America's Failing Drone War in Yemen

America's Failing Drone War in Yemen

In February, Eric Schmitt wrote in the New York Times about the Obama administration’s emerging Yemen strategy, whereby U.S. and Yemeni intelligence and military officials would “work together to kill or capture about two dozen of al Qaeda’s most dangerous operatives, who are focused on attacking America and its interests.” Like all previous objectives of America’s Long Third War of drone strikes, the scope of intended targets has expanded far beyond those two dozen individuals, who should have been killed at least nine times over by now.  According to the Long Wars Journal database, there have been forty U.S. airstrikes (drone or fixed-wing) in Yemen this year, up from ten in 2011. These have killed 223 people, an estimated 19 percent of them were civilians.


One of the Obama administration’s core principles of its counterterrorism policies is that the use of force should not radicalize populations, or increase recruits for terrorist organizations, in the countries where the United States drops bombs. As the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism, Daniel Benjamin, emphasized in 2010: “We are eager to ensure that whatever policies we pursue do not result in one terrorist being taken off the street while ten more are galvanized to take action.”


Moreover, the Obama administration claims that the significant growth in U.S. airstrikes in Yemen has not had this effect. Deputy national security advisor for counterterrorism John Brennan stated in August: “Contrary to conventional wisdom, we see little evidence that [drone strikes] are generating widespread anti-American sentiment or recruits for AQAP.  In fact, we see the opposite…Targeted strikes against the most senior and most dangerous AQAP terrorists are not the problem–they are part of the solution.” In Late November, Stephanie Spiers, identified as “director for Yemen at the National Security Council, 2011-12,” wrote a letter to the Times challenging an op-ed by Princeton doctoral candidate and Yemen scholar Gregory D. Johnsen. According to Spiers:


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