Marcy has been all over the current episode of security theater surrounding the latest al Qaeda “conference call” that led to the closure of many US embassies, but I want to focus on news reports that have come out over the last month or so that remind us, once again, that high rates of civilian deaths in drone strikes in Yemen, as they do elsewhere, contribute dramatically to recruitment for al Qaeda. Analyst Gregory Johnsen is one of the most authoritative voices on militants in the region (a must-follow on Twitter as @gregorydjohnsen). He appeared on the PBS News Hour last week to discuss the latest flurry of US drone strikes in Yemen. A startling statistic he cited is that on the date of Underwear Bomb 1.0, Christmas Day of 2009, al Qaeda had approximately 200-300 members in Yemen. Today, after dramatic increases in US drone strikes, al Qaeda has “more than a few thousand”. Johnsen informs us that the estimate of al Qaeda force size in Yemen today comes from the US State Department. Here is his interview in full:
Wow, US “targeted killings” of high-level AQAP figures in Yemen has been so effective that the group is now only ten times larger than it was less than four years ago.
In an extended video report posted at BBC last week, Yalda Hakim talked to family members of civilians killed in US drone strikes along with a widely known “pro-US democracy advocate” and Yemen’s Foreign Minister.
A particularly sad story comes from Mohammed Ahmad Bagash, whose eight year old daughter died in a strike:
During the fighting, al Qaeda fighters stored ammunition in the local hospital against the wishes of the doctors.
After the hospital was hit by a missile strike, Mohammed and his two children ran to a school and hid in the basement.
But then the school was hit in a suspected drone strike.
“It was as if everyone was burning. It was all dark,” said Mr Bagash.
“When the smoke cleared, I saw my son’s leg was bleeding, and my daughter was hit on the back of the head,” he said.
He carried both children out. His son survived but his eight-year-old daughter bled to death on the way to the hospital.
Mr Bagash has a question for the person who ordered the drone strike: “What did my daughter ever do to them? She was only eight years old.”
And then a bleak observation.
“They think we’re rats. We’re not. We’re human beings.”
Even fans of the US in Yemen see that drone strikes work against the US: Continue reading