WHY YEMEN IS NOT A MODEL FOR IRAQ

Anti-government protesters in 2011.

Anti-government protesters in 2011. (Ahmed Jadallah / Courtesy Reuters)
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By Farea Al-muslimi | Foreign Affairs
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Last month, U.S. President Barack Obama suggested that Yemen could be an example for how to bring stability to Iraq. “You look at a country like Yemen — a very impoverished country and one that has its own sectarian or ethnic divisions,” he said. “There, we do have a committed partner in President [Abdu Rabbu Mansour] Hadi and his government.” His comments came as a shock to most Yemenis. The contradiction between their country’s political reality and its reputation as an Arab Spring success story has always been glaring, but now it had become absurd.

Just days before Obama spoke, demonstrations — which were largely ignored by the international media, since few foreign journalists are allowed into country these days — had broken out in the capital. Angry protesters shut down Sanaa’s main streets, burning tires and shouting chants against the transitional government and against Hadi, the man who heads it. Yemenis, it seemed, had simply snapped under the strain of severe fuel shortages, kilometer-long lines at gas stations, and 20-hour electricity blackouts.

On the same day as the protests, the UN held a conference in Beirut between Yemen’s new power brokers and its old elite. During the meeting, the country’s progress — specifically on inclusivity and stability — was widely praised. But the truth is that the internationally backed 2011 deal that transferred power away from Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had ruled since 1978, was a rotten one. It merely handed the presidency over to his deputy, Hadi, and ensured that Saleh would continue to play a role behind the scenes. He was also given immunity for all his wrongdoing during his 33 years in power. And that is not the same thing as democracy. Even worse, the deal made a real transition to democracy in Yemen all the harder and it sowed the seeds of new conflicts.

One of the deal’s key promises to the tens of thousands of pro-democracy activists who took to the streets to bring down Saleh was to hold the National Dialogue Conference (NDC). It was supposed to bring together all the political factions, from the southern separatist movement to young modernizers to negotiate an outline for Yemen’s future political structure; and put the outcome of these negotiations to a public referendum for approval. However, the NDC, held from March 2013 to January 2014, did very little beyond extending the terms of parliament (whose mandate expired in 2008) and the president (whose democratic legitimacy consists of a hastily rushed-through referendum on his serving one term in office). The NDC then ignored its own bylaws and refused to put these decisions to a public vote.

As a result, the number of elected officials in Yemen was effectively set at zero, a swindle that was backed by the entire international community. World leaders continued to praise the conference, and support it financially and politically, even as it became clear that the NDC was not going to deliver on its promises.

These days, any attempts to scrutinize the government are blocked by the argument that it is a government of national consensus, and therefore untouchable. In turn, corruption has only risen. In 2013, Yemen’s ranking on Transparency International’s corruption index jumped to 167 out of 177 countries. In 2012, it stood at 156. Simply put, it is impossible to hold any official in Yemen — from the most powerful to the least — accountable. At the same time, the security establishment, which is beholden to the old regime and its successor, has launched a massive war against freedom of press. It has harassed, imprisoned, and deported over a dozen local and international reporters. It has also banned and harassed several media outlets, such as the Yemen Today television channel. Protests are denounced as expression of support for the old regime.

And the situation gets worse from there: In the north and south of the country, there continue to be full-blown uprisings against the current regime. But instead of calming the regions by offering transparency and inclusivity, the NDC simply turned in to a vehicle for co-opting a cherry-picked selection of clubbable leaders from among the insurgents. Such contempt in a country where, according to UNOCHA, nearly 15 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance has helped the armed groups’ propaganda to no end. The security situation is now so dire that military officers have begun to disguise themselves in public for fear of assassination.

In early July, one group, the powerful armed Houthi rebels, seized the governorate of Ammran outside the capital, capturing dozens of tanks and heavy guns. The rebels killed the highest military commander in the governorate, who is loyal to the Islamists, one of the Houthi’s opponents. Their siege of the city forced more than 30,000 to flee their homes. If the NDC had not handpicked selected Houthis as interlocutors, which increased their power but not their accountability, and had instead pursued a genuine democratic, peace settlement, the insurgency would be weaker today.

