried out by American drones, killed at least nine people in southern Yemen, including a senior official of the regional branch of Al Qaeda and an American, the 17-year-old son of a Qaeda official killed by the United States last month, according to the government and local reports on Saturday…


    …The killing of his son in a drone attack on Friday night, if confirmed, would be the third time an American was killed by such a United States attack in Yemen, although it was not clear if the son was an intended target…


    …A member of the Awlaki family said the dead included Mr. Awlaki’s son, Abdelrahman al-Awlaki, 17, who lived in the capital and was visiting the family home in the Assan District of Shabwa Province after his father’s death.

    Two other relatives of the Awlaki family were also killed, the family said. It was not known whether any of them were affiliated with Al Qaeda…

  10. Mary says:

    @MadDog: I was wondering about the age.

    This storty:
    puts it at that convenient 21 yo mark, but that seemed a bit old. This story also mentions that 4 members of the “al-awlaki clan” were killed without much comment (as opposed to the reference to 2 family memts in the NYT piece). But nothing to further explain who they were or their relationship.

    Part of what is interesting, to me, in the link is the discussion of the “solution” the US is pushing in Yemen. [First they use Saleh’s authorizations as their excuse for all kinds of assassinations, then] Saleh steps down in exchange for … you’ll never guess this one … who could have thought it … IMMUNITY!

    Nothing says Obama Administration like Immunity for war crimes. And knowing that the US is going to hand off the immunity on a silver platter is a great incentive to keep assassinating and committing war cimes in the meantime. After all – he wants as much bang as he can get for his buck.

    “Khaled al-Ansi, a prominent leader of the protest movement, blamed the death of the protesters on opposition parties, arguing that their acceptance of a U.S.-backed settlement plan proposed by Yemen’s Gulf Arab neighbors gave Saleh license to kill protesters at will. The plan provides for the Yemeni leader to step down and hand over power to his deputy in exchange for immunity.

    ‘The political parties are participants in the killings,” said al-Ansi. “The immunity from prosecution is giving Saleh a temptation to kill more of us.'”

    It’s bad enough to sell it here at home, but to wander through the world’s hot spots flat out encouraging murder and mayhem in exchange for US backed immunity is about as nastily evil as you get.

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