On the heels of the release of two reports by human rights groups addressing the United States’ ongoing drone war in the Mideast, a former high-ranking official at the Department of State has penned a column claiming that each drone strike the United States carries out in Yemen produces dozens of new militant extremists due to the massive loss of civilian life.
In an opinion piece published this week in The Cairo Review, Nabeel Khoury, who served as deputy chief of mission in Yemen for the State Department from 2004 to 2007, opined that the use of drone strikes in Yemen is major contributor to growing anti-American sentiment in the region.
“Despite the renewed focus on aid, U.S. Policy in Yemen still reflects ambivalence, uncertainty and conflicting goals,” Khoury wrote. “The global war on terror sill trumps the prioritization needed for assisting the democratic transition underway. Drone strikes take out a few bad guys to be sure, but they also kill a large number of innocent civilians.”
Khoury estimated that each drone strike breeds 40 to 60 new enemies of the United States in the region. The estimate is not based on any scientific evidence, but on the former State Department official’s intimate knowledge of the region.
“Given Yemen’s tribal structure, the US generates roughly forty to sixty new enemies for every AQAP operative killed by drones. Open source reporting records 45 drone strikes in Yemen in 2012, and 22 so far in 2013. Reported casualties are 491 for 2012,” Khoury wrote, referring to al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
“In war, unmanned aircraft may be a necessary part of a comprehensive military strategy. In a country where we are not at war, however, drones become part of our foreign policy, dominating it altogether, to the detriment of both our security and political goals,” he added.
Earlier in the week, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch issued reports about the toll of the United States’ use of drones in Pakistan and Yemen, both of which are nations where the U.S. is not at war.
Amnesty International concluded that no fewer than 29 civilians were killed in 45 U.S. drone strikes in Yemen occurring between January 2012 and August 2013. Human Rights Watch’s examination of six drone strikes concluded that 57 out of 82 people killed in the strikes were non-militant civilians.
“The U.S. must explain why these people have been killed — people who are clearly civilians. It must provide justice to these people, compensation and it must investigate those responsible for those killings,” Mustafa Qadri, the researcher who wrote the Amnesty International report, said of the findings.
While the recent reports detail outrageous loss of civilian life in the regions where the U.S. drone program is active, previous accountings have painted an even more damning picture. A September 2012 joint investigation produced by Stanford Law School and the New York University School of Law concluded that just 2 percent of people killed in drone strikes could be classified as “terrorists.” Many of the victims, according to that investigation, perished as a result of secondary strikes known as “double tap” which routinely follow a drone strike and routinely claim the lives of civilian onlookers and rescue workers.
Foreign Times columnist David Pilling, on Wednesday, imagined a world in which American citizens were subjected to the same horrors that people in Pakistan and Yemen endure because of rolling drone strikes, writing:
It is a beautiful morning in Seattle when, over Puget Sound, a glinting object is spotted in the sky. Within minutes an unmanned drone, painted in the emerald green of the Pakistani flag, is raining down missiles on Pike Place Market where suspected al-Qaeda operatives are meeting to plan an attack on Karachi. The next day Islamabad admits that although the mission successfully took out the suspected terrorists, there has been some collateral damage. Among the American civilians killed is a 68-year-old grandmother who had come to the market with her grandchildren to buy vegetables. Her eight-year-old granddaughter, though unharmed in the attack, asks: “Will I be next?”
Just imagine the hell that would break loose if such an event were to occur. Defenders of US drone strikes will object that it is unfair to compare this fictional event with the deployment of US drones in Pakistan — or for that matter in Yemen or Somalia.
Pilling goes on to suggest that, due to President Barack Obama’s insistence that the drone strikes occurring in the Mideast are legal under both domestic and international law, it is not — even if implausible — impossible that Americans could face a similar reality in the future.
Pilling wrote: “Then there is precedent. If it is legal for the U.S. to deploy drones, what about other countries? Like computers, with each passing year drones are getting cheaper and more sophisticated. Would Washington object, for example, if Beijing started taking out perceived threats to the Chinese state in third states? One suspects it would.”
The U.S. government has disregarded the reports issued this week by the two human rights groups, with White House spokesman Jay Carney saying Tuesday that the Federal government “would strongly disagree” with any claims that the government has acted inappropriately. Carney said that American actions follow all applicable law.
“U.S. counterterrorism operations are precise, they are lawful and they are effective,” Carney said.
Let’s just hope that no other nation with “precise, lawful and effective” means of causing mass civilian death feel that terroristic threats to their way of life are residing somewhere in an American city or suburb.