It has become increasingly clear that the transition deal has cost Yemen dearly. Yemenis live in a land of fear and intimidation, petrol queues and hunger, violence and corruption. For them, Obama’s reference to Yemen seemed like a bad joke at best, and an insensitive insult at worst. And it must have been all the more troubling for Iraqis. A few years ago in Yemen, people used to warn of an “Iraq scenario” if its problems weren’t addressed, meaning that Yemen would be the new Iraq. They don’t anymore. People in Yemen have recognized what Obama does not: that it is by now the Yemen scenario that should serve as a warning, not a solution, to Iraq. Just like risky experiments on television, the Yemen model shouldn’t be tried at home.

NEW CEASEFIRE IN NORTHERN YEMEN AFTER FRESH AIR STRIKES

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SANAA (Reuters) – A ceasefire between Shi’ite Muslim rebels and government forces went into effect on Wednesday, the Yemeni Defence Ministry said, after fresh fighting and air strikes killed a total of 19 people from both sides.

Nearly 140 people have died in three days of fighting near the town of Omran, where government forces and allied Sunni Muslim tribesmen have been trying to hold back the powerful rebel militia from capturing the city for nearly two months.

U.S.-allied Yemen, an impoverished country of 25 million that shares a long and porous border with the world’s top oil exporter Saudi Arabia, has been in turmoil since 2011, when mass protests forced long-ruling president Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down.

The fighting in northern Yemen, which had taken on a sectarian tone, has further unsettled a country struggling to overcome many problems.

The Defence Ministry said the agreement, which calls for deploying neutral observers to monitor the truce, had taken effect from 1200 (0900 GMT).

It also called on both sides to stop sending reinforcements to Omran, withdraw from the central prison and open the main road between Omran and the capital Sanaa.

The agreement came after the fighting which began earlier this week intensified with the Yemeni army using the air force to deliver deadly strikes on Houthi rebel positions in Omran.

Ahmed al-Bekry, deputy governor of Omran province, said on Tuesday that more than 100 rebels and about 20 government soldiers had died in fighting and in air strikes on Houthi positions the day before.

PROPOSED CEASEFIRE

Hours before the ceasefire went into effect, Houthi fighters killed five government soldiers in clashes outside the city of Omran, according to Houthi rebels, who also said that 40 government troops surrendered to the group.

The Yemeni air force responded with air strikes and killed at least 15 fighters, local tribal chiefs said.

The groups’ top leader, Abdel-Malik al-Houthi, proposed a ceasefire on Tuesday night and offered to free 100 government soldiers held by the group as part of an agreement with the Defence Ministry that would guarantee the safety and security of Omran’s inhabitants.

“We are willing to cooperate in a manner that would serve security and stability,” Abdel-Malik said in the statement.

The Houthis blame elements of the Sunni Muslim Islah party in the military and in the Omran regional administration for the fighting.

Government officials say the Houthis, who have been fighting government forces sporadically since 2004, are trying to tighten their grip on the north before next year’s election, as Yemen considers moving to a system of greater autonomy for its various regions.

As well as the fighting in Omran, where the Shi’ite tribal militia is trying to cement its control over the northern highlands, Yemen is facing a threat from al Qaeda and a challenge from separatists in the south.

Clashes have repeatedly erupted in the past few months between government troops and Houthis – named after the Shi’ite tribe of the leaders of the rebellion – as Sanaa struggles to restore nationwide control.

DEADLY BLAST KILLS AT LEAST 10 YEMENI SOLDIERS

UK ARMS YEMEN, LIBYA, OTHER ‘HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSERS’

EUROPEAN UNION AND FRENCH POLITICIANS CONDEMN YEMEN KILLING OF FRENCHMAN

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One Frenchman was killed and another injured in an attack on a car in Sanaa the capital of Yemen.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has condemned the killing of the dead man who was working for the EU delegation, “in the strongest terms”.

The words were echoed by French president Francois Hollande. He said every effort would be made to catch the gunmen.

So far no group has claimed responsibility after a four-by-four vehicle without registration plates blocked the car.

“We heard the shooting and we ran to the scene where we found two Frenchmen wounded by unknown gunmen – we don’t know who is behind the attack,” said an eyewitness.

Monday’s killing comes after a German diplomat was wounded last month during what was believed to be an attempted kidnapping.

Yemen is home to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which authorities have blamed for a string of attacks on security forces.

The Yemeni army last week launched a major offensive in several militants strongholds.

