Yemen and the United States of America began their partnership against terror over a decade ago, when in 2001, on the wake of al-Qaeda 's attack on the Twin towers in New York then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh made a historic trip to the White House and pledge to open his country to America and wedge war on al-Qaeda cells in the region. Sana'a-Washington's counter-terrorism's fate was sealed; soon, a sophisticated security apparatus was born to Yemen, with the arrival onto the scene of Yemen National Security Agency - bank rolled by Washington - and Yemen Central Security Forces - also banked rolled by the U.S with all the benefits such an oversea operation entailed in terms of dealing with terror cells -
A decade within its fight against terror and Washington had opened up in the region - Arabian Peninsula and Asian block - several fronts against al-Qaeda with no tangible victories to show for.
Strong of the knowledge that war was growing ever more unpopular in the United States, and the reports of soldiers' deaths more difficult to explain a decade after 9-11, Washington decided to take a new approach to counter-terrorism, using technology and local intelligence to strike at the heart of Islamic extremism.
Drones - unmanned planes - became Washington favored tool of war. With no human overheads and maximum strike capacity, American state officials saw no downfall to drones, already advocating technology would outdo the "axis of evil".
Within months Washington's "virtual war" rained down terror in the skies of Pakistan and Yemen, raising questions which to this day are awaiting answers. But beyond intentions and legal matters lies one concept which no one not even the U.S. can afford to escape; are drones working against terror or are they creating more terror and unrest, hence playing into al-Qaeda's rhetoric against the western invaders?
Yemen Drone Campaign
When Yemen 2011 uprising led to al-Qaeda invasion of Abyan - southern province of Yemen - Washington was quick to call on newly elected President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi to set his house in order and address militarily the threat posed by Islamists in the region, especially since fear grew terror cells were spreading throughout the region like cancer; bringing to its fold more and more militants with every passing day.
Despite calls in Yemen against the use of drones by political and security activists, the White House decided to overlook Yemenis' argument of national sovereignty, stressing its national security was at stake and decisive actions needed to be taken.
On April 2012, American President Barack Hussain Obama signed
an order giving the CIA and the U.S Joint Special Operations Command - JSOC - greater leeway in the use of drones in Yemen.
The expanded authority allows the CIA and JSOC to fire on targets based solely on their intelligence “signatures” — patterns of behavior that are detected through signals intercepts, human sources and aerial surveillance, and that indicate the presence of an important operative or a plot against U.S. Interests
Essentially the Pentagon agreed that a "greater room for error" was acceptable - in which case more collateral casualties -
With such new rules of engagement, security analysts warned against the rift the policy will inevitably create between Yemen central government and the Pentagon.
Congressional officials expressed concerns that using signature strikes would raise the likelihood of killing militants who are not involved in plots against the United States, angering Yemeni tribes and potentially creating a new crop of al-Qaeda recruits.
Critics also challenged the legal grounds for expanding the drone campaign in Yemen. In an opinion piece published in The Washington Post in 2012, Bruce Ackerman, a law professor at Yale University, argued that war measures adopted in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were not aimed at al-Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate and don’t provide Obama “with authority to respond to these threats without seeking further congressional consent.”
Moreover, Professor Ackerman estimated the use of drones in Yemen would“increase sympathy for al-Qaeda-linked militants and driving tribesmen to join a network linked to terrorist plots against the United States.”
A report in Foreign Affairs in 2012 came to the opposite conclusion.
Christopher Swift, a fellow at the University of Virginia’s Center for National Security Law, traveled to Yemen and found that “the factors driving young men into the insurgency are overwhelmingly economic” and are not a result of blowback from drone strikes. Indeed, according the Yemenis Swift interviewed, the drone strikes were hurting AQAP:
"To my astonishment, none of the individuals I interviewed drew a causal relationship between U.S. drone strikes and al Qaeda recruiting. Indeed, of the 40 men in this cohort, only five believed that U.S. drone strikes were helping al Qaeda more than they were hurting it. …
Those living in active conflict zones drew clear distinctions between earlier U.S. operations, such as the Majalla bombing, and more recent strikes on senior al Qaeda figures. “Things were very bad in 2009,” a tribal militia commander from Abyan province told me, “but now the drones are seen as helping us.” He explained that Yemenis could “accept [drones] as long as there are no more civilian casualties.”
