One third of those killed in Yemen by US drone strikes in 2018 were civilians, according to a report by the Associated Press.
The US has been conducting a drone war in Yemen for 16 years in declared attempts to suppress al-Qaeda in the country. This has, however, led to a high number of civilian casualties.
There is also no comprehensive count of civilian deaths, because there is difficulty in confirming the identities and allegiances of the killed individuals. The Associated Press claimed that it found out that at least 30 of the dead were not linked to al-Qaeda in 2018. That is one third of all deaths by US drone strike in 2018 in Yemen.
“The Pentagon does not release its assessment of the death toll, but an independent database considered one of the most credible in tracking violence in Yemen counted 88 people — militants and non-militants — killed by drones this year.”
This gives an impression of how often civilians are hit by drone strikes. This is even more significant since the Trump administration came into power. In the last two years the US has dramatically increased its use of armed drones.
“It has carried out 176 strikes during its nearly two years in office, compared to the 154 strikes during the entire eight years of the Obama administration, according to a count by the AP and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
The AP based its count on interviews with witnesses, families, tribal leaders and activists. Most of those killed, 24, were civilians; at least 6 others were fighters in pro-government forces — meaning ostensibly on the same side as the U.S. — who were hit in strikes away from the front lines while engaged in civilian life.”
This has gone almost unnoticed in the region’s conflicts. After all, the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen has been much more destructive and has received much less condemnation than the killing of one man – Jamal Khashoggi. To provide a sense of perspective: some estimates claim that more than 57,000 civilians and fighters have been killed in the war.
To compare, only around 1,000 individuals both militants and civilians have been killed in drone strikes by the US. The Bureau for Investigative Journalism counted up to 1,020 killed by strikes from 2009 to 2016, under President Barack Obama, compared to up to 205 killed in 2017 and 2018. However, the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, counted 331 killed the past two years. Thus, there is uncertainty in the exact number of deaths.
AP further reported that it is difficult to track the civilian casualties since there are numerous militias operating in Yemen. Furthermore, “Al-Qaeda has joined the battle against the Houthis, and many of its fighters are incorporated into militias armed and funded by the US-backed coalition.”
There have been successes, reportedly in 2015 US drone strikes took out Nasser al-Wahishi, the top leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and several lieutenants.
However, the hunt for al-Qaeda commanders has resulted in the deaths of many civilians.
“For example, the US has killed at least 66 civilians, 31 of them children, in the unsuccessful hunt for one man, Qassim al-Rimi, one of AQAP’s founders who in 2015 succeeded al-Wahishi as the group’s chief.”
Furthermore, the deaths of civilians or otherwise come from a great distance.
“Drone pilots work remotely at American bases, most often in the U.S., sometimes on 11- to 14-hour shifts housed in rooms like shipping containers lined with electronics. They operate based on intelligence from informants but they also carry out so-called “signature strikes,” based on observing suspicious patterns of behavior.”
AP cited an anonymous former participant in the drone program who claimed that pilots are trained to look for a specific list of characteristics and target subjects who show a number of them. All of this shown on grainy, low quality footage.
An AP report published in August found that the U.S.-backed coalition paid large sums to al Qaeda commanders in exchange for their leaving key locations throughout coalition-controlled Yemen, while also allowing the terror group’s forces to retreat with all of their weapons, cash and supplies and without fear of reprisal.
Even when the Saudi-backed government of Yemen sent al Qaeda members to represent it in peace talks held in Geneva, the U.S. continued to give its full backing to the Saudi-led coalition.
As a result of the US “War on Terror” in Yemen, AQAP, which was once called “the most dangerous regional node in the global jihad” by the CIA — has “become stronger than at any time since it first emerged almost 20 years ago.”
The only beneficiary from the US “anti-terrorism” efforts in Yemen are AQAP and the Saudi-backed coalition, the ones to suffer are the civilians.