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You Might Have Missed: Yemen and Drone Wars

An anti-government protester shouts slogans during a rally in Sanaa, Yemen (Courtesy Reuters/Mohamed Al-Sayaghi).

May 18, 2012

An anti-government protester shouts slogans during a rally in Sanaa, Yemen (Courtesy Reuters/Mohamed Al-Sayaghi).
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Iona Craig, "Toll Climbs in Yemen’s Fight Against al-Qaeda," USA Today, May 18, 2012.

Julian E. Barnes, "U.S. Rethinks Secrecy on Drone Program," Wall Street Journal, May 17, 2012.

The policy changes under consideration could include specifying which extremist groups associated with al Qaeda can be targeted by the Pentagon under the 2001 congressional authorization for the use of military force against perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks, according to U.S. officials.

Dianne Feinstein, “Letters: Senator Feinstein on Drone Strikes,” Los Angeles Times, May 17, 2012.

The Senate Intelligence Committee, which I chair, has devoted significant time and attention to the drone program. We receive notification with key details shortly after every strike, and we hold regular briefings and hearings on these operations. Committee staff has held 28 monthly in-depth oversight meetings to review strike records and question every aspect of the program including legality, effectiveness, precision, foreign policy implications and the care taken to minimize noncombatant casualties.

The White House, Executive Order—Blocking Property of Persons Threatening the Peace, Security, or Stability of Yemen, May 16, 2012.

I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, find that the actions and policies of certain members of the Government of Yemen and others threaten Yemen’s peace, security, and stability, including by obstructing the implementation of the agreement of November 23, 2011, between the Government of Yemen and those in opposition to it, which provides for a peaceful transition of power that meets the legitimate demands and aspirations of the Yemeni people for change, and by obstructing the political process in Yemen. I further find that these actions constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States, and I hereby declare a national emergency to deal with that threat.

(3PA: According to the Los Angeles Times, the order is “meant to discourage political meddling by those still loyal to the nation’s former dictator.” For a description of the executive order, read this comprehensive Salon article.)

U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing, May 16, 2012.

QUESTION: Is it your view that there are people who are attempting to block this, or is this [executive order] just purely a preventative or an anticipatory measure, that there are going to be people who are going to try and block it – for example, the former president?

NULAND: Well, obviously, I’m not going to name names, but we’ve had concerns about spoilers. We’ve had concerns about foot-draggers. We’ve had concerns about actual opposition from various different groups. And so this is a new tool that we can use to make our views known if that continues.

QUESTION: In the note to Congress that accompanies the President’s executive order, it specifically states that it is aimed at members of the Yemeni Government who may seek to disrupt the stability et cetera, and in particular to interfere with or prevent – obstruct the implementation of the November 23rd agreement. Who are those members of the government that you are so worried about?

NULAND: I think the document speaks of those within the government and outside the government. So this is a big umbrella set of authorities that can be used as necessary. Again, I’m not going to name names here because we haven’t designated anybody yet. But it is definitely meant today as a message to those who are trying to block a transition that we have this tool to use against them and that they should think again about the policies that they are pursuing.

Hakim Almasmari, “Two Suspected U.S. Drone Strikes Reported in Yemen,” CNN, May 15, 2012.

Two suspected U.S. drone strikes killed seven al Qaeda militants and eight civilians in the southern part of Yemen on Tuesday, three Yemeni security officials said.

(3PA: Yesterday, Jake Tapper asked National Security Adviser Donilon if the United States compensates families of civilians killed by U.S. military operations outside of Afghanistan. Donilon replied: “There are a lot of possibilities in that question, including instances like occurred on the cross-border incident in the end of November in Pakistan, where it would be appropriate to talk about compensation issues. I don’t know if compensation was ultimately paid in that case. That was — those were Pakistani soldiers who were killed. With respect to other examples, Jake, I’m just not going to go there.”)

Jeremy Scahill, "Washington’s War in Yemen Backfires," The Nation, February 14, 2012.

Government Accountability Office, “Uncertain Political and Security Situation Challenges U.S. Efforts to Implement a Comprehensive Strategy in Yemen,” February 29, 2012.

Since fiscal year 2007, U.S. agencies have allocated more than $642 million in securityand civilian assistance to Yemen. Specifically, DOD, State, and USAID have allocated approximately $326 million for security assistance and more than $316 million for civilian assistance. Allocations reached their peak in fiscal year 2010, after a failed bomb attack on a U.S.-bound airline by a Yemeni-trained Nigerian citizen in December 2009. In fiscal year 2011, however, allocations declined sharply due primarily to the political turmoil in Yemen and the difficulty of implementing training and equipping programs in such an environment, according to U.S. officials.

U.S. assistance strategy and activities support the U.S. goal of a stable and secure Yemen. In 2009, the U.S. government undertook a comprehensive review of its policy toward Yemen. The result was an integrated strategy that emphasizes both security and civilian assistance. According to State officials, this assistance strategy is twofold as follows:

  • Strengthen Yemen’s ability to promote security and minimize threats. DOD security assistance activities have been focused on building Yemeni counterterrorism capacity. According to DOD officials, DOD’s activities have helped its Yemeni counterparts take direct counterterrorism action, increase their border security, and build both airlift and maritime capacity. However, they also said that in 2011 DOD suspended the majority of its security-related activities due to the deteriorating security situation. For example, DOD officials told us they had to stop the large training component of their assistance, because it was no longer safe to keep the trainers in Yemen.

  • Mitigate economic crisis and governance deficiencies. USAID has led the implementation of civilian assistance activities. Prior to 2010, USAID activities focused on sector-based development interventions, such as separate programs for health or education, in five remote, impoverished, rural governorates. Given the deteriorating security context and the escalating development challenges, USAID determined that a new stabilization approach was necessary, transitioning to more integrated activities addressing the key grievances and drivers of instability in targeted, disadvantaged communities. Under this strategy, for example, the Community Livelihoods Program brings programs for health, education, and poverty reduction together under one implementation mechanism. In addition, USAID shifted the geographic focus of its programs. According to USAID officials, the deteriorating security situation denied program implementers access to certain areas, and they could not travel or establish a long-term presence in more remote locales. As a result, USAID began to focus assistance activities on large urban areas, which were more secure and accessible. Officials added that the collapse of government services, decline in economic activity, and other drivers of instability were also greatest in these areas, providing USAID the greatest potential for maximizing the impact of its interventions.

Given Yemen’s ongoing political unrest and security situation, U.S. officials told us they are monitoring developments as they relate to future assistance activities. State and USAID officials said that the overall twofold U.S. assistance strategy continues to guide their planning, but that under a directive from the National Security Council, they have also recently begun a new interagency strategic development process. They expect this process to last several months and will allow agencies to react to the situation on the ground following the recent February 2012 presidential elections. DOD officials also said that once DOD is able to fully resume security assistance activities in Yemen, it will continue to work toward its goal of building Yemeni counterterrorism capacity. However, both State and DOD officials expressed some concerns about future security assistance activities, including identifying who will be the key U.S. partners in the Yemeni security forces. Until 2011, the United States trained and equipped specialized security forces focused on counterterrorism that members of the Saleh family led.

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