U.S. UNLEASHES THREE DAYS OF DRONE STRIKES ON YEMEN, 55 KILLED

RT

Dozens are reportedly dead in Yemen, including at least three civilians, as the result of a series of drone strikes that started in the southern part of the country on Saturday and is alleged to still be occurring two days later.

By noontime in Washington, DC on Monday, the Associated Press reported that 55 Al-Qaeda militants were among those that had been killed in an hours-long series of strikes that targeted a training camp operated by the group, according to Yemen’s interior ministry. The United States is alleged to have carried out the strikes using unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, but does not legally have to acknowledge any operations conducted by its Central Intelligence Agency and has not commented.

While reports consider the strikes carried out by US-operated drones, outlets like The Bureau of Investigative Journalism say that, as of early Monday evening EDT, it is ultimately unknown whether Yemen military forces were involved or if the attacks were indeed executed with unmanned drones. A“high-level Yemeni government official” told CNN the attacks were “a joint US-Yemeni operation.” He added that, “unfortunately, a civilian truck was also hit.”

Among the 55 believed to be killed in that series of strikes, the AP reported, were three senior but unnamed Al-Qaeda leaders. The AFP also corroborated that claim by reporting that witnesses on the scene in Shabwa province early Monday said three alleged militants were indeed killed when a missile struck the car the men were traveling in that morning.

At the same time on Monday, an anonymous Yemeni government official briefed on the strikes told CNN that the strikes had yet to cease and that at, by his count, at least 30 alleged militants had been killed. Statistics regarding the death toll remain fluid, but preliminary reports concerning the strikes suggest that the number of those killed since Saturday is in the dozen.

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Yemen’s Saba news agency reported that a drone strike in the central province of Bayda on Saturday killed 10 suspected militants and three civilians. A Yemeni military officials added to the AP that a car carrying the alleged militants was struck by a missile as it drove by a vehicle carrying civilians, and an eyewitness who survived the attack said a second strike occurred soon after. Three civilians were injured in addition to those slain in that attack, the AP reported. “Minutes after the first attack, a second attack took place, killing three of my friends,” eyewitness Salem al-Kashm told CNN after. “The drone then kept going in circles after the attack to ensure that none of the militants were able to escape.” On Sunday, US drones reportedly targeted an Al-Qaeda training camp in the nearby province of Abyan and killed another 30.

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Civilian deaths mount

The US has unofficially paused its drone strike campaign in Pakistan, as negotiations continue between the Pakistani Taliban and the nation’s government. Yet strikes in Yemen have not stalled – nor has the official secrecy of the US that has marked its drone operations there.

In December, a US drone strike killed 15 members of a wedding party, mistaking a procession of vehicles for a militant convoy. The group had been en route to the village of Qaifa, the site of the wedding, when it was hit. The assault left charred bodies strewn in the road and vehicles on fire, officials told AP.

In an unusual acknowledgement, the US said its military was responsible. Specifically, it was the Joint Special Operations Command, which, besides the CIA, is the only other entity using drones in Yemen. But after its own investigation of the incident, the US maintained that no civilians died in the strike.

Last October, Human Rights Watch released a damning report on US drone strikes in Yemen. It described six of the total of some 80 targeted killing operations in the country. In those six attacks, 82 people were killed, 57 of whom – or practically 70 percent – were civilians.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which diligently analyzes each US drone strike, has confirmed that drones have killed as many as 451 people in Yemen, including as many as 82 civilians. “Possible” – though unconfirmed – strikes have killed as many as 545 people total and as many as 45 civilians, the Bureau says.

Yet the US strike policy is so broad that it considers any military-age male in a strike zone as a combatant, especially if he is armed. Thus, even by the strictest standards, there are likely many more civilians who have died but were considered fighters or militants.

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In addition to the high civilian casualty rates, critics say these drone strike policies are done in violation of international law, and question whether the Obama administration has the authority to sanction the killings without a court warrant. One particular practice denounced by human rights activists is the use of so-called ‘signature strikes,’ in which a drone attack is launched based not on the identification of known Al-Qaeda fighters, but on the behavior of people. In May 2013, amid criticism about US drone strikes overseas, President Obama said in a policy speech that “before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured,”adding that this is “the highest possible standard.” Though the latest strikes, among others, have caused analysts to question whether the Obama administration’s supposed “new rules” for strikes are consistent at all. Yemen is considered to be the Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)’s main foothold of what is deemed the most active wing of the militant network. The Yemeni government has asked the US for assistance in fighting terror threats, yet the entirety of negotiations between the US and Yemen is unknown. Critics maintain that the drone strikes program in the country has done nothing to stem the growth of Al-Qaeda, and has even increased support for the terror network.

