Drone War into Yemen

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Drone war in Yemen

According to the Washington Post, the CIA is looking to blow up people if they're acting suspicious in Yemen:

The CIA is seeking authority to expand its covert drone campaign in Yemen by launching strikes against terrorism suspects even when it does not know the identities of those who could be killed, U.S. officials said.

Securing permission to use these “signature strikes” would allow the agency to hit targets based solely on intelligence indicating patterns of suspicious behavior, such as imagery showing militants gathering at known al-Qaeda compounds or unloading explosives.

The practice has been a core element of the CIA’s drone program in Pakistan for several years. CIA Director David H. Petraeus has requested permission to use the tactic against the al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen, which has emerged as the most pressing terrorism threat to the United States, officials said.

We're frequently told that the drone campaign has succeeded in destroying al-Qaeda in Pakistan. But this is apparently a qualified success, since the same tactic now has to be ported over to Yemen. Presumably, if put into practice, it will succeed in doing what it did in Pakistan: killing many alleged terrorists, some untold number of civilians and angering a broad swath of Yemenis, a very small fraction of whom may try to attack the U.S. in revenge. The risk of destabilizing the Yemeni government is obviously lower, since what government exists is already fractured. And Yemen doesn't have nuclear weapons. So there's that.

Is this a good idea? Who knows. Personally, the very limited use of drones makes sense to me, but the scale, pace and targets matter. We don't yet know if the drone war in Pakistan was the success it appears to be: it's not just a question of whether it managed to kill all of the right people, but whether it so irreparably harmed U.S.-Pakistan relations and radicalized enough Pakistanis as to offset the benefits. (Also: will militants flood back into Pakistan's tribal areas once the drones fly elsewhere?)

The pattern we see here should give us pause: the U.S. drove al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan. They set up shop in Pakistan. We have mostly driven them out of Pakistan. They have established themselves in Yemen. It should be clear by now that there's not going to be a death-blow here.

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