Yemen Chaos Throws a Wrench in US Drone War

With Hadi Resignation, Unclear Who Is Signing Off on Attacks

The Obama Administration had pretty much unconditional support from the Saleh government in Yemen throughout its early years, going to the trouble of covering up botched airstrikes for them.

When long-time dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh faced growing unrest, the US orchestrated the “election” of another military strongman, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, in a single-candidate election in 2012. Since then, Hadi’s been the go-to guy for rubber stamping US airstrikes.

The US backed dictators of a country constantly being pounded by US drones aren’t near as stable as officials had hoped, however, and amid growing chaos, Hadi resigned on Thursday, throwing the drone campaign into uncertainty.

President Obama has been keen to claim at least nominal support for his drone wars from seated governments, and while he’s stretched that a bit in Pakistan (claiming “tacit” approval in the face of growing public condemnations), if there is no Yemeni government, there can be no approval.

The US has made a lot of enemies in Yemen, between its backing for Saleh and for the sham of an election that installed Hadi, so there aren’t exactly a lot of potential new governments that will be throwing their support behind the US air war.

That’s true even if the Houthis, the rebels currently in control of the capital, retain power. They have been at war with al-Qaeda in a big way in recent months, and the US drones are focusing on al-Qaeda, but there isn’t a good working relationship there.

The US is unlikely to give up on the drone war, but expect them to go through some mental gymnastics to be able to claim some sort of support for its continuation.

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.