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U.S. STEPS UP MIDEAST MILITARY INTERVENTIONS

Missile strikes in Yemen, weapons to Syria

By Patrick Martin

American drone missile attacks and air strikes killed more than three dozen people in southern Yemen over the weekend. The carnage coincided with press reports that the Obama administration is moving to ship advanced weapons to “rebel” groups fighting the Assad government in Syria.

Washington is waging a nonstop campaign of political and media vilification of Russia for its alleged intervention in Ukraine—where a handful of people have died—even as it intensifies its decades-long military intervention in the Middle East, where US wars and US-instigated civil wars have killed millions.

The death tolls are well known: more than one million in Iraq (1990-1991, 2003-2011); approaching 200,000 in Syria (2011-2014); well over 100,000 in Afghanistan (2001-2014); over 50,000 in Libya (2011); thousands in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Niger, Mali and other countries hit by US drone missile strikes. These figures do not even take into account the thousands killed by US-backed Israeli violence in Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza during the same period.

The first American drone missile strike to target Yemen in 2014 killed at least 13 people on Saturday, according to the US-allied Yemeni government. The missile hit a vehicle traveling in the Sawmaa area of al-Bayda province, blasting the car and propelling it 20 meters, while destroying a passing car as well.

The country’s Supreme Security Council described the attack as an air strike carried out by the Yemeni armed forces, the usual cover story for a missile fired by an American-controlled drone. The Obama administration did not publicly acknowledge the attack, its normal practice for drone missile operations conducted by the CIA.

A second round of attacks, carried out on Sunday, killed another 25 people in al-Mahfad, Abyan province, also in southern Yemen, according to Reuters. The news service cited local tribal sources reporting that “unmanned drone aircraft had been circling the target areas beforehand” and that “at least three separate strikes had taken place after dawn prayers.”

Again, the Yemeni government claimed that it had carried out the air strikes, purportedly because “terrorist elements were planning to target vital civilian and military installations,” the same self-defense rhetoric used to disguise the previous day’s US attacks.

Yemeni and US government sources invariably claim that those killed in drone missile strikes are “terrorists” and “militants” of Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula, the local affiliate of the Islamic fundamentalist group founded by Osama bin Laden and now headed by Ayman al-Zawahiri.

The drone strikes came only two weeks after a federal district judge dismissed a damages lawsuit against US government officials over the killing of three US citizens in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki, his son Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, and Samir Khan, all incinerated by US cruise missiles in 2011.

The judge ruled that US officials could not be found personally liable for violations of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the US Constitution, even violations as extreme as execution, without trial or judicial hearing of any kind. She also ruled that there was “no available remedy under US law for this claim.” In other words, US officials and military operatives cannot be sued for acting under orders from President Obama, while the president is himself also immune from being sued.

On Saturday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Obama administration has begun to funnel advanced American antitank missiles to Syrian “rebels.” The story was initially reported last week by the British journal Jane’s Defence Weekly and also subsequently confirmed by the Washington Post .

The Journal said that the shipment of TOW antitank missiles by the US and Saudi Arabia, the first provision of such advanced weapons since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, was “a pilot program that could lead to larger flows of sophisticated weaponry.” The newspaper attributed the shift in policy by the Obama administration to “recent regime gains on the battlefield.”

The Assad regime has successfully cleared the Qalamoun region along the Syria-Lebanon border, severing a key rebel supply line, and last week launched an offensive against remaining “rebel” strongholds in Homs, the country’s third-largest city and a heavily contested battleground in the civil war.

The Journal quoted a spokesman for a “rebel” group called Harakat Hazm to the effect that “The first step is showing that we can effectively use the TOWs, and hopefully the second one will be using antiaircraft missiles.”

The Post reported that the Pentagon has shipped TOW missiles to both Turkey and the Persian Gulf states in recent years, and late last year sent 15,000 to Saudi Arabia.

The White House has to this point blocked the shipment of antiaircraft missiles by US client regimes in the Persian Gulf out of concern that these weapons could be used by Washington’s radical Islamist allies in Syria against civilian airliners elsewhere. But in the run-up to last month’s visit by Obama to Saudi Arabia, the administration apparently began to shift its position.

