Drone Strikes in Yemen Are Very Effective — For AQAP Recruitment

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:

[youtuber youtube=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gh5njqgeHrY’]

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:

“The US thinks it understands Yemen but the drones have been one of the most effective tools for AQAP to succeed in Yemen,” said Farea al-Muslimi.

“A big part of al-Qaeda power at the moment is convincing Yemenis that they are in a war with America, (that) America is attacking the sovereignty of Yemen and this government is non-legitimate.”

Mr al-Muslimi is one of the most pro-American voices in Yemen. He testified in front of a US Senate committee in a personal capacity after his own village was struck by a drone.

Despite the evidence that US drone strikes aid al Qaeda recruiting, Yemen’s Foreign Minister manages to parrot the US position, even while admitting “some truth” to the idea that strikes aid recruitment:

Yemen’s government says all means are necessary to root out al-Qaeda, even if the US drone strikes are rallying support for the militant group.

“I’ve heard this argument, there might be some truth to it,” said Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi.

“But if your targets are al-Qaeda leaders and if they are endangering the security of your country, there’s no alternative.”

Proving completely immune to the reality on the ground in Yemen, the US has chosen to widen its criteria for drone strikes in Yemen in the current security theater operation:

A senior American official said over the weekend that the most recent terrorist threat “expanded the scope of people we could go after” in Yemen.

“Before, we couldn’t necessarily go after a driver for the organization; it’d have to be an operations director,” said the official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss delicate intelligence issues. “Now that driver becomes fair game because he’s providing direct support to the plot.”

Senior American intelligence officials said last week that none of the about three dozen militants killed so far in the drone strikes were “household names,” meaning top-tier leaders of the affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. But the American official said the strikes had targeted “rising stars” in the Yemen network, people who were more likely to be moving around and vulnerable to attack. “They may not be big names now,” the official said, “but these were the guys that would have been future leaders.”

Yes. Our intelligence for targeting in Yemen is of such low quality that the latest barrage of strikes hasn’t killed a single high level al Qaeda leader. Instead, we are now claiming that those killed “were the guys that would have been future leaders”.

Brilliant. I guess the drone targeting teams now have pre-cogs working for them so that we can know who the future AQAP leaders would have been. How much faster will AQAP grow now?

9 replies
  1. peasantparty says:

    I watched the Senate Hearing where those words regarding AQ were told at least 6 times to the Committee. They are very well aware of the backlash of the drone strikes in Yemen. Either the Military, JSOC, and CIA are not being led by Congress and the President on this, or nobody cares.

    The Commander in Chief has a lot of questions to answer regarding these unclaimed wars and war zones. Congress is guilty of each death for allowing the money to flow into the system to enable it.

    For all those in foreign lands that the US is conducting these ill conceived and stupid acts, I apologize dearly. This is not the correct use of military and power to stop a small menace. It is shameful that the largest military in the world has to stoop to these measures in order to stop a small army of their own making!

  2. P J Evans says:

    Isn’t that going to be hard on all the non-government folks in DC? I’d prefer something a bit more targeted, like only the ones who think drones are a great idea.

  3. C says:

    During the waning days of the Vietnam War one of its architects in the “Best and the Brigtest” appeared before congress and, when asked about the progress of the war, spoke in terms of “increased derivatives of bomb tonnage over time” or words to that effect. Now as we know thanks to the Pentagon Papers he knew at the time that we were losing by any real measure and had been for some time. Yet he reported glowingly on the number of villages bombed, using the most abstract technical jargon, as if that was the end in itself, and perhaps it was.

    When I read statements of the type above about “widening the scope” of targets It feels oddly familiar, and wholly depressing.

  4. C says:

    “What did my daughter ever do to them? She was only eight years old.”

    I wonder if the drone operator who fired on the building even knows about this? I doubt they ever saw his daughter or was trained to think about her any more than the bomber pilots in Vietnam saw the villages. But do they even tell them after the fact or have we completely severed the chain between action and human consequences in war?

  5. seedeevee says:

    I guess they are going to have to back and clean up that little boy whose sister was murdered. He has a future as a “Pissed Off At America” Yemeni . . . .

  6. john francis lee says:

    The people in the administration who run this drone assassination terror program are smart people. They know exactly what they are doing. Drone production is ramped up and they need targets. Their method of target creation is terrorizing countries and killing men. women and children at random … by ‘signature’.

    That creates the terrorist targets they need to expand their program.

    The people who run the government of the United States of America are depraved and are beyond the pale of civilization … all 546 of them must be replaced by ordinary Americans. We have 300 million to chose from. A random selection would be better than what we have now … much better. But we can do better than that.

  7. Nathanael says:

    This means that drone strikes, since they are a recruiting tool for AQAP, constitute “aid and comfort to the enemy”. Everyone ordering them has committed treason according to the US Constitution.

    Not sure what it will take to get Obama & co. prosecuted for treason, but it’s overdue. I voted for the man in 2008, but at this point it’s clear he belongs in the dock for his crimes against the United States.

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