In Escalating Drone War, US Targets Yemen Rulers’ Rivals

Al Qaeda-affiliated or not, ill-defined 'militants' assassinated from the sky

The quickening pace of the Obama administration’s drone war in Yemen is causing U.S. officials to lump together the country’s many factions in a trend that further weakens their legal justification for extra-judicial assassinations.

The drone war has escalated dramatically since the Obama administration helped broker a political transition bringing the former puppet dictator’s deputy, Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, to power. Hadi is reportedly more willing to approve U.S. airstrikes than his predecessor and he continues to receive significant aid in return.

“As the pace quickens and the targets expand,” the Los Angeles Times reports, “the distinction may be blurring between operations targeting militants who want to attack Americans and those aimed at fighters seeking to overthrow the Yemeni government.”

Victims of U.S. airstrikes – and those launched by Yemeni forces – are often called “al-Qaeda-linked,” like the 14 that were reported killed on Monday. But this largely takes the Yemeni government’s word for it.

The crux of the Obama administration’s legal justification for killing militants outside the war zone without due process is that they present an “imminent threat” to America. The rationale is an especially weak one, but it is even weaker if the U.S. has been targeting unaffiliated partisan groups making up Yemen’s many ethnic and political cleavages. In fact, it undoubtedly qualifies as murder.

An anonymous official speaking to the Times expressed reservations about the expanded use of drone strikes. “We don’t want to become involved in the country’s internal battles,” the administration official said. “We don’t want to turn every antigovernment fighter against the United States.”

But that is indeed what has been happening. Jeremy Scahill, reporting for Nation, exposed in February how U.S. airstrikes that kill civilians and those ill-defined as militants as well as support for the brutal Yemeni government foments anti-Americanism and fuels international terrorism.

As Charles Schmitz, a Yemen expert at Towson University in Maryland, tells the Times, “The more the U.S. applies its current policy, the stronger Al Qaeda seems to get.”

“Drones are a weapon of terror in many ways, and the kind of hostility this is going to breed may not be worth the counter-terrorism gains,” says Barbara Bodine, who was U.S. ambassador to Yemen from 1997 to 2001.

Author: John Glaser

John Glaser writes for