In December 2013, the United States drone campaign in Yemen came under intense scrutiny when a drone meant for an al-Qaeda operative accidentally hit a wedding party, killing 15 civilians. In the month since that strike, there have been three more U.S. drone strikes in Yemen. In this most recent strike, another civilian was accidentally killed while walking through a village.

After the initial strike, the U.S. launched an internal investigation into how this mistake happened. The strike came a few months after U.S. President Barack Obama vowed to decrease the number of drone strikes and hold the program accountable to minimize the loss of civilian life. The U.S. has also faced increasing international criticism over its drone campaigns in countries across the Middle East.

Yemen’s Parliament issued a statement calling for an end to U.S. drone strikes within Yemen borders. The vote was nearly unanimous and issued a ‘strong warning’ to the U.S. Government and Yemen President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi. A Yemeni government official was quoted saying, “The Yemeni public is angered by the drone strikes…the people’s representatives reflected on the tone of the streets.” Not only is the public outspoken against drone strikes, human rights groups on the ground have issued similar statements denouncing the action taken by the U.S.

Yemen and the US carry out some of these attacks as a joint program because the Yemeni military does not have the capability to reach some remote areas. The program is dedicated to combatting al-Qaeda, which has a strong presence in rural parts of the country.

It is estimated over 50 civilians have been killed by drone strikes in Yemen. Human Rights Watch in Yemen has said the drone strikes may be backfiring with the Yemeni public, especially in rural areas that see the most activity. They even go as far as to say drone strikes have help al-Qaeda turn formerly peaceful tribes who have been affected directly. With public opinion increasingly turning against the Yemen government working with the US drone campaign, the politically unstable country will continue to see major problems.

– Colleen Eckvahl

Sources: CNN, Long War Journal
Photo: Wall Street Journal

The United States government is launching an internal investigation into a December 12 drone strike in Yemen. The drone strike was meant for an al-Qaeda militant, but ended up hitting a wedding party, killing 12 civilians and leaving more injured. A local journalist soon after took images of the strike and turned them over to a human rights organization working in Yemen called Reprieve. That group then turned it over to NBC News, the resulting actions allowed many to say that the U.S. ‘turned a wedding into a funeral.’

The U.S. released a statement acknowledging the attack while also stating that officials are now reviewing what happened. This is one of the few times the U.S. government has mentioned or confirmed that a drone strike is being questioned. A U.S. official, after declining to give any sort of identification, stated that, “Given the claims of civilian causalities, we are reviewing it.”

Some are calling this a ‘wake up call’ that highlights the problems with the U.S. drone campaign. There are even reports that the target of the strike Shawqui Ali Ahmed al Badani, a mid-level militant, ended up escaping the attack. Others on the ground in Yemen said that Badani wasn’t even present at the time. Baraa Shiban, a human rights activist who was in the area at the time, said that he had not heard any reports that Badani was in the area. He explained that, “Badani was from a different region so he would have been a stranger in the region.” He, furthermore, added that he believes that the US acted on incorrect intelligence.

This drone strike has, moreover, garnered a strong reaction against the U.S. within Yemen. To illustrate this, the Yemen parliament passed a resolution that called for an end for all drone strikes in Yemen shortly after the wedding day drone strike. Official numbers provided by the U.S. government claim that they have carried out 59-69 drone strikes in Yemen, resulting in between 287-423 deaths, both civilian and militant. Though more strikes are suspected to have been carried out by the U.S., they have not been officially confirmed.

Colleen Eckvahl

Sources: NBC, RT
Sources: Reprieve

Effects of Drone Strikes on Humanitarian Aid
The moral, ethical, and legal questions and uncertainties about secretive US drone strikes have increasingly become subjects of media attention. Many have criticized the Bush and Obama administrations for effectively engaging in endless, unchecked war, in many places, all the time. But one question has gone largely unasked in the debate over unmanned US strikes: what are the effects of drone strikes on humanitarian aid?

As we know, poverty and terrorism are closely linked. The daily struggles of those living in extreme poverty breed despair and desperation and leave many, especially youth, vulnerable to terrorist groups’ incendiary messages. Poverty reduction is an important part of US national security and foreign policy, and yet drone strikes may be undermining attempts to combat extreme poverty on the ground.

Organizations working in rural areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and other drone strike-targeted regions have reported increased hostility and resistance in relation to drone strikes. Suspicions are always aroused in the days and weeks following a strike. According to NGO security officials in Somalia, following a 2008 drone strike, attacks on aid workers increased from one to two a month to six to eleven.

Aid workers have been accused of complicity in drone strikes. Often, workers who have been collecting information for aid purposes are accused of passing on sensitive information that supposedly enable strikes, such as GPS coordinates. Some workers have been killed, either by hostile locals or as a direct result of strikes.

One of the biggest problems that aid organizations and NGOs face in dealing with drone strikes is the lack of human personnel involved in the attacks. There are no authorities on the ground to address the safety of aid workers or civilians in the region. It is difficult to determine responsibility for the attacks because even though drones often operate from regular military airbases, they are under the CIA’s jurisdiction.

Some groups, such as the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), have had success interfacing with the US government through the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). But others, like the Center for Civilians in Conflict, have had zero success in lobbying Congressional leaders for greater oversight of drone strikes. Civilians in Conflict released this report in 2012 on the effects of drone strikes on civilians.

The effects of drone strikes on humanitarian aid cannot be underestimated. Compounding tensions in areas already struggling with poverty and violence does nothing to alleviate the problems. Instead, it hampers the valiant efforts of those risking their own lives to make a positive difference. If the US government wants to positively contribute to poverty relief and reduction efforts, it needs to evaluate the effects of drone strikes on humanitarian aid work in targeted regions.

– Kat Henrichs

Source: IRIN