On my wedding day, my wife and I hired a couple of shuttle vans to ferry guests between a San Clemente hotel and the nearby site where we held our ceremony and reception. I thought of our friends and family members packed into those vehicles when I read about the latest nightmarish consequence of America’s drone war: “A U.S. drone mistakenly targeted a wedding convoy in Yemen’s al-Baitha province after intelligence reports identified the vehicles as carrying al Qaeda militants,” CNN reported, citing government sources in Yemen. “The officials said that 14 people were killed and 22 others injured, nine in critical condition. The vehicles were traveling near the town of Radda when they were attacked.”
Can you imagine the wall-to-wall press coverage, the outrage, and the empathy for the victims that would follow if an American wedding were attacked in this fashion? Or how you’d feel about a foreign power that attacked your wedding in this fashion?
The L.A. Times followed up on the story and found slightly different casualty figures: “The death toll reached 17 overnight, hospital officials in central Bayda province said Friday. Five of those killed were suspected of involvement with Al Qaeda, but the remainder were unconnected with the militancy, Yemeni security officials said.”
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
Far off the coast of Yemen lies isolated Socotra island, where hundreds of plants and animals have developed into species unique to the island. The best-known of these might be the Dragon Blood trees, with their densely-packed crowns and blood-red sap. Socotra, sometimes referred to as “the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean,” is slowly emerging from its long isolation — in 1999, the first airport opened, and tourism began to pick up. In an effort to counter any negative impacts, UNESCO recognized the island as a World Natural Heritage Site in 2008, promoting conservation of the unique environment and some of its endangered species.
Murad Mohamed, a scrawny 27 year-old biology graduate, peers through a pair of dusty binoculars, searching for something few even know exists in Yemen: the Arabian leopard, one of the Middle East’s most iconic species—and one of the world’s most endangered animals.
A field researcher for the Foundation for the Protection of the Arabian Leopard in Yemen (FPALY), Mohamed is leading the first leopard survey of its kind in Raymah, a fertile region in the craggy Haraz Mountains located about 60 miles southwest of Yemen’s capital, Sana’a. FPALY’s Raymah survey — one of only a handful of concerted efforts in history to locate the Arabian leopard in Yemen — is just one of the half-dozen the foundation has already undertaken during its four years as an organization. With their research, they aim to reverse the animal’s rapidly declining presence—not just in Yemen but in its entire, decimated former habitat.
Roughly one-third the size of most other leopards, the 50-pound Arabian subspecies is by far the smallest—perfect for maneuvering around the rocky South Arabian landscape. It features an unusually pale coat and an almost comically sized tail that can reach three and a half feet long. Six years ago, the International Union for Conservation of Nature estimated that less than 250 remain in the world.
Read more. [Image: Kamran Jebreili/AP]
On Thursday, October 25, 2012, as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney crisscrossed America in a final mad scramble along the campaign trail, three officers from Yemen’s elite Republican Guard were holding an unusual meeting half a world away, on the tip of the Arabian Peninsula. That day was Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice, which in the Islamic tradition commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael. Eid al-Adha is one of the holiest days on the Islamic calendar, but the men had likely forgone the traditional meal with their families to join the meeting that evening.
Standing in front of them was the reason for their clandestine gathering: an 8-year-old boy. Shy, frail, a little grimy, and in need of a haircut, he looked as vulnerable as he would several months later while describing this meeting on video.
At the time of the meeting, the boy didn’t know that the United States had decided to kill a man named Adnan al-Qadhi, and had turned to its allies in Yemen for assistance. Now the Yemeni government needed the child’s help. The Republican Guard officers told him what they wanted him to do: plant tiny electronic chips on the man he had come to think of as a surrogate father. The boy knew and trusted the officers; they were his biological father’s friends. He told them he would try. He would be their spy.
