Yemen's trouble with drones

An Obama administration plan expanding CIA use of armed drones to hunt for Al Qaeda affiliates in Yemen risks exacerbating the country's march toward civil war.

An Obama administration plan to increase drone strikes in Yemen may be one way to eliminate Islamic militants hiding within the rugged country, but it could prove a risky gambit.

A US official told The Washington Post this week that the administration may expand its current military drone campaign over Yemen by bringing in a CIA drone group to find and root out Al Qaeda operatives, much like it does in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Washington is concerned that ongoing unrest in Yemen will give Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) cover to organize and plan attacks and intensify fighting between Yemeni forces and Islamic militants, who have recently captured the town of Zinjibar in south-central Yemen.

But inherent risks come with greater reliance on drones. Previous strikes in Yemen have had devastating consequence, killing innocent people and adding to the economic trouble and social turmoil of a country in the midst of civil war. Many Yemenis worry that deploying more air assaults will only make matters worse.

“Our reaction [to the presence of drones] is like any Yemeni’s. It is a violation of Yemen’s sovereignty and a crime committed against the Yemeni people," says Ahmed al-Shabwani, whose brother, former deputy governor of the Marib Governorate Jabr al-Shabwani, was accidentally killed in a May 2010 US drone strike.

Even after being paid blood money by the Saleh regime, the Al Shabwani family carried out attacks against Marib’s oil and power infrastructure demanding that the Yemeni government stop cooperating with the US drone and missile strikes.

“Marib’s sovereignty has been breached. We demand that they [the Yemeni and American governments] give us the truth, otherwise disastrous things will happen to either Americans or Yemenis,” said Jabr al-Shabwani’s brother Ibrahim.

What's more, says Yemeni political analyst Abdul Ghani al-Iryani, there's a strong link between the failing Yemeni economy and American drone and missile strikes.

“That one drone strike in May of last year has cost Yemen over $1 billion dollars and the cost is still rising as the main Marib pipeline is still shut down,” says Mr. Iryani. “The truth is, we can’t anticipate the cost of these drone strikes, in terms of the humanitarian costs as well as the economic costs, but they will be dire,” he adds.

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