The covert drone war in Yemen

Hani Mohammed/AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.Death surrounds us in Yemen. Since March 2015, airstrikes from the
Saudi-led coalition have led to the death of more than 614 civilians in 44
incidents, as documented here.
But the ongoing civil war is not the only violence
we fear. The United States’ covert drone war in Yemen – at least 15 years old
now – continues, killing
children, women and innocent Yemenis going about their daily lives. It is
unaccountable, ineffective, and counterproductive, and Europe is complicit. It
needs to stop and the European Union can help.

The European Parliament recently discussed the
human rights impact of armed drones in Yemen. This is an important first step
towards questioning the precision and understanding the human cost of armed
drones in counter-terrorism operations. European countries are indeed directly and indirectly involved in US drone strikes
in Yemen and complicit in these
extra-judicial killings.
British intelligence played a crucial role in the CIA drone program by finding
and fixing targets. The US airbases in Germany and Italy are crucial for the
program.

We call on the European institutions to take a principled stance
on the use of armed drones. We also call on these institutions to pressure
European member states for more transparency and accountability. They must assume their third-party responsibility in
the US drone strikes. Germany and Italy should disclose information about the
role of US airbases on their soil. The United Kingdom, Netherlands, Denmark,
among others, should disclose the safeguards in place to prevent the
intelligence they share with the US being used for these unlawful targeted
killings. Germany and Italy should disclose information about the role of US airbases on their soil. The United Kingdom, Netherlands, Denmark, among others, should disclose the safeguards in place to prevent the intelligence they share with the US being used for these unlawful targeted killings.

Those in
favor of drones praise them as precise and technologically advanced weapons
that limit civilian harm. We, Yemenis, disagree. Drones do not bring peace or
security. They bring death, destruction, suffering, lives lost and irreparably
changed for generations. Our perception of drones is shaped by the images of
burning bodies and vehicles, of children killed and injured, by the absence of
peace, and by an overhead hovering.

The impact of these attacks is not limited to deaths and
injuries, but also destroys the families who have lost their breadwinners, and
affects the social and psychological state of the communities impacted. A
family member of one victim told us that since the incident her family lives
in constant fear, they go to their farms in fear, and the children are afraid
to go to school. 

As for the strategic impact of the
drone strikes, the reality shows that these targeted killing tactics were not
able to eradicate terrorism or to limit its proliferation. They have even been counterproductive.
In spite of the drone strikes, Al-Qaeda in Yemen turned from fighters whose
operations were limited to sporadic sudden attacks into a standing army of
militants fighting systematic wars and controlling large territories.

Yemeni locals in regions controlled by
Al-Qaeda are stuck between the hell of terrorism and the hellfire of drones. Locals
I have met in places where airstrikes occurred and killed civilians are now
demanding justice. They consider drone strikes on innocents as an incentive to
join Al-Qaeda and fight against the “killer” America. The tribal leader of a
targeted village, Mabkhoot bin Saleh al-Obaahah, told me the strike had created
terror in the hearts of his people and provoked their anger: they consider these
strikes craven operations and some are threatening to take revenge.

Europe, especially as a number of
states are developing their own drones, can learn from this experience. European states must ensure that their policies on the use of drones
guarantee transparency and accountability. They can limit the use of these inhumane weapons and the killing of more
innocents elsewhere in the world.

The Obama
administration released a number of classified documents and civilian casualty
statistics related to six years of secret drone operations last Friday. Will
European states follow suit? Will they finally disclose information related to
their involvement in US drone operations? Are current and soon-to-be drone user
states ready to articulate their policies on drone strikes inside and outside armed
conflict? The European Parliament should at the very least reiterate their call
for a Common European position and for more transparency, oversight, and
accountability in the use of armed drones in Yemen and beyond.

Yemenis
deserve a chance at peace and not the constant fear of death, from the internal
conflict or from the skies overhead. While survivors and families of the victims
in Yemen mourn their loss and listen to the distant hum of drones, greater
transparency would be a first – and crucial – step towards accountability,
compensation and redress.

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