Using drones in Yemen could backfire

Following the terror alert at the weekend, there is widespread speculation President Obama will order more drone strikes on Yemen to tackle the threat posed by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Such a strategy, however, may cause more problems and result in an even greater threat.

Following the terror alert at the weekend, there is widespread speculation President Obama will order more drone strikes on Yemen to tackle the threat posed by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Such a strategy, however, may cause more problems and result in an even greater threat.

In this morning’s Financial Times, Christopher Boucek says that:

“… allowing the CIA to operate its drone programme in the country is likely to inflame the internal tensions that attracted al-Qaeda in the first place.”

While The Guardian’s diplomatic editor Julian Borger writes:

“… Yemen’s counter-insurgency effort and US drone strikes against AQAP have deepened resistance to his [President Saleh’s] rule, especially when there are civilian casualties, as is often the case.”

In August, Left Foot Forward looked in detail at the case for regulating drones, while last month we looked at whether UAV strikes in Waziristan in Pakistan were war crimes. The quality of the CIA’s covert drone programme is laid bare by Reuters’s Alistair Lyon today, who reports about:

“… a December strike that killed several women and children and a mistaken raid in May that killed five people, including a deputy provincial governor who had been mediating between the Yemeni government and militants.”

It is not just the US government who see drones as the weapon of the future, however.

Last week, the UK Ministry of Defence extended its contract to lease Israel-built Hermes 450 surveillance drones in Afghanistan. U-TacS, a Leicester-based company half-owned by Israel’s Elbit Systems, won the follow-on contract worth £44 million to provide an intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance support capability for UK Armed Forces.

The contract also includes training for UK MoD staff in the use and maintenance of the Hermes 450 platform. The deal was a ‘stop-gap’ measure resulting from the UK Watchkeeper programme, the MoD’s attempt to purchase 54 drones, being around eight months behind schedule. The Watchkeeper UAVs, being assembled by U-TacS in Leicester and tested in ParcAberpoth in Wales, are now expected to enter service in late 2011.

This news of inefficient procurement was matched by a series of underwhelming accidents at training facilities and live theatres over the last fortnight. An MQ-1 Predator crashed at the Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico on October 22nd, followed by an MQ-9 Reaper crash at the same site on October 27th.

Additionally, an Israel Defense Force Skylark 1 UAV that crashed on October 21st in the Gaza Strip was retrieved by soldiers and is undergoing tests to evaluate the cause of the crash. This comes just weeks after NATO admitted a drone crashed in the Paktika Province in Afghanistan (not the first time), probably due to a mechanical failure.

The numerous accidents involving drones have not dented enthusiasm for their expansion in UK or US military circles; as such, Left Foot Forward fears more civilian casualties and a deepening of resentments.

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7 Responses to “Using drones in Yemen could backfire”

  1. David Bishop

    RT @leftfootfwd Using drones in Yemen could backfire: http://bit.ly/dw9K7y <- someone's been watching Spooks

  2. Shamik Das

    Using drones in Yemen could backfire: http://bit.ly/dw9K7y – Yemen latest on @leftfootfwd

  3. John Rentoul

    "Using drones in Yemen could backfire", says Left Foot Forward http://ind.pn/aKFVVD And a backfiring drone wd probably fall out of the sky

  4. jeff_h

    I don’t know why people worry about killing civilians. It’s what wins wars. Look at USA versus Germany and Japan. Their warplan was to target civilians and do the rebuilding after they’d won the war, not before. They didn’t worry when firebombing Tokyo or levelling Dresden about women or children. And now Germany and Japan are the richest countries in the world, pacifist constitutions, not been at war for almost 70 years. That won’t be the case for Afghanistan or Yemen.

  5. Shamik Das

    RT @johnrentoul: "Using drones in Yemen could backfire", says Left Foot Forward http://ind.pn/aKFVVD And a backfiring drone wd probably fall out of the sky

  6. Transpolarwanderer

    RT @leftfootfwd: Using drones in Yemen could backfire http://bit.ly/abSwrz

  7. THE AUTHOR

    Since writing the article, a number of sources have made clear to me that Predator/Reaper crashes are actually very common and that there was nothing too peculiar about the fortnight which this article focuses on. Here’s a summary that I’ve just Googled but one could (not me at 1AM) find a properly referenced summary if one was trying. Best, AG

    http://www.homeland1.com/homeland-security-products/unmanned-aerial-vehicles-uav/articles/847069-accident-reports-show-us-drone-aircraft-plagued-with-problems/

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