The Journal observed, “After the visit, senior administration officials said the two countries were collaborating more closely on material support for the rebels and the Central Intelligence Agency was looking at ways to expand its limited arming and training program based in Jordan.”

The US escalation in the various Middle East battlefields is just as reckless as its conduct in Ukraine. It also exposes the fraud of the so-called “war on terrorism.” In Syria, one of the most powerful “rebel” groups is the al-Nusra Front, which has publicly sworn allegiance to Al Qaeda and Ayman al-Zawahiri.

The Obama administration is targeting Islamic fundamentalists in Yemen for drone missile strikes in the name of the struggle against Al Qaeda, while providing antitank weapons for groups allied with similar jihadist elements in Syria.

AUSTRALIAN, NEW ZEALAND CITIZENS KILLED BY U.S. DRONE STRIKE IN YEMEN

By Tom Peters

The Australian reported yesterday that five people, including Australian citizen Christopher Harvard and dual Australian-New Zealand citizen Muslim bin John, were the victims of an extra-judicial killing by a US Predator drone in Yemen on November 19 last year. This is the first reported instance of Australians and New Zealanders being murdered by a drone.

According to the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, 504 people have been killed since 2002 by American drone strikes in Yemen. This includes at least three US citizens: Anwar al-Awlaki, Samir Khan and 16-year-old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki. The Obama administration has greatly expanded the “targeted killing” program and asserted the right to kill anyone, in any part of the world, including US citizens.

Following yesterday’s revelations, Washington’s close allies in Canberra and Wellington both indicated their full support for the assassination of their own citizens. This sets a dangerous new precedent in the assault on democratic rights by Australian and New Zealand governments, both outside and within their own countries.

The Australian ’s report stated that the primary targets were three “militants,” including Abu Habib, allegedly a leading figure in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and former associate of Osama bin Laden.

A “senior counter-terrorism source” told the paper that US authorities notified Australian officials after the drone strike, saying the Australian and NZ citizens were “collateral damage.” The same source described the men as “foot soldiers” for AQAP and said there was “a suggestion they were involved in kidnapping Westerners for ransom.” No evidence has been produced to substantiate these claims.

Harvard’s stepfather Neil Dowrick told the paper that his son went to Yemen in 2011 “to teach English.” The family was only informed of his assassination in December. His grandmother, Jeanette Harvard, said she had “heard three different stories” from government agencies about how her grandson was killed. She said the government told the family they would have to pay $40,000 to repatriate her grandson’s remains.

A spokesperson for Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told the paper that she was “briefed on the situation last year” but so far no government minister has commented in public. The opposition Labor and Green parties—which fully support the Obama administration’s imperialist wars—have remained silent.

Bishop’s Department of Foreign Affairs today defended the drone strike. A spokesperson told Fairfax Media that being an Australian citizen was “not a protection” for people “engaging in potentially criminal activity overseas.”

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key described the assassination as “legitimate … given that three of the people killed were well known al-Qaeda operatives.” In other words, both governments accept and are complicit in Washington’s lawless operations—killing anyone it likes, without any semblance of due legal process, on mere suspicion of criminality.

In a chilling editorial today, the Australian fully endorsed the drone strike program, brushing aside the deaths of bin John and Harvard as “regrettable.” It admitted that “many” of the 3,300 people killed by drones in Pakistan and Yemen were “non-combatant civilians” but justified the murders on the basis that they prevented “the terrorists from committing even more atrocities.”

The Australian and New Zealand governments have not explained why the drone strike was kept secret from the public until now. Both claim that they had no prior knowledge of, or involvement in the strike, but this is highly unlikely. Australian and New Zealand intelligence agencies were undoubtedly informed, if not directly involved.

Last July, Fairfax Media revealed that Washington was “critically dependent” on the joint US-Australian spy base Pine Gap to pinpoint targets for drone assassinations in the Middle East. According to the reports, based on leaked information, there were “personnel sitting in airconditioned offices in central Australia directly linked, on a minute-by-minute basis, to US and allied military operations in Afghanistan and, indeed, anywhere else across the eastern hemisphere.”

Key yesterday told the media he was aware of bin John’s presence in Yemen last year and had personally signed a warrant for NZ’s spy agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), to monitor him. Key claimed—without providing any evidence—that bin John had attended “some sort of terrorist training camp.”

