The use of drones in Yemen might seem a simple, quick-fix option for Obama. But with every civilian death, al Qaeda’s recruiting power increases. Nabeel Khoury, former U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission to Yemen, recently reminded us of just that. Asked whether the covert U.S. drone war in Yemen was creating more enemies than it removed, he concluded: “Drone strikes take out a few bad guys to be sure, but they also kill a large number of innocent civilians. Given Yemen’s tribal structure, the U.S. generates roughly forty to sixty new enemies for every AQAP operative killed by drones.”
Let me be clear: I, like the vast majority of my countrymen, reject terrorism. All of us were repulsed by footage of the gruesome al Qaeda attack on a Defence Ministry hospital that left dozens dead in December. We agree that our fight against extremist groups cannot be won without a variety of efforts, including robust law enforcement. But U.S. drone strikes are exacerbating our problem by leaving families bereaved and entire villages terrified. Drones destroy the fabric of Yemeni society. Wronged and angry men are just the sort extreme groups like al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula find easiest to recruit.
Our President may reassure the U.S. of his support for drone strikes, but he does so in complete contradiction to the Yemeni people’s wishes. This year, two of Yemen’s greatest democratic institutions made this clear. Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference — praised by Obama as a “historic” institution — and the Yemeni Parliament have both voted overwhelmingly to ban the use of drones.