Thursday, March 29, 2012

Drone strikes in Yemen soar as U.S. stokes 'secret war'


America has dramatically stepped up its "secret war"
in Yemen with the U.S. ordering dozens of
drone attacks on al-Qaida hotspots, which have also killed
scores of civilians. Pictured, this video image
released courtesy of SITE Intelligence Group,
shows a never-before-released pictures
of Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in a
CIA drone strike on September 30, 2011.
America has dramatically stepped up its "secret war" in Yemen with the U.S. ordering dozens of drone attacks on al-Qaida hotspots, which have also killed scores of civilians.

With the backing of Yemen's fragile government, President Barack Obama has authorized a rapid increase in attacks since last May, with 26 incidents recorded.

The pace appears to be accelerating, with nine attacks so far this year and at least five this month, including a strike last week near the terrorist hotbed of Zinjibar. Up to 30 militants were killed in three separate missile strikes on the town, witnesses said.

Nationwide the figures are comparable to those in Pakistan, where America has struck on 10 occasions this year, despite a fierce public reaction.

Research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism at London's City University has found that as many as 516 people have been killed in the Yemen attacks - mostly suspected members of al-Qaida's local ally al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). As many as 104 were civilians.
The majority of the attacks were carried out by the CIA or U.S. special forces command from a base in nearby Dijbouti but American officials refused to confirm any details. President Obama has made plain his determination to go after AQAP, which he has described as "a network of violence and terror". It has attracted a number of U.S. citizens to its cause, including the radical cleric Anwar al Awlaki.

Awlaki was killed last September, with Samir Khan, the editor of AQAP's English-language propaganda magazine Inspire, which had been blamed for recruiting Western-raised youths.

Days later a follow-up attack killed other militants - as well as Awlaki's 16-year old son and 17-year old nephew - disabling AQAP's ability to speak to an English-language audience.

Elizabeth Quintada, an analyst at the Royal United Services Institute, said America had secured the tacit backing of Yemeni leaders, but was still at risk of becoming embroiled in Yemen's internal turmoil. "The strikes in Yemen are government-permitted if not government-sponsored and are a very effective way to hit terrorist camps," she said. "But because there is a general uprising against the government of Yemen there is a concern about the accuracy of intelligence and groups using America's firepower for their own purposes."

The increase in attacks this month appears linked to the installation of a new president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. In his recent inauguration speech he called for "the continuation of war against al-Qaida as a religious and national duty".

Despite multiple reports of U.S. military action in Yemen, the U.S. rarely acknowledges its secret war. A U.S. state department spokesman would this week say only that "I refer you to the government of Yemen for additional information on its counter-terrorism efforts".

However a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks reported conversations between Gen David Petraeus - now the head of the CIA - and Yemen's former president Ali Abdullah Saleh discussing a U.S. attack in December 2009 in which civilians were killed.

A Yemen parliamentary commission later found that 14 alleged terrorists died in the attack as well as 44 civilians. Despite public pressure, U.S. officials have never investigated the deaths.

Campaigners have called on the U.S. to take responsibility for its covert war. Amnesty International, which carried out its own investigation into the December 2009 attack, said this week that the U.S. failure to investigate credible reports of civilian deaths was "troubling".

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