The revelation that the GCSB was monitoring bin John before he was killed raises the question of whether they provided intelligence to their US counterparts, thus making the Key government an accomplice in the murder of its own citizen. Australia and New Zealand are part of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing alliance, which includes the US, Britain and Canada.

Until last August it was illegal for the GCSB to spy on NZ citizens and residents, but the law was changed—in the face of overwhelming public opposition—after a government-ordered review found that the agency had illegally spied on more than 85 people. The government can now lawfully spy on anyone it likes. It is not clear whether bin John was monitored before or after the law change.

Key used the revelations of the drone assassination to justify broadening the intelligence agency’s powers, telling reporters that it “shows … the things that I have been saying for quite some time—that we need our intelligence agencies to track our people, that there are New Zealanders who go and put themselves in harm’s way—have all been proven to be correct.”

New Zealand Green Party co-leader Russel Norman criticised Key for “saying it’s OK for foreign governments to execute New Zealanders offshore if they have beliefs about those New Zealand citizens holding views the US government doesn’t like.” This is completely hypocritical. The Greens supported the last Labour government that sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan in wars in which drones—along with the full range of assault helicopters and warplanes—were routinely used to kill anti-occupation insurgents and civilians and terrorise the population.

THE ESCALATION OF DRONE WARFARE IN AFGHANISTAN, PAKISTAN AND AFRICA

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By Chris Cole | Global Research

Over the past decade the use of armed drones has dramatically increased and spread with drone strikes reported to have taken place in up to ten countries. Although the US use of drones in Pakistan and  Yemen has been most controversial and received  the majority of media coverage, Afghanistan has been the real centre of armed drone use.  The first combat drone strike took place in Afghanistan just weeks after 9/11 and the vast majority of drone strikes have taken place there although exact figures remain shrouded in secrecy.  It is not surprising therefore that the forthcoming end of NATO combat operations in Afghanistan later this year brings the drone wars to something of a crossroads.

Afghanistan

Many USAF and RAF armed drones are currently based within Afghanistan where they are launched and landed by a joint US-UK team (when the drones reach 2,000 feet control is handed over to pilots in the US or the UK).  British Reaper drones are based at Kandahar airfield while US drones are also located at several other US bases within Afghanistan including Jalalabad Air Base, Bagram, Camp Leatherneck and some Forward Operating Bases (see Nick Turse’s excellent report on the global locations of US drone bases).

Until recently it seemed highly likely that some drones at least would remain in Afghanistan even after the end of combat operations in December 2014 as a part of a NATO security assistance programme although no concrete information had emerged about this.  Afghan President Hamid Karzai however has so far refused to sign a bilateral security agreement with the US, insisting it should be signed after the Afghanistan elections in April 2014 when the next Afghan government will be formed.  The US has insisted this is far too late and that plans for a complete US withdrawal (a so-called ‘zero option’) are now being drawn up.  Whether this is simply political brinkmanship and a deal will eventually be done is unclear.  If US military forces do completely withdraw it is very hard to imagine that other NATO forces including the UK and its drones would remain.

Separate from USAF drone operations are special forces (JSOC) and CIA drone operations. While there are distinct CIA facilities within Afghanistan, mainly near the Pakistan border, it appears that CIA drone flights in Pakistan rely on US military bases in Afghanistan particularly Jalalabad Air Base.

Pakistan  

Drone strikes in Pakistan are undertaken both by the CIA and by Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) utilising both US military bases and CIA facilities in Afghanistan.  Although the CIA did have use of at least one airbase in Pakistan – Shamsi airbase in Baluchistan Province – they were ordered to leave following growing public opposition to the strikes and the deaths of Pakistani troops in a November 2011 US air strike on the border. While there has been some suggestion that other Pakistani bases may have been involved in drone operations  it seems (as far as is known) that US drones are no longer based within Pakistan. The prospect of a full US military withdrawal from Afghanistan will therefore, as the New York Time put it recently, imperil drone operations in Pakistan.  News reports have suggested that US armed drones could be moved to airbases to the north of Afghanistan with Tajikistan being specifically mentioned.

While the US has other bases in the region, the further away the drones are based, the longer flights take to get back and forth to Pakistan consequently leaving less time to be looking for targets. However the Gray Eagle drone, a more advanced version of the Predator/Reaper with a much longer range is known to be in operation with US special forces.  While drones with much longer flight times and ranges such as the Avenger and even the X-47B, are being developed and tested, they are still some way off from going into production let alone deployment.

