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Drones—Coming to a Sky Near You?
U.S. Escalating Drone War in Yemen
By Jim Lobe
Even as President Barack Obama touts his progress in extracting the U.S. from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, his administration appears to be deepening its covert and military involvement in strife-torn Yemen.
Washington is worried about recent advances by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), particularly in the southern part of the country.
Since the failed "Christmas Day" bombing by an AQAP-trained Nigerian national of a U.S. airliner over Detroit in December 2009, the group has been regarded here as a greater threat to the U.S. homeland than its Pakistan-based parent.
Quoting senior officials, The Wall Street Journal and other major U.S. publications reported April 26 that the administration has relaxed constraints on both the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Pentagon in conducting drone strikes against suspected AQAP-affiliated militants in the Arab world's poorest nation.
Henceforth, the CIA and the Pentagon's Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which conduct parallel counterterrorist campaigns in Yemen, will be able to strike suspected militants whose precise identity may not be known but whose "behavior" suggests that they are either "high-value" operatives or engaged in plots to strike U.S. interests.
Such assessments will be based on intelligence acquired from such sources as informants on the ground, aerial surveillance, and phone intercepts, as well as circumstantial evidence regarding their associations, according to the reports.
The new guidelines are apparently a compromise between those in the administration who favored that the previous policy of authorizing strikes only against positively identified militants who appeared on a "kill list," and others, including CIA director Gen. David Petraeus (ret.), who wanted a further easing of the rules of engagement.
They are raising concerns among some experts that Washington is slipping ever more deeply into a conflict—or a series of conflicts—it knows relatively little about.
"There is a dangerous drift here, and the policymakers in the U.S. don't appear to realize they are heading into rough waters without a map," wrote Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen specialist at Princeton University and editor of the Waq Al-Waq blog.
"In Yemen, drones and missile strikes appear to have replaced comprehensive policy," he noted. "…Since late 2009, the number of U.S. strikes in Yemen have increased and, as the strikes have grown in frequency, AQAP has grown in recruits."
"What does the U.S. do if AQAP continues to gain more recruits and grow stronger even as the number of missile strikes increase?" he asked. "Does the U.S. bomb more? Does the U.S. contemplate an invasion?"
Other critics have worried that escalating the drone war in Yemen, where the U.S.- and Saudi-engineered resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in February has so far done little to calm the country's many regional, tribal, political and sectarian conflicts, could further poison public opinion against the U.S., much as it has in Pakistan. The CIA has carried out more than 250 drone strikes in Pakistan since 2009, according to the Long War Journal Web site.
Many of those were so-called "signature" strikes against targets whose observed behavior, or "pattern of life," suggested that they were active members of either the Afghan or Pakistani Taliban insurgencies. Under the prevailing rules of engagement, the CIA did not have to know either the precise identity or importance of the target before ordering a strike.
According to published accounts, Petraeus has repeatedly requested similar rules of engagement for the CIA, which works closely with JSOC, in Yemen.
He reportedly pressed his case with increasing urgency as militants and tribal militias allegedly associated with AQAP—which, according to U.S. officials, has adopted the name of Ansar al-Sharia—expanded their control over several southern provinces in the last months of Saleh's reign and in the immediate aftermath of his replacement by Vice President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi.
His pleas were initially rebuffed, but Obama reportedly approved the new rules—which some officials have been quoted as calling "signature lite"—earlier in April. They give the two agencies authority to target unknown individuals and groups whose "pattern of life" suggests that they are "high-value" targets or are plotting against U.S. interests.
Officials argue that the new rules are justified in part by improved CIA and JSOC intelligence-gathering capabilities on the ground in recent months. Because Washington did not want to be seen as supporting an unpopular dictator as Saleh tried to hang on, it reduced its presence in the country—among other things pulling out most of its military personnel—thus making intelligence collection more difficult.
Better intelligence, according to these officials, should reduce the possibility that civilians will be hit by missile or drone strikes.
They also argue that looser rules of engagement are essential to help the Hadi government if it is to regain control over the southern provinces of Abyan, Shabwa and Bayda from AQAP and Ansar al-Sharia.
Indeed, the tempo of such strikes has sharply increased in recent months. At least three suspected AQAP-affiliated individuals were reportedly killed in a drone strike in the southern city of Mudiyah April 26. Two other strikes were carried out since the previous weekend, including one that killed a senior AQAP commander, Mohammed Said al-Umdah, in northern Yemen, and another that killed at least three other suspected militants in Shabwa province, according to the Long War Web site.
The Web site reported at least 13 U.S. air and missile strikes in Yemen between March 1 and April 26 of this year, compared to only 10 in all of 2011, the best known and most controversial of which killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemeni-American imam whose on-line sermons on behalf of al-Qaeda were considered particularly effective in gaining Anglophone recruits and who was alleged by the administration to have also played a leadership role in operations directed against the U.S.
