US drones have killed at least five people today attacking a vehicle in the southeast Yemeni port city of Mukalla. The city is held by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and officials labeled all the slain “suspected al-Qaeda militants.”
As usual, there was no actual evidence that the slain in Mukalla were actually AQAP fighters. The US launches “signature strikes” on anyone who looks like they might conceivably be in AQAP, and in a town run by AQAP the bar for that signature is pretty low, with regular strikes on anonymous targets.
AQAP seized Mukalla early in the Saudi war in Yemen, taking advantage of the transition of Houthi forces to resist Saudi strikes and offensives by their allies on the ground. Since then the Houthis have been unable to get troops into the area for a counterattack, and the Saudis appear completely disinterested in the city.
Early this year, the US withdrew the ground troops from Yemen that it used as spotters for the drone war there. Despite this, the drone attacks have continued apace, and the question of who is actually being hit appears to have largely gone unasked, with the all-purpose label “suspects” good enough for most.