Drone (ing) on about Yemen, AQAP

Well, this was “National Week To Discuss Drones in Yemen.”  Those familiar with this blog know that I’m relatively pro-drone with some caveats (I should have an updated discussion to last year’s article coming out shortly.)

However, I did have the great honor of participating on a AQAP in Yemen online roundtable this week, edited and orchestrated by @azmatzahra who did an excellent job putting together the panel and editing my dribble on drones. I encourage all those interested in AQAP and Yemen to view the amazing journalism of Ghaith Abdul-Ahad and the documentary “AQAP in Yemen” by @frontlinepbs.

The documentary touched off a spate of perspectives and analysis of AQAP, Yemen and drones; all of which are complicated by the conflation of really two separate debates, in my opinion:

  1. What is going on with AQAP in Yemen and what should we do about it? (The PBS documentary was great for this and actually, the discussion of drones in the documentary was lighter than I expected.)
  2. How and when we should use drone strikes in the U.S. counterterrorism fight? (There was a reported drone strike in Waziristan this morning BTW – crickets, crickets, media any debate on this one?)

These two debates have become muddled together and based on my analysis of media reporting this week and the questions I’ve been fielded – AQAP’s existence and their ‘alleged’ growth is predominately the result of drone strikes.  I have MANY problems with this argument and have already wrote an extended paper which once edited will hopefully be a follow up to Frank Cilluffo and I’s article from last year.

I don’t want to throw out all my discussion before the paper is published, but here is some of the weak argumentation I found in this week’s debate.

  • December 17. 2009 cruise missile attack in Yemen – This attack was horrible resulting in many civilian deaths.  News accounts consistently return to this event as evidence of why we should end drone strikes.  However, this wasn’t a drone strike – a cruise missile caused these casualties.  For those unfamiliar with the development of drones and why the logic of this argument is flimsy, I encourage you to watch this 60 Minutes interview with Amb. Hank Crumpton.
  • AQAP’s propaganda on Drones – Anyone stop and wonder if this drone debate in the U.S. is exactly what al Qaeda and AQAP were hoping for?  I’m glad to see Frontline also post this news story, “al Qaeda’s New Image Obsessed Media Wing.”  Anytime you want to know what is working against al Qaeda, just look at their propaganda – Taliban = Night Raids, AQ Central = Drones, AQAP = Drones.  The Abbottabad documents make it quite clear how effective drones were against al Qaeda.  Bin Laden knew the effect and reoriented propaganda against drones.
  • Transparency in Drone Warfare – One of the biggest arguments against drone warfare has been transparency.  Well, the past three weeks have provided a lot more clarity.  First, someone leaked the existence of a Saudi-UK mole in AQAP who delivered a third generation underwear bomb demonstrating the persistent threat AQAP poses to the U.S. homeland.  Ironically, some drone critics were “appalled” by the leaking of classified information (hypocritical). If you want to know why drones are being used against AQAP, here you go – quit whining.  Second, the NY Times article Obama’s War Against al Qaeda provides an in depth look into drone targeting.  Many drone critics thought there was really no process for selecting targets.  Well, guess again, its quite extensive.  I’m not sure its the right process (foreshadowing), but it’s not the wild conspiracy made out by some people.  So for those needing transparency, what more are you looking for that wouldn’t result in complete exposure of our nation’s tradecraft?
  • “Study Cites Drones For Radicalization” – This article got me really spun up.  When I saw the reference on the PBS website, I was excited as this is a needed area of research.  Then, I read the Washington Post article. The basis for the argument is atrocious.  Here’s the proof they cite for their assertions.  I can’t think of a more biased audience from which to gain a perspective on this debate.

20 interviews with tribal leaders, victims’ relatives, human rights activists and officials from four provinces in southern Yemen where U.S. strikes have targeted suspected militants.

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