The Arab Spring Meets US Counterterrorism: “We consider the drones terrorism”

Jeremy Scahill has a new story describing how our counterterrorism efforts in Yemen, combined with the Arab Spring, are making al Qaeda’s affiliates in Yemen more popular among local Yemenis. He quotes one tribal leader comparing AQAP’s terrorism to our use of drones.

“Why should we fight them? Why?” asks Sheik Ali Abdullah Abdulsalam, a southern tribal sheik from Shebwa who adopted the nom du guerre Mullah Zabara, he says, out of admiration for Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. “If my government built schools, hospitals and roads and met basic needs, I would be loyal to my government and protect it. So far, we don’t have basic services such as electricity, water pumps. Why should we fight Al Qaeda?” He says that AQAP controls large swaths of Shebwa, conceding that the group does “provide security and prevent looting. If your car is stolen, they will get it back for you.” In areas “controlled by the government, there is looting and robbery. You can see the difference.” Zabara adds, “If we don’t pay more attention, Al Qaeda could seize and control more areas.”

Zabara is quick to clarify that he believes AQAP is a terrorist group bent on attacking the United States, but that is hardly his central concern. “The US sees Al Qaeda as terrorism, and we consider the drones terrorism,” he says. “The drones are flying day and night, frightening women and children, disturbing sleeping people. This is terrorism.” Zabara says several US strikes in his region have killed scores of civilians and that his community is littered with unexploded cluster bombs, which have detonated, killing children. He and other tribal leaders asked the Yemeni and US governments for assistance in removing them, he says.

As Scahill describes it, the increasing influence of AQAP and its new rebranded organization, Ansar al Sharia, has been made worse in the last year, as the US has moved most of its counterterrorism personnel to Djibouti for security reasons, leaving Saleh’s government to use the counterterrorism troops we’ve outfitted to defend his own regime, and leaving us to rely on the unpopular drone strikes to hit counterterrorism targets. And the guy who is supposed to be in charge of these counterterrorism forces, Ali Abdullah Saleh’s son Yahya, has left the country to go hang out in Cuba with Che Guevara’s family.

Given Scahill’s description of how Yemen’s Central Security Forces ran away from a battle with militants last May, effectively handing them all their weapons, you get the feeling significant numbers of troops will join al Qaeda’s affiliates once Saleh loses his incentive to toy with Americans.

But that shouldn’t be a big surprise. That’s about what’s happening in Afghanistan right now too.

In almost every combat outpost I visited this year, the troopers reported to me they had intercepted radio or other traffic between the ANSF and the local Taliban making essentially mini non-aggression deals with each other.


To sum: in a number of high profile mission opportunities over the past 11 months the ANA and ANP have numerous times run from the battle, run from rumors, or made secret deals with the Taliban.

What we’re doing? Partnering with illegitimate leaders who have a disincentive to do anything to fix their country which, as a result, lends credibility to the insurgents?

That’s not working.

10 replies
  1. Arbusto says:

    What we’re[sic] doing? Partnering with illegitimate leaders who have a disincentive to do anything to fix their country which, as a result, lends credibility to the insurgents?

    That’s not working.

    That it started not working 60 years ago in our toppling a freely Iranian government, nor succeeded anywhere since, has nothing to do with it. Our Government continues our failed policy because it supports the oligarchy that initiated the request. The bureaucracy in State, DoD and CIA to name but a few, owe their jobs and retirement to the status quo, just as the drug war supports Homeland Security and the DEA retirement fund. No President, and especially this one want to fight the bureaucracy let alone go against its financiers.

    What are a few hundred deaths or enraged populace compared to a nice retirement or campaign money?

  2. rugger9 says:

    Or the oil money. The reason we are still in Afghanistan, really is a damn pipeline that the oil companies want someone else to provide the security for them.

    We also saw the same thing in Archangel in 1919 when the US/UK/French coalition tried to overthrow the Bolsheviks. Detroit’s 339th Infantry [the Polar Bears] was a key part of that. All the way past Vietnam, so it’s not like we don’t have the evidence to see.

    If there is nothing in it for the locals, they won’t stand up for themselves. The South Koreans learned it over time, but I would say their situation was unique.

  3. Dan says:

    The arrogance and hubris of American leaders prevents them from seeing a solution to terrorism that has been demonstrated to them time and time again. As Hezbella or Taliban and other “terrorist” organizations have demonstrated, if you provide for the basic needs of the population (i.e. security, food, healthcare)they will support you. And it would cost us 1/4 of what our military adventures cost. Current US approach just continues to manufacture two new terrorists for every one killed.

  4. Benjamin Franklin says:

    The Jihadists watch and learn. No doubt the Taliban has taken the lessons of the behavior of AQ, resulting in the so-called Anbar Awakening, and decided to make themselves more user friendly, until their power is, once again, unchallenged.

  5. rugger9 says:

    @Arbusto: #3
    No doubt on that, and there will be a quid pro quo for doing so. Not a good idea, and the PRC is very much interested in global domination.

  6. Mary McCurnin says:


    And it would cost us 1/4 of what our military adventures cost.

    Not enough profit in being nice to folks. Gotta kill them to save them.

  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    That should surprise no one, certainly not the USAF, which studied in depth the public’s reactions to intense bombing campaigns.

    After, the bombing campaigns by the Luftwaffe against London and other English cities, and by the RAF and the US Army Air Corps against Duesseldorf and other major German cities, public support for the ruling regime went up markedly. Ditto after the USAF repeatedly bombed North Vietnam.

    If enhancing local support is an expected outcome, then in all probability, so is enhancing local support for covert opposition to the offending foreign military and its sponsoring government. That begs the question whether we are intentionally raising enemies as a justification for an underlying determination to obtain and use all these new toys.

    Drones, for example, are really just high-tech snipers. Infinitely more costly, they don’t spill secrets the same way as a captured sniper or Francis Gary Powers. They constitute entirely new, dual-purpose, multi-billion dollar weapons and support systems.

  8. Kathleen says:


    cultivating enemies…selling drones to kill them. What an immoral way to make a buck

    EW and others
    Could Lieberman Bill Block War-Averting Diplomacy With Iran?
    Wednesday 15 February 2012
    link to
    “There’s no question that some people in Washington would very much like for the US to have a policy toward Iran, the endgame of which is war or externally induced regime change. And they have a long-term strategy to bring this about, which is to block efforts at meaningful diplomacy, so that the only thing left on the table is war or externally induced regime change.

    Now, according to reports from DC, come Joe Lieberman and Lindsay Graham with a new bill. What does their bill seek to do? According to reports from people who have seen the draft bill, in its current form, it seeks to block the president from having a policy to “contain” Iran if it develops nuclear weapons capability.”


    “Something to watch: what New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand does, because she supported Lieberman in December in insisting that no diplomatic effort was acceptable that allowed Iran to continue enriching uranium. So, if I’m Lieberman, Gillibrand is my next Democratic target in the effort to block President Obama from pursuing meaningful diplomacy to prevent war.”

    On Hardball tonight Chris Matthews shows a clip of Gillibrand today saying that “Iran is threatening the US”
    “Iran proclaims nuclear advances”…Listen to Gillibrand sounds like she is ready to go to Iran
    link to

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