The striking difference between the Washington Post and Foreign Affairs accounts of the drone campaign may be a consequence of the two stories’ sourcing. While the Post interviewed “tribal leaders, victims’ relatives, human rights activists and officials from four provinces in southern Yemen,” Swift met with Yemeni journalists and “tribal leaders, Islamist politicians, Salafist clerics, and other sources” that were “older, more conservative, and more skeptical of U.S. motives.”
But while analysts, politicians and activists are pondering over the legality, efficiency or even necessity of drone attacks in Yemen, al-Qaeda militants are themselves changing their tactics, having decided to strike at the very heart of Yemen security apparatus by running a Talion campaign. For every drone and each of its militants' lives, al-Qaeda murdered Yemen's most high ranking security officials, crippling the state's ability to re-organize.
An Eye for an Eye, a Man for a Man
2012 Summer saw the deaths of several top security commanders -- Colonel Abdullah Ashmal, Maj. Gen. SAlem al-Quton,top commander of the southern region, Col. Abdullah al-Macanzaei, Head of Aden counter-terrorism unit in Aden -
In its bloodiest most deadliest attack against Yemeni intelligence officers, al-Qaeda operatives hurled grenades at Aden Intelligence headquarters, killing 20 officers and injuring a dozen.
In October 2012, Qasseem Aqlani, a top Yemeni security official who worked at the U.S embassy was assassinated.
Omar Barsheed, who was nominated to lead Yemen presidential guards was also killed by al-Qaeda militants after a drone stroke against their operatives.
Most recently - January 2013 - Brigadier Abdul-Wahab al-Mushki, Deputy Security Chieff in Dhamar was killed in a drive by, the latest victim of America's was on terror in Yemen.
With an accounted 75 strikes since 2012, 75 high ranking Yemeni security officials lost their lives -- gunned down or bombed - -
In Radda -a town in southern Yemen - tribesmen took to the streets earlier this week to protest against drones as they said the strikes were only worsening the cycle of terror and death. A tribesman argued that with five strikes in ten days, citizens had learned to fear the sky more than they fear al-Qaeda.
Despite widespread popular anger and countless collateral casualties, many of which women and children, Yemen's National Security Chief, Ali Hassan al-Ahmadi said on January 2013 that "U.S drone strikes against al-Qaeda will continue as the two government - U.S and Yemen - keep up their counter-terrorism cooperation.
"The Yemeni-American cooperation, including the use of friendly aircraft, will continue," al-Ahmadi told reporters in Sana'a.
"Yemen is one of the countries that joined the international alliance to combat terrorism after 09-11 attacks on the United States," he added.
The latest string of criticism against American-led drones in Yemen came from Human Rights Minister Hooria Mashour on Tuesday when she told Reuters "To have an innocent person fall, this is a major breach."
Asked for her position on the use of drones, Mashour did not mention the United States or assert that any specific strike had killed civilians.
But she said: "I am in favour of changing the anti-terrorism strategy. I think there are more effective strategies.
"We're committed to fighting terrorism but we're calling for changing the means and strategies," she said on the sidelines of a UN Yemen humanitarian appeal meeting in Dubai. "These means and strategies can be applied on the ground without harming civilians and without leading to human rights violations."
"All we are calling for is justice and reliance on international regulations with regard to human rights and to be true to our commitment to our citizens in that they all deserve a fair trial," Mashour added.
While activists, politicians and state officials all agree that terror needs to be addressed and out-rooted from the region, many disagree in the manner.
Mostly it is the efficiency or result to death ratio which Yemenis are now contesting since each al-Qaeda death is costing Yemen one officer.
One can wonder how long Yemen will be able to sustain such losses, especially given al-Qaeda's ability to spring forth yet more militants with each of its leaders' death.
As Sigmund Freud famously noted "Insanity is doing the same thing in the same way and expecting a different outcome."