December 30, 2012

Basic Anatomy of U.S. Propaganda In Yemen

Importing news from Yemen to the American populace is similar to taking candy from a baby. Ignorance opens a wide gate to all sorts of transgressions in the so-called "War on Terror," and Saturday's drone strike in Al Bayda' Governorate demonstrated how easily information can be manipulated without consequence. The Associated Press soon reports that a missile strike on a Land Cruiser killed "three suspected militants" in el-Manaseh village, located near Rada'a.

"Their bodies were charred and the car was completely obliterated," a tribesman told Reuters from the scene. "Their bodies were not recognizable, but the government says they're from al Qaeda."

Of course that's often the story of Yemeni officials with a vested interest in keeping U.S. operations and President Abd Mansur Rabo Hadi's complicity under wraps. Yemenis hold an extremely low opinion of the government's credibility as a result of past and present obscurity; the U.S. and international news cycle is currently dominated (however briefly) by anti-drone sentiments. Yemen's Ministry of Defense claimed that local al-Qaeda commander Saleh Mohammed al-Amiri, but one tribal official told al-Alhmardar that the victims were civilians. 22-year old Abdul Wahid al-Amiri and 11-year old Salim Mohammed al-Amiri were named as the casualties, with the discrepancy of the third victim going unexplained.

The anonymous tribal figure said he plans to take the bodies to Rada'a and demand an explanation from the government.

Problematically, investigations into civilian casualties have already been obstructed by Hadi's interim government at the Obama administration's request. Information regarding the operational nature of each strike - whether the ordnance was fired by U.S. or Yemeni forces - has also been blurred to the point that an accurate count doesn't exist. Estimates vary between 41 and 54 confirmed U.S. air-strikes in 2012, with the AP publishing the Long War Journal's low count. Rough counts of alleged U.S. strikes since 2002 have climbed high above 100, and the ratio between civilian and militant casualties has been lost in the shadowy, meaning-grinding process of counter-terrorism.

It's safe to assume that more Yemeni civilians have been killed than either government admits. Rada'a has witnessed multiple drone strikes of a questionable nature and at least one open slaughter of civilians; anonymous U.S. officials finally admitted to the attack earlier this month after previously letting Yemeni fighter planes take the blame. Hadi would visit Washington three weeks afterward to laud the use of drones, telling the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, "They pinpoint the target and have zero margin of error, if you know what target you're aiming at."

He must have already known that the U.S. didn't.

The strike in al-Manaseh will likely endure a similarly nebulous fate, but the political costs for Hadi will continue to rise as well. The only certainty surrounding U.S. covert activities is his authorization and Yemenis are growing increasingly disenchanted by his subservience to Washington - and how they are paying the price of his promotion with their lives. Over time this unpopularity will transfer to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's (AQAP) bank. As one survivor infamously told The Washington Post, “Our entire village is angry at the government and the Americans."

True counterinsurgency is impossible to apply in these conditions, especially by robotic birds.

U.S. propaganda continues to thicken in Rada'a, where the AP reports that several hundred AQAP gunmen stormed the city in January 2012 after a "security lapse." Yemen's former dictator and current warlord, Ali Abdullah Saleh, used such "lapses" as a tool to foment chaos in the south and keep himself useful to the U.S. (and keep the U.S. busy with AQAP). Although not cooperating directly with AQAP figure Tariq al Dhahab, a brother-in-law of drone victim Anwar al-Awlaki, eyewitnesses reported the same lack of government resistance that marked Jaar and Zinjibar's "takeovers" in Abyan governorate. None of this backstory was reported.

Instead, "AQAP overran entire towns and villages - including Radda - last year by taking advantage of a security lapse during nationwide protests that eventually ousted the country’s longtime ruler. Backed by the U.S. military, Yemen’s army was able to regain control of the southern region but al-Qaida militants continue to launch deadly attacks on security forces that have killed hundreds."

This version sounds far more competent than the Obama administration's policy of initially backing Saleh, making his replacement unpopular, alienating a new generation of Yemenis, opposing their peaceful revolution, militarizing their country and watching AQAP grow its ranks.

Lastly, the AP reports that "an infantry brigade in the northeastern province of Marib to stop armed tribesmen who maintain cordial ties with al-Qaida from attacking oil pipelines and power generating stations, as well as to counter al-Qaida militants." Separately, a tribal source told AFP that Salah bin Hussein al-Dammaj is responsible for the recent attacks, and that he demands "100 million riyals ($480,000) in compensation for land he claims was taken from him in Sanaa." Many possibilities could explain his dispute with in the capital, one of them being with Saleh himself. Yemenis believe that he has orchestrated these attacks in response to his gradual loss of power, or else his tribal contacts now left hanging are committing their own retaliation.

The AP wrote mere days ago, after another U.S. strike, that "some tribal chiefs are also suspected of being allied with former longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The attacks appeared to be aimed at undermining the new government."

This information was placed at the report's very bottom - now it's completely gone.

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