US Yemen drones strengthening Al Qaeda

Drones are used by the US to hunt Al Qaeda

As Arab and Western capitals follow developments in Egypt after the ouster of elected president Mohammed Morsi, south of the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen is being pounded by US drone missiles, writes Middle East expert Abdel Bari Atwan.

In the last ten days of the holy month of Ramadan, US drone strikes killed 30 people, with officials claiming that the victims were Al-Qaeda-affiliated militants – 17 from Hadramaut and five from Marib.

These drone missiles, launched from a secret CIA air base south of Saudi Arabia, near the Yemeni border, are like locusts in Yemen’s airspace, killing people in broad daylight.

The vast majority of these strikes claim the lives of innocent Yemeni civilians. I have seen infants being pulled out of the rubble of houses demolished by these drones.

The CIA began a new operation in Yemen, which it claimed had become the central headquarter of jihadists, especially after Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri’s decision to appoint Nasir al-Wuhayshi as the leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Al-Wuhayshi’s predecessors, Abu Faraj al-Libi, Mustafa Abu Yazid and Abu Yahya al-Libi had all perished in US drone raids.

Nasir al Wuhayshi

Al-Wuhayshi was close to Osama bin Laden, having worked as his personal aide during the early years of Al-Qaeda in the second half of the 1990s. During this time, Al-Qaeda carried out several major operations, including the bombing of the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad (1996), and attacks on the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar el-Salam (August 1998). The group was also planning for the 9-11 attacks. Bin Laden trusted al-Wuhayshi completely, and travelled with him far and wide.

Al-Wuhayshi was considered one of the most dangerous Al-Qaeda leaders at the time, and was among the 23 prisoners who escaped from a Yemeni prison in 2006 by digging tunnels underground.

The US drones policy is President Barack Obama’s personal war. It is his alternative to invading countries under the framework of the so-called war on terror. It is an inexpensive war for the US, both in terms of personnel and military resources. However, just like the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, it is an unethical and illegal war. Where is the morality and courage in using drones to kill people, particularly when the majority of them are innocent civilians going about their daily lives?

Abdel Bari Atwan is a prominent Arab journalist
Abdel Bari Atwan is a prominent Arab journalist

US drones killed more than 4000 people in Yemen, under the cover of war against Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants, but the independent investigations proved that more than half of them were women and children. One of the US drones struck a wedding, while another targeted an elementary school in the tribal region on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, killing dozens of students.

These US drone massacres in Yemen continue amid the silence of the so-called civilised world, not to mention the Arab accomplices, looking on as if those who are being killed are not human beings, Arabs or Muslims.

I don’t know who gave the US and its president the mandate to commit these massacres in an Arab country among 20 of the poorest countries in the world. I am surprised at how Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who is supposed to be ruling Yemen after the popular revolution for democracy, has allowed these massacres to take place.

Since the US declared war against Al-Qaeda after September 11, 2001, the Islamist group has grown from strength to strength. The US, on the other hand, has spent more than $2,000bn on the operations and lost nearly 6,000 soldiers.

Before the war on terror, Al-Qaeda only had one hideout – the Tora Bora mountains in Afghanistan. Now, it has become a global power, an organisation with off-shoots across the Arab region. It has branches in Iraq, Yemen, Islamic Maghreb countries, African Sahara countries, Somalia, and even Syria, with the likes of Al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) adopting the Al-Qaeda ideology.

The US administration is lying to itself when it claims that Al-Qaeda is weaker, but still a serious threat. The authorities are even contradicting themselves. How can you say the group has been weakened, and then go on to say it is still a serious threat?

If the organisation is weak, the US would never have closed 21 of its embassies in the Middle East countries, and advised its nationals in Yemen to leave immediately.

War on terror

The war on terror has failed. The American plan to humiliate Arabs and Muslims, split their countries, destroy their armies, and create failed or semi-failed and weak states that are torn apart geographically and demographically for ensuring the security of Israel in the region, has and will continue to enhance the strength of Al-Qaeda and its affiliates in the region.

Nasir al-Wuhayshi, if he lives, may become the new Bin Laden. He belongs to Yemen and the Arabian Peninsula, similar to Bin Laden, and comes from a wealthy family. He also has the leadership and organisational qualities similar to his role model, who taught him the ways around Kandahar and Tora Bora.

Al-Qaeda has a strong network across the Arab world, and beyond, and the strongest branch of that tree is in Yemen with the AQAP. This is true, not only because Yemen is close to the oil wells and the Gulf regimes, particularly the Saudi regime, but also because Al-Qaeda has strong support in a region which dislikes the US and the West.

The US drone missiles that are being launched from the Saudi air base may kill some Al-Qaeda militants, along with hundreds or maybe thousands of innocent children, women and elderly, but they will never destroy the Al-Qaeda ideology.

The organisation will grow stronger and play on the anger and frustration of young Yemenis who have plenty of hatred for the West and America, and feel a sense of injustice towards the Arab and Muslim allies’ complicity.

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