Meanwhile drone strikes continue to be ‘paused’ in Pakistan with the last known strike taking place more than two months ago on December 25 2013.  Although we can’t be completely certain why the strikes have stopped, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that the Pakistan government specifically asked for a halt to the strikes in order to begin peace talks with the Pakistan Taliban (TTP).  While the talks apparently collapsed after the killing of 23 Pakistani soldiers, at the beginning of March the Taliban announced a one-month ceasefire in order to get them restarted. While the US apparently maintains the options to carry out strikes, the longer the pause continues, the harder it will perhaps be to justify re-starting them.

What Next?

Over the next few months drone operations will continue in Afghanistan and may even increase as the deadline to withdrawal approaches.  Indeed the UK has announced that it has received into service a further five Reaper drones and is about to deploy them to Afghanistan.  While drone strikes have declined and now paused in Pakistan, they could well start again, particularly if peace talks fail and the trailed Pakistan military offensive into Waziristan begins.

But it is clear that the withdrawal of NATO forces will have an impact on drones operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, even if an agreement is finally reached which will see some forces remain after 2014.

Elsewhere US drones based in Djibouti continue to launch strikes in Yemen despite growing condemnation of the December 2013 ‘wedding’ drone strike that killed at least 12 civilians.  In addition unarmed US and French drone flights continue over Mali as drone bases are being expanded while the incoming Head of Africom (US Africa Command), General David Rodriguez, lobbied the Senate Armed Services Committee this week for more drones and resources.  In addition some experts are suggesting the UK drones could be deployed to Africa once the Afghanistan deployment is ended. It seems that as drone operations may be winding down in Afghanistan, they are increasing over Africa.

In the longer term more countries are acquiring or developing predator-type drones as the next generation of stealthy, combat drones – which are much more autonomous and capable of defending themselves in armed confrontation with other aircraft – are making their way off the drawing-boards and into the skies.

The increasingly long drone strike ‘pause’ in Pakistan together with the uncertainty over future drone operations in Afghanistan  highlights the fact that we may look back and see 2014 as a real turning point. Over the next 12-18 months we may see some really changes but it seems increasingly clear that once we pass this crossroads, the drone wars will continue into the distant future.

NEW DISTURBING DETAILS OF YEMENI WEDDING HIT BY U.S. DRONE

Written by  Joe Wolverton, II, J.D. | The New American

A new report on the December 12 U.S. drone strike that killed 12 guests at a Yemeni wedding calls on President Obama to come clean on the standards it uses to decide who lives and who dies and when drones are an appropriate weapon in the so-called “War on Terror.”

Human Rights Watch published a 28-page report (“A Wedding That Became a Funeral”) in February highlighting various versions of the events that tore families apart about two weeks before Christmas 2013. One of the most relevant revelations in the study is that, as reported by The Intercept, “some, if not all, of the victims may have been civilians.”

An Associated Press story on the Human Rights Watch study reported a few additional details:

“We asked both the Yemeni and the U.S. authorities to tell us which of the dead and wounded were members of militant groups and which if any were civilians,” report author Letta Tayler, a senior terrorism and counterterrorism researcher at Human

Rights Watch, told The Associated Press. “They did not reply to this question.”

She added: “While we do not rule out the possibility that AQAP fighters were killed and wounded in this strike, we also do not rule out the possibility that all of those killed and wounded were civilians.”

Naturally, the Obama administration tells a different story. Again, from the AP:

A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, said he would not comment on specific operational details. He noted that the Yemeni government has stated that the targets were “dangerous senior al-Qaida militants.”

U.S. and Yemeni officials said the target of the attack, Shawqi Ali Ahmad al-Badani, a midlevel al-Qaida leader, was wounded and had escaped.

Al-Badani is on Yemen’s most wanted list and is accused of masterminding a plan for a major attack last summer. When an intercepted message revealed the plot, the U.S. temporarily closed 19 of its diplomatic posts across Africa and the Mideast. Some European missions were closed as well.

Three U.S. officials said the U.S. government did investigate the strike against al-Badani — twice — and concluded that only members of al-Qaida were killed in the three vehicles that were hit.

The story of the strike is unconscionable and would be unbelievable, were it not for the president’s penchant for adding names to a kill list and then erasing them with Hellfire missiles fired from a remote control aircraft.