While Awlaki was on the CIA's "kill list," a second U.S. citizen slain in that strike, Samir Khan, was not.
Washington had hoped that Awlaki's death would constitute a major blow to AQAP's recruitment and direction. But many Yemen experts argued that his importance to the organization had been greatly exaggerated, and Johnsen noted April 26 that the group's threat to the U.S. "has grown stronger…even after the death of Anwar al-Awlaki, which apparently surprises some people."
"…I believe drones and air strikes should be used extremely sparingly and only in situations where the U.S. knows beyond a shadow of a doubt who it is hitting," he wrote. "Now, the U.S. will say that is what it is doing, but tens of strikes in four months and a number of mistakes in the past three years suggest that these strikes have neither been sparing or surgical."
Jim Lobe is Washington, DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service. His blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at <www.lobelog.com>. Copyright © 2012 IPS-Inter Press Service. All rights reserved.
The President's Private War
By Andrew P. Napolitano
Did you know that the United States government is using drones to kill innocent people in Pakistan? Did you know that the Pakistani government has asked President Obama to stop it and he won't? Did you know that Pakistan is a sovereign country that has nuclear weapons and is an American ally?
At the end of April, the Obama administration not only acknowledged the use of the drones; it also revealed that it has plans to increase the frequency and ferocity of the attacks. White House counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan argued that these attacks are "in full accordance with the law" and are not likely to be stopped anytime soon.
Brennan declined to say how many people were killed or just where the killings took place or who is doing it. But we know that Obama has a morbid fascination with his plastic killing machines, and we know that these machines are among the favored tools of the CIA. We also know that if the president had been using the military to do this, he'd be legally compelled to reveal it to Congress and eventually to seek permission.
We know about the need to tell Congress and ask for permission because of the War Powers Act. This law, enacted in 1973 over President Richard Nixon's veto, permits the president to use the military for 90 days before telling Congress and for 180 days before he needs congressional authorization. Obama must believe that he can bypass this law by using civilian CIA agents, rather than uniformed military, to do his killing.
The Constitution limits the presidential use of war powers to those necessary for an immediate defense of the United States or those exercised pursuant to a valid congressional declaration of war. In this case of Pakistan, the president has neither. And international law prohibits entering a sovereign country without its consent. But Brennan argued that the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which Congress enacted in 2001 in the aftermath of 9/11 to enable President George W. Bush to pursue the perpetrators of 9/11, is essentially carte blanche for any president to kill whomever he wants, and that the use of drones, rather than the military or rather than arresting those the government believes have conspired to harm us, is a "surgical" technique that safeguards the innocent.
Attorney General Eric Holder made a similar unconstitutional argument a few months ago when he stated in defense of the president's using drones to kill Americans in Yemen that the AUMF, plus the careful consideration that the White House gives to the dimensions of each killing and the culpability of each person killed, somehow satisfied the Constitution's requirements for due process.
What monstrous nonsense all this is.
These killings 10,000 miles from here hardly constitute self-defense and are not in pursuit of a declaration of war. So, what has Congress done about this? Nothing. And what have the courts done about this? Nothing.
Prior to the president's ordering the killing of the New Mexico-born and unindicted and uncharged Anwar al-Awlaki, al-Awlaki's American father sued the president in federal district court and asked a judge to prevent the president from murdering his son in Yemen. After the judge dismissed the case, a CIA-fired drone killed al-Awlaki and his American companion and his 16-year-old American son.
In his three-plus years in office, Obama has launched 254 drones toward persons in Pakistan, and they collectively have killed 1,277 persons there. The New America Foundation, a Washington think tank that monitors the presidential use of drones in Pakistan, estimates that between 11 and 17 percent of the drone victims are innocent Pakistani civilians. So much for Brennan's surgical strikes. So much for Holder's due process.
The president is waging a private war against private persons—even Americans—whose deaths he obviously believes will keep America safe. But he is doing so without congressional authorization, in violation of the Constitution, and in a manner that jeopardizes our freedom.
Who will keep us safe from a president who wants to use drones here? How long will it be before local American governments—313 of which already possess drones—use them to kill here because they are surgical and a substitute for due process? Can you imagine the outcry if Cuba or China launched drones at their dissidents in Florida or California and used Obama's behavior in Pakistan as a justification?
How long will it be before even the semblance of our Constitution is gone?
Andrew P. Napolitano, a former judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, is the senior judicial analyst at Fox News Channel. This article was first posted on <www.antiwar.com>, May 5, 2012. Copyright © Antiwar.com 2012. Reprinted with permisision.