July 6, 2012

Yemen Airstrikes Punish Militants, And Civilians

Even semi-critical reporting of U.S. policy in Yemen functions as a vehicle for the Pentagon's propaganda:
The destruction is total. In Jaar, a town in southern Yemen, an entire block has been reduced to rubble by what residents say was a powerful airstrike on May 15.
For the first time in more than a year, the sites of the escalating U.S. air war in southern Yemen are becoming accessible, as militants linked to al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula have withdrawn from the area. This retreat follows the sustained American air campaign and an offensive by the Yemeni government forces on the ground.
And it also means that for the first time, the casualty figures and the reactions of local residents can be checked against the official version of events.
They don't always match up.
At this particular site, witnesses say the strikes rocked the town in the morning, just as many residents of Jaar were out buying breakfast. Residents say they heard a plane, and a house on the main street was flattened. One man inside died instantly. Dozens of people rushed to the scene.
Residents say the plane circled back and came in low.
"We didn't think it would come back," says a witnesses who runs a nearby car repair shop. "Suddenly we see it come back ... and shoot again."
The witness says the second strike killed at least 12 people instantly. "They were cut ... in pieces," he says.
A wall where the second strike hit is still covered with blood. The witnesses claim the plane that did this was American. We ask them how they know it was American, and not part of the Yemeni Air Force.
The plane was gray, says one man. "It looked like an eagle. We don't have planes like that," he says.
U.S., Yemen Both Conduct Strikes
In the escalating air war in Yemen, it's extremely difficult to figure out who is responsible for any given strike. There are four possibilities: It could be a manned plane from the Yemeni Air Force or the U.S. military. Or it could be an unmanned drone flown by the U.S. military or the CIA. All are being used in the fight against al-Qaida and other militant groups in Yemen. But no matter who launches a particular strike, Yemenis are likely to blame it on the Americans. What's more, we found that many more civilians are being killed than officials acknowledge.
Neither the Yemeni government nor the U.S. military will say much about the strikes.
When asked about this story, a Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Jack Miller, said, "While we acknowledge that the U.S. conducts targeted strikes against al-Qaida terrorists, we cannot confirm specific counterterrorism operations. We take great care to avoid civilian casualties. Our counterterrorism operations are precise, lawful and effective."
The Yemeni government does acknowledge its role in airstrikes, though it typically provides only limited and piecemeal information. The casualty figures given by the government are often lower than those that residents or journalists find at the scene of attacks, particularly when it comes to civilian casualties.
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