Citing “local security authorities,” Reuters reports that the families celebrating the wedding “were killed in an air strike after their party was mistaken for an al-Qaida convoy.”

Another unnamed official told Reuters that 10 people were killed immediately by the missiles, while five died later of injuries they sustained in the attack. Five more members of the wedding party were wounded, but survived the strike.

The AP, citing the Human Rights Watch report, puts the body count a little higher:

The report said four Hellfire missiles were fired at a wedding procession of 11 vehicles on Dec. 12, 2013, in Radda in southern Yemen, killing at least 12 men and wounding at least 15 others, six of them seriously.

While the people at the wedding may have been “accidentally” killed by the United States, thousands of so-called “militants” have been purposefully assassinated by our government.

For President Obama and those pulling the triggers on the joysticks guiding the missiles toward their human targets, “suspected militants” are officially defined as “all military-age males in a strike zone.”

For those of us concerned with the Constitution, due process, and the rule of law, however, “suspected militant” is just a euphemism for a person not charged with any crime, not afforded even the most perfunctory due process protections, but executed by presidential decree anyway. In this way, we are no better than those we kill in the name of safety.

The drone war began in Yemen in 2002. There have reportedly been 84 such strikes since that year. The number of dead is not verifiable, but LongWarJournal reports that 395 “al-Qaeda commanders” and 99 “civilians” have been killed during the duration of the program.

Regardless of the body count, however, Americans can expect the growth of anti-American sentiment to increase proportionally to the number of missiles fired from the powerful Predator and Reaper drones used to carry out the culling of the president’s kill list.

That sentiment is already being channeled by al-Qaeda leadership as its primary recruitment message.

Testimony from victims and eyewitnesses of the drone-delivered devastation in Yemen reveals that the attacks are serving better to recruit al-Qaeda than defeat them.

Since the inauguration of Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, the number of sorties sent to Yemen has spiked.

Although U.S. officials typically do not comment on this or any other drone strike in Yemen or elsewhere, Hadi isn’t quite so close-mouthed about the arrangement between the two “allies.”

In a statement made to the Washington Post in an interview published September 29, 2012, President Hadi said he “personally approves every U.S. drone strike in his country.”

Hadi’s praise for the Predators continued during a speech delivered at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “They [drones] pinpoint the target and have zero margin of error, if you know what target you’re aiming at,” Hadi said, according to the New York Times.

The problem with this arrangement is that there is no way to tell who is a “militant” and who isn’t.

More to the point, when did militancy become a crime? If it is a crime, where is it defined? How can anyone know if he is guilty of militancy if such a crime is not defined? Could one hypothetically be a militant without knowing it, given that the crime is nowhere defined?

Incidentally, it is this very vagueness that dilates the grey area and makes the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) such a fearsome weapon in the arsenal of the seemingly all-powerful president.

President Obama’s nearly daily approval of drone-delivered assassinations is an effrontery to over 650 years of our Anglo-American law’s protection from autocratic decrees of death without due process of law. When any president usurps the power to create a kill list, add names to that kill list, keep that kill list secret, and assassinate people on that kill list, he places our Republic on a trajectory toward tyranny and unbounded, unaccountable, unending government-sponsored terrorism.

Of course, it would be another matter if those targeted and executed by the president were armed enemy combatants. They were not. Were these suspected “militants” enemy soldiers captured during wartime they would be necessarily afforded certain rights granted to POWs.

Those slated for assassination are not allowed any rights — neither the due process rights given to those accused of crimes nor the rights of fair treatment given to enemies captured on the battlefield.

The White House has assumed all power over life and death — at home and abroad — and has created a brand-new category of individual — one who can be indiscriminately deprived of all rights altogether.

Regardless of the president’s purported justification for disregarding due process and killing children, women, and men in untold numbers, the morality of the event makes the operation deplorable. As The Intercept rightly reports:

But at its core, the Human Rights Watch report makes the case that a swirling mix of competing accounts surrounding the strike demands a transparent investigation and publicly available findings. In an interview with The Intercept Wednesday, Letta Tayler, the author of the report, said the contradictory claims her team uncovered investigating the strike were “mind boggling.”

“It would be comical if we were not talking about human beings who were killed and yet, that is what we’re talking about,” Tayler said. “And that’s why the silence is unconscionable.”

Such sickening operations will continue, however, until the American people stop being silent and demand that our elected leaders conform to the rule of law.

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