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Last updated: 07:24:32 PM GMT(+03) Thursday, 28, March, 2013
 
 

Global counter-terrorism strategy - Yemen, the drones and extremism

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By Shaher Abdulhak Saleh

 

 

Data gathered by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism
Confirmed US drone strikes: 43-53
Total reported killed: 228-325
Civilians reported killed: 12-45
Children reported killed: 2
Reported injured: 62-144

Possible extra US drone strikes: 77-95
Total reported killed: 277-443
Civilians reported killed: 23-49
Children reported killed: 9-10
Reported injured: 73-94

All other US covert operations: 12-76
Total reported killed: 148-366
Civilians reported killed: 60-87
Children reported killed: 25
Reported injured: 22-111

With Yemen busy discussing its political future at the National Dialogue Conference, policy-makers in Washington (United States of America) have been busy pondering over the most appropriate counter-terror strategy, weighting the effects of drone strikes against other less militarize and invasive methods.

Although a favorite of U.S President Barack Obama, drones (unmanned military aircraft) have sat at the heart of widespread controversy, with rights groups and politicians worldwide arguing such attacks are not only violating countries' national sovereignty but unsustainable in terms of collateral human cost.

Widely used against al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan where the U.S established the threat of terror was most dangerous, Yemen also became in 2002 a Drone-fly zone.
2011 revolution and a surge in terror activities in the country led Washington to resume its covert drone warfare as a way to rein down on terrorists and obliterate all Islamic cells.

Over the past two years, drones have become somewhat part of the scenery in some al-Qaeda infested regions of Yemen, striking fear at the heart of communities as they rain down death.

The killing of civilians, among which many women and children created a backlash in Yemen, with politicians and state officials calling for a change of strategy.
The focus is now being put on the morality of drone strikes as opposed to the benefits they can generate in terms of counter-terrorism efficacity.
Moreover, it is Washington seemingly bi-polar policy in Yemen which is also being questioned. On one hand using lethal force against civilian populations which allegedly are harboring Islamists and on the hand investing in sustainable development strategies.
The Atlantic Council, an American think tank, published a letter destined to U.S President Obama in which it warns against Yemen's perception of the United States as it seeks to serve its national interest to the detriment and to an extent destruction of Yemen.
"The perception . . . that the United States pursues its security interests with little regard to the strategy’s impact on Yemen itself”. It added: “The perception that the United States is singularly focused on al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is a symptom of this problem.”

Tawakkul Karman, Yemen 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner also warned against the negative impact drone warfare will have on Yemen , radicalizing an entire generation.
The right activist argues America's counter-terrorism strategy is playing in the hands of al-Qaeda, pushing young men into enrolling in reaction to America's bombing of their villages.

The idea that Washington granted its military a license to kill, regardless of collateral damages and repercussions on civilian communities is increasingly unnerving rights activists, both in Yemen and abroad.

On January 2013, Yemen Human Rights Minister Hooria Mashour openly criticized America's drone policy in Yemen telling Reuters “I am in favor 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 … These means and strategies can be applied on the ground without harming civilians and without leading to human rights violations."

HR Minister Mashour condemned the drone war for its denial of a fair trial to Yemenis accused of terrorist activity:

"This is our idea, to do this through the judiciary. But the United States said that it’s in an open war with them and they declared the US as an enemy. The [US] declared [Islamist militants] as enemies who could be targeted wherever they are found… 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."

More than ever, the ethic of dronefare if becoming the core of an international debate on counter-terrorism.

Despite mounting criticism and calls for restraint, Washington is sticking to its guns, advocating the needs justify the means

America so far contests that drones are leading Yemenis right into the arm of extremists, stressing its aid policy in Yemen while prosecuting a war is consistent with its aims of tackling terrorism by both using force against it and alleviating the poverty in which it thrives.

The Obama administration has launched an estimated 28 drone strikes and 13 air strikes in Yemen, according to data compiled by the New America Foundation from reliable news reports. By contrast, the administration of George W. Bush only launched one drone attack in Yemen. In addition, the Yemeni government has initiated 17 strikes, and another 5 have been reported where the initiator is unclear.

"The civilian casualty rate from these strikes is estimated to be between 4% and 8.5%, roughly comparable with the civilian casualty rate from the U.S. drone program in Pakistan, which averaged 5.5% in 2011," said New America Foundation.

Counting drone attacks and airstrikes in Yemen has always been complicated as it is often difficult to establish whether a strike was launched from a drone or a fighter jet, making deniability rather easy.
To make data collection on these strikes even more difficult, diplomatic cables released by the transparency watchdog site WikiLeaks revealed the Yemeni government sometimes took credit for American-led airstrikes.
According to one cable, deposed Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh told then-American Gen. David Petraeus in January 2010, "We'll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours," after which Deputy Prime Minister Rashad al-Alimi joked he had just "lied" to the Yemeni Parliament about the American role in such strikes.

Speaking in Maryland, Tara Sonenshine, U.S Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs stressed on the importance of public diplomacy in offsetting terrorism and eradicating extremism.
"Positive work can offset negative environments. Yes, construction requires hard work, patience, resources, and time. Building capacity, forging partnerships, providing resources, engaging actors in positive ways, wiring up communities so there is connectivity -- the list is endless. But it is worth the effort to build positive environments. To work with nations, citizens, and other partners to support their efforts to build peaceful, prosperous, and tolerant societies."

She explained that through "the U.S Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, Washington is coordinating closely with its counterterrorism office and other agencies, including the military, and with missions abroad to address the upstream factors of radicalization."

For the most part Under-Secretary Sonenshine described America covert drone warfare in Yemen as one element of Washington counter-terrorism strategy, a necessary evil against the destructive power of al-Qaeda, brushing off criticism.

But whether the Obama administration is ready or willing to own up to the devastating effects drone strikes are having on local communities across Yemen, an ethical debate has already begun, one which is fast gaining momentum.

 


 

 

 

 

 

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