UPDATE – 2:20 PM EST: It is now being reported by Reuters that a wedding convoy was mistaken for an al Qaeda convoy in a drone attack that killed fifteen people.
Ten were killed in the initial attack, according to Yemen security officials. Five injured died at a hospital. Five more were injured. No details on what happened to the al Qaeda convoy that was supposed to be attacked but escaped a drone, which President Barack Obama has touted as being “very precise.”
If the CIA or Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) intended to hit an al Qaeda convoy but hit a wedding convoy instead—by mistake, where is the al Qaeda convoy now? Or, was a drone attack launched with bad intelligence that suggested the wedding convoy was the al Qaeda convoy?
Yemeni news media report ten people were killed and more than twelve people in a wedding party were wounded in a drone attack by the United States.
However, Shuaib M. Almosawa, a Yemeni journalist, published a report that suggested a US drone had hit a location “harboring” twelve al Qaeda members in Iyal Ammer, “a militant hotbed area bordering Marib province. He spoke to an unnamed official, who does security for al-Bayda, and claimed two members of al Qaeda had already been identified as being killed: Nayef Ali Al-Ahraq, 37, and Muhammed Ali Al-Amiri, 30. All twelve targeted were killed or injured, according to this security official.
Statements of anonymous government officials are probably as valid as similar statements from anonymous government officials in the United States—so that should be kept in mind as the truth of what really happened is further reported.
One Yemeni lawyer, Haykal Bafana, made this point in reaction:
@gregorydjohnsen Yemen media tend to issue muted reports when a US drone kills AQ. They scream when civilians are killed. Screaming today.— Haykal Bafana (@BaFana3) December 12, 2013
Also, Cori Crider of the human rights organization, Reprieve, Sarah Knuckey of Just Security, who has done extensive work tracking drone strikes, and Jack Serle of The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which has kept track of the number of people killed by drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia, all reacted:
This reported drone attack happened just as Yemenis were growing outraged at aired footage of a deadly attack by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) on a Ministry of Defense hospital in Sanaa, the country’s capital.
It also took place three days after a US drone strike killed three in Yemen, who Yemeni locals said were “militants.” Shuaib M. Almosawa, a Yemeni journalist, reported that local officials “believed they were al Qaeda members but didn’t identify any.” The strike hit a car with the “suspects” in the “Qatn district of Hadramout, Yemen’s largest province where militants that government” say are “al Qaeda operatives have been battling with the local government in more than one front.”
The Associated Press also reported that unnamed security officials in Yemen had said “more than 40 people” had been “killed in sectarian clashes between Sunni Islamic militants and northern rebel forces belonging to a branch of Shiites in northern Yemen.” The fighting apparently erupted when “ultraconservative Salafis took over a Houthi stronghold in a strategic mountainous area near the border with Saudi Arabia.” This represented an “expansion of the battlefield” for these two groups.
There have been multiple US drone attacks that hit wedding parties in Pakistan. It has been much more rare to see US drones hit wedding parties in Yemen.
As Palestinian-American writer Ramzy Baroud recently described, Yemenis are in a “no win-win situation” under President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, and, ahead of February elections, which may or may not be held, there are power struggles bringing greater instability to Yemen.
Yemen’s divisions are copious and growing, allowing the old regime to find ways to once more dominate the country. It could easily rebrand itself as the party capable of uniting all Yemenis and saving Yemen from complete economic collapse and disintegration.
Still empowered by the spirit of their revolution that underscored the resilience and discipline of one of the world’s poorest nations, Yemenis might find themselves back on the streets demanding freedom, democracy, transparency and more, demands of which nothing has been accomplished, nearly three years on.
In November, Baraa Shiban, a Yemeni who works for Reprieve, traveled to the US as part of a delegation to participate in CODEPINK’s 2013 Drone Summit and address members of Congress in a briefing. He told me the worst fear he had was that US drone strikes were having a “destabilizing effect on the Yemen government.”
“People [have] lost trust in the Yemeni government because of the fact that the Yemeni government cannot protect them from [the] strikes,” Shiban stated.
According to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, anywhere from 45-54 drone strikes have taken place killing anywhere from 268-393 people. Anywhere from 21-58 civilians have been killed along with five children. Somewhere between 65-147 have been injured.
Shiban has traveled to nine provinces in Yemen where strikes have taken place. The “general view among people,” he said, is that “they didn’t imagine that drone strikes would start taking place inside villages, inside where people are living.” They thought before 2011 the strikes would occur in “far rural areas” where people were not living. For example, in Mareb, there was one night where three strikes took place in the same area.
In October, Human Rights Watch released a report that described six US attacks on alleged AQAP members, where civilians were killed. One of the family members of victims of a strike, Faisal bin Ali Jaber, who recently traveled to the US with Shiban, told HRW, “We Yemenis are the ones who pay the price of the ‘war on terror. We are caught between a drone on one side and Al-Qaeda on the other.”
Entesar Qadhi, a female Yemeni youth activist who was part of the 2011 uprising, told members of Congress in November that drones only seem to come strike her village after her village has kicked al Qaeda out “as if it is a sign that the al Qaeda people should get back to the village.”
“Drone strikes actually make al Qaeda people more popular because of the fact that they are striking inside of our villages, which makes the presence of Qaeda justified in our place,” she added.
There is a democratic movement led by young Yemenis trying to build a country that is more equitable, free and just, which the US government claims to support. A circle of terror, which both the US government and al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula are perpetuating through their actions, engulfs this movement making it exceptionally difficult for it to succeed.