By the time President Obama gave the order to attack Adnan al-Qadhi, the U.S. had been killing al-Qaeda fighters for years, in places ranging from the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan to the deserts of Yemen and Somalia. The strikes had taken a toll on the terrorist organization. More than a decade after September 11, Osama bin Laden and many of the most obvious targets were already dead.
Qadhi, a burly Yemeni military officer, was a less obvious target. But as the U.S. entered the second decade of its war against al-Qaeda, it increasingly found itself going after men like Qadhi, who were targeted not so much for what they had done as for what they might do.
The most ardent case against drone strikes is that they kill innocents. John Brennan has argued that claims of collateral carnage are exaggerated. In June 2011, he famously declared that there had not been “a single collateral death” due to a drone strike in the previous 12 months.
Almost no one believes this. Brennan himself later amended his statement, saying that in the previous 12 months, the United States had found no “credible evidence” that any civilians had been killed in drone strikes outside Afghanistan and Iraq. (I am using the word civilians here to mean “noncombatants.”) A fair interpretation is that drones unfailingly hit their targets, and so long as the U.S. government believes its targets are all legitimate, the collateral damage is zero. But drones are only as accurate as the intelligence that guides them. Even if the machine is perfect, it’s a stretch to assume perfection in those who aim it.
For one thing, our military and intelligence agencies generously define combatant to include any military-age male in the strike zone. And local press accounts from many of the blast sites have reported dead women and children. Some of that may be propaganda, but not all of it is. No matter how precisely placed, when a 500-pound bomb or a Hellfire missile explodes, there are sometimes going to be unintended victims in the vicinity.
Two of the remaining American journalists in the country say the mood seems relatively normal, although frustration over U.S. aircraft is growing.
Read more. [Image: Khaled Abdullah Ali Al Mahdi/Reuters]
Technology has countervailing effects. We can send a battle by air to a land we have never set foot in, laying previously unimaginable distance between us and our wars. But at the same time we can see on a device in our pocket a satellite picture of these places so remote. Maybe, Bridle writes, the instant connectivity of our world can be a platform not just for faster information, but for deeper empathy for people who live a world away.
See more. [Images: Dronestagram]
Late last week — 89 days past its legal deadline — the State Department released its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011. The new, user-friendly interface allows you to find and read individual country chapters much more quickly and easily (and might explain the delay). For all its flaws, the report remains a must-read for its reporting and candor. It serves as a generally honest counter to the rosier assessments of U.S. partners and allies’ human rights practices.
From my vantage point of trying to understand the Obama administration’s policies and practices of target killings, the report is also notable for what it does not include; namely, any mention of U.S. involvement in or responsibility for such operations.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
The imam’s role in the September 11 attack remains a painful, unanswered question for many Americans. In the years since, Awlaki has waded ever deeper into the waters of Islamic radicalism, openly joining forces with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a Yemen-based offshoot of Osama bin Laden’s group, in 2010.
U.S. Rep. Pete King recently opened a new investigation into Awlaki’s involvement with the plot, hoping to shake loose details that could clarify what the American imam knew and when he knew it.
There’s good reason to take a fresh look. The case that Awlaki was involved in September 11 is not complete and not definitive, but it most certainly deserves a tough examination. What follows, based on hundreds of pages of documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and the 9/11 Commission, is not the last word on Awlaki’s connection to the plot; consider it an opening argument."
Read more at The Atlantic
Analysts have long speculated that the destabilizing uprising in Yemen could strengthen the hand of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an affiliate based in the country’s south that the C.I.A. considers a grave threat to the U.S. But, according to a New York Times report today, the U.S. has also taken advantage of the power vacuum in recent weeks to escalate its strikes against those very militants. The Times only points to two examples—American jets killing the Qaeda operative Abu Ali al-Harithi and other suspected militants and civilians on Friday, and anunsuccessful drone strike at the radical American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki last month—but adds that the attacks come after a nearly year-long pause in the covert campaign.
Read more at The Atlantic Wire