Civilian Toll of US Drones Fuels al-Qaeda Sympathy in Yemen

Govt Downplays Killings, Angering Locals

US drone strikes continue to kill civilians across Yemen’s south and southeast, fueling resentment and leading many locals with no previous ties to al-Qaeda to start taking the group’s anti-US narrative more seriously.

A January drone strike killed civilians, including a science teacher, in Khawlan. The brother of the slain teacher says at the time of the strike he didn’t know anyone who took al-Qaeda seriously in his neighborhood. Since the killings, almost everyone is exchanging al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) videos.

US ‘signature strikes” often target people that even the drone operators haven’t identified, on the grounds that something they were doing looked terrorist-like. Earlier this week, that led to attacking a convoy that turned out to be for a wedding, killing at least 15 civilians.

Most of the time these incidents are considered nothing at all. The Yemeni government dubs everyone slain a “suspected terrorist” no matter how little evidence there is, and on those rare occasions they do admit to civilian deaths, they term them a “necessary evil.”

That’s not setting well with locals in Yemen’s southeast either, many of whom already feel little to no ties to the central government, and are now seeing that government’s unelected president shrug off foreign air strikes as a matter of convenience.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.