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Vol. 76/No. 19      May 14, 2012

White House expands
drone strikes in Yemen
(front page)
The Barack Obama administration in April approved expanding aerial drone strikes in Yemen by the CIA and the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command.

Until recently these assaults were purportedly restricted to assassinating known leaders of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula whose names appear on secret government target lists. The new plan is to deploy “signature strikes,” modeled after those carried out in Pakistan, in which unidentified individuals are targeted as suspected terrorists based on “patterns of behavior” and “gathering places.”

For example, in Pakistan’s largely pastoral Federally Administered Tribal Areas Washington’s “signature” strikes are directed against anyone who is believed to be armed—which includes most of the population there—and traveling by truck toward the Afghanistan border, regardless of whether any are known combatants, according to Investor’s Business Daily.

U.S. military armed assaults in Yemen are “distinct from the FATA,” an unnamed administration official told the Wall Street Journal. This is “not an all-out counterinsurgency campaign.”

The number of attacks in Yemen escalated sharply. The CIA and JSOC have carried out 29 airstrikes in Yemen since December 2009, according to the Long War Journal website. Nearly half of them have occurred in the past two months.

Six strikes were conducted in April, two of which reportedly killed 13 people.

Last September, a U.S. drone strike in Yemen killed New Mexico-born Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen and Islamic cleric whom the White House publicly targeted for assassination as an alleged central leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The following month another drone, supposedly by accident, killed al-Awlaki’s 17-year-old son, Abdelrahman al-Awlaki, who was visiting his family’s home in Shabwa province after his father’s death. He became the fourth U.S. citizen killed by Washington’s drone attack in Yemen.

These air assaults over past several years have become increasingly unpopular among toilers in Yemen. Obama’s first known authorization of a missile strike in that country in December 2009 killed more than 40 Bedouins, many of them women and children, in the remote village of al-Majala in Abyan. Five months later another airstrike killed a tribal leader and deputy governor of Marib province, Jabir Shabwani, reported the Atlantic.

As these attacks have increased, “AQAP has grown stronger,” reports the April 26 Journal, especially since the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki.

Expressing some hesitations about these assaults, an unnamed Yemeni government official told the Journal, “Every Yemeni is armed. So how can they differentiate between suspected militants and armed Yemenis?”
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