by Jessica Poarch
With the death of some of its top leadership al-Qaeda’s power based has shifted into Yemen. With this influx of power and presence has come more drone strikes by the U.S. As the bombs fall news articles and blog post spring up to bring to the World’s attention the questions, realities, tragedies and triumphs surrounding the attacks; I have included a few below as a catalyst for thought or conversation on the issue.
Wired Blogger Noah Shachtman wrote, “29 dead in a little over a week. Nearly 200 gone this year. The White House is stepping up its campaign of drone attacks in Yemen, with four strikes in eight days. And not even the slaying of 10 civilians over the weekend seems to have slowed the pace in the United States’ secretive, undeclared war.”
What are the effects of the Drone strikes on al-Qaeda? The Washington Post reported in May that the killing of civilians in drone strike bread resentment for the U.S. among Yemenis and strengthened their sympathies for the militant group; what the article calls a “marked radicalization of the local population.” In the same article, the Washington Post states that the strikes “have significantly weakened al-Qaeda’s capabilities.”
Are the strikes pushing the Yemeni population toward al-Qaeda? In the article sited above, the Washington Post says yes. However, this may not mean an increase is recruits to the group. Christopher Swift, after conducting interviews with “tribal leaders, Islamist politicians, Salafist clerics, and other sources” writes that it is economic factors and not the Drone strike that push new recruits toward al-Qaeda. The article states, “Though critical of the U.S. drone campaign, none of the Islamists and Salafists I interviewed believed that drone strikes explain al Qaeda’s burgeoning numbers. ‘The driving issue is development,’ an Islamist parliamentarian from Hadramout province said. ‘Some districts are so poor that joining al Qaeda represents the best of several bad options.’ (Other options include criminality, migration, and even starvation.) A Salafi scholar engaged in hostage negotiations with AQAP agreed. ‘Those who fight do so because of the injustice in this country,” he explained. “A few in the north are driven by ideology, but in the south it is mostly about poverty and corruption.”’
What is clear is that the Yemeni population is highly concerned with civilian casualties. It is the death of civilians that is sited by the Washington Post as string movement in support of the militant group and it is the death of civilians sited time in again in the interviews mentioned above that breads disapproval of the strikes among the interviewees. One interviewee “explained that Yemenis could ‘accept [drones] as long as there are no more civilian casualties.’An Islamist member of the separatist al-Harak movement offered a similar assessment. ‘Ordinary people have become very practical about drones,’ he said. ‘If the United States focuses on the leaders and civilians aren’t killed, then drone strikes will hurt al Qaeda more than they help them.'”
However, The Economist’s recent article seems to suggest broader disapproval of the strikes which are not voiced due to the necessity of U.S. support for the Yemeni government.