US boosts Yemen drone strikes amid chaos

In the past month as Yemen has slid deeper into revolutionary chaos, over a dozen drone strikes have hit the embattled country according to reports received by the Bureau.

This campaign has amounted to more US drone strikes than have occurred in the entire past 10 years.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the regional arm of the terrorist network has taken advantage of the political unrest to seize several towns in recent weeks.

But at the same time reports suggest that its militants have been targeted. Officially the Yemeni government says its air force is behind the increased attacks, but eyewitnesses claim the strikes are coming from US drones.

Hakim Almasmari, editor of the leading English language newspaper in Yemen, the Yemen Post told the Bureau: “Our aircraft fleet is very limited. Given that, and the targets being struck, and what the eye witnesses see, we have to believe what our sources on the ground are telling us.”

Almasmari says a Yemeni Ministry of Defence official has confirmed to him that 13 air force strikes claimed by the Yemeni government in the past month are actually the work of US drones.

The Bureau was unable to reach anyone at the Yemen Defence Ministry for comment.

Related article: US drone strikes kill more than 50 in Pakistan in one week

Covert War
The reported drone strikes were initially concentrated in Shabwa province, where US citizen and al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki is thought to be based. The Americans attempted to assassinate al-Awlaki on May 5, just days after Osama bin laden was killed. Reports suggest that there have been 6 further strikes in the area since then – the latest on June 10.

In recent days the US appears to have switched attention to Abyan province, scene of heavy clashes between the Yemen military and AQAP militants.  Almasmari, of the Yemen Post, believes that two ‘air strikes’ in Abyan that killed over 30 people last week were the work of drones.

The new reported drone strikes, if accurate, reflect a huge increase in US military activity, and suggest there have been more Yemen drone attacks in the last month than over the entire past decade.

According to the Wall Street Journal the CIA will also soon begin its own drones campaign in Yemen adding to the pressure on Al Qaeda –a strategy which risk inflaming Yemeni public opinion, as occurred in Pakistan.

Asked whether the US still commanded the support of Yemen’s fragile government in its al Qaeda campaign, a senior Pentagon official speaking on background told the Bureau: ‘Despite the instability in Yemen right now, we have been able to preserve those relationships that are credible to thwarting al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.’

On June 15 three drone attacks in Pakistan brought the number of strikes under Barack Obama’s presidency to 221 according to Bureau analysis. The attacks targeted alleged militants in Waziristan killing 18, according to reports.