Just a Tuesday, like any other, for US drone strikes

By Paul Mutter

Election Day in the United States was — as it has been since 1845 — a Tuesday, which meant that it also coincided with “Terror Tuesday,” the label attached to the meetings held by President Obama and his inner national security circle to discuss and authorize drone strikes based on the Administration’s secretive “targeted kill lists.” Shortly after the election results came in, it was reported that the US almost certainly carried out a targeted killing operation in Yemen against a reported al Qaeda target in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The individual targeted, ‘Adnan al-Qadhi, who is said to have been killed along with 2 other AQAP suspects, was reportedly suspected of helping plan the 2008 Embassy Sana’a bombing.

As usual, there has been no independent verification for Yemeni claims that the three men were killed.

Yemen-watcher Gregory Johnson noted on his blog Waq al-Waq that the strike suggested there would be little reevaluation of the drone program — being carried out over Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and in the coming weeks, Mali and Libya — even though it continues to raise costs not wholly justified by reported successes:

So, even if the accusations against al-Qadhi were true and he was involved in the 2008 US Embassy attack and even if the US did have intelligence that he was about to carry out an attack on US personnel in Yemen or planning a strike against the US – did the US also have intelligence that all of the other individuals within the car were also involved?

This is important.  The US has carried out, by my best estimate, between 37 – 50 strikes this year in an attempt to kill 10 – 15 people.  Many of those 10 – 15 people are still alive (see: Nasir al-Wihayshi, Said al-Shihri, Qasim al-Raymi, Ibrahim Asiri and so on) but people are dying in Yemen.

And while we in the US may not feel or realize this, it is very real in Yemen.  And this is causing problems and – I continue to say – is one of the key reasons behind the rapid growth of al-Qaeda in Yemen. 

There are, however, some signs suggesting the program will be reevaluated by the President and his White House advisers as calls mount for greater scrutiny.

It would be difficult for the Administration to scale back a program it has invested so heavily in and touted without actually admitting to too much, Stephen Walt blogged, following Obama’s victory. He went on:

I fear that re-election will convince his team that they’ve basically got the right formula: drones, special forces, covert action, secrecy, etc., combined with a very cautious approach to diplomacy. This is certainly preferable to the follies of the Bush administration, but it also means that the U.S. will be engaged in lots of trouble spots but unable to resolve any of them.

Greg Miller, the author of the Washington Post‘s recent insider account of the intra-Administration debate on expanding the drone program, had also noted that the debate was rather circumscribed: “[t]here were a couple dissenters who had a seat at the table … They lost those seats at the table.”

The program has again received a full-throated endorsement from the Center for a New American Security — a think tank close to the Obama Administration — as the lesser evil in comparison to deploying Pakistani or American forces to to carry out ground offensives.

Spencer Ackerman, writing at Wired, suggests a debate could occur due to diplomatic considerations, but with few officially put-forward alternatives in play:

“There is a recognition within the administration that the current trajectory of drone strikes is unsustainable,” [Michael] Zenko [of the Council on Foreign Relations] says. “They are opposed in countries where strikes occur and globally, and that opposition could lead to losing host-nation support for current or future drone bases or over-flight rights.” In other words, tomorrow’s America diplomats may find that drones overshadow the routine geopolitical agenda they seek to advance. The trouble is, the administration’s early search for less-lethal policies to supplement or supplant the drones isn’t promising.”

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