Wanderlust…

The International Reporting (and Life) Adventures of Vivian Salama

Living in Terror Under a Drone-Filled Sky in Yemen

Posted by vmsalama on April 29, 2013

Children fear “planes that shoot” as communities grieve lost loved ones.
APR 29 2013

A small house, once made of large cement blocks, is reduced to rubble in a sea of untouched homes and shops in Jaar, a town in South Yemen’s Abyaan governorate. There are no signs of life where that house once stood — no photos, furniture, and certainly no people left behind. In May 2011, the house was struck by a drone — American, the locals say. Some believe the sole occupant, a man named Anwar Al-Arshani, may have been linked to Al Qaeda, although he kept to himself, so no one knows for sure. As Al-Arshani’s house smoldered from the powerful blow, townspeople frantically rushed to inspect the damage and look for survivors. And then, just as the crowd swelled, a second missile fired. Locals say 24 people were killed that day, all of them allegedly innocent civilians.

Eighteen-year-old Muneer Al-Asy was among them. His mother Loul says she knows nothing about America — not of its democracy or politics or people or values. All she knows is that it killed her son. She cannot read and does not own a television. Like many in her village, she says Al-Qaeda is “very bad,” but the thought of her youngest son being killed by an American missile haunts her dreams at night. She screams in fury at the people who took her son: “criminals!” She rocks anxiously back and forth on her sole piece of furniture — a long cushion in her single-room home — recalling the day her son was “martyred” by a U.S. drone. “I am like a blind person now,” says Loul. “Muneer was my eyes.”

Anwar Al-Arshani's home/Photo by Vivian Salama

Anwar Al-Arshani’s home/Photo by Vivian Salama

Thousands of miles from Washington, where the debate rages on over the moral and legal implications of using unmanned aerial vehicles for lethal targeting, the names and faces of many of the victims paints a somber picture. Some are fathers who can no longer buy food and medicine for their children. Some are kids whose only crime in life was skipping out on studies to play soccer with friends. Some are expectant mothers who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. As the U.S. focuses attention on the successful targeting of names on the notorious “kill list,” the number of innocent civilians killed by U.S. drones on the rise — threatening to destroy families, spark resentment, and fuel Al-Qaeda recruitment.

While strikes in Pakistan have been recorded since at least June 2004, drones have become more common in Yemen in recent years, used to weed out and eliminate members of Al Qaeda’s notorious Arabian Peninsula network (AQAP). AQAP has been linked to recent schemes including the foiled 2012 underwear bomb plot, as well as for parcel bombs intercepted before reaching synagogues in Chicago in 2010. The drone program has seen some successes, including strikes on high-profile targets like Saeed al-Shihri, a Saudi citizen who co-founded AQAP, and senior operatives Samir Khan and Anwar al-Awlaki. The latter was a preacher who often delivered his provocative sermons in English and, like Khan, was at one time an American citizen.

However, with the growing use of so-called “signature strikes” — attacks against suspected but unidentified targets — there have been increasingly troubling signs that many victims are deemed guilty by association. Having committed no crime, their names not part of any list and in some cases, not even known. (click here to read more….)

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