Friday, December 13, 2013

US Drones Recruit Extremists

Yet another "oops" by a US drone in Yemen kills members of a wedding party which looked like a convoy of terrorists from the air. Riiight...sure they did...  And to make matters worse, the initial response from America was denial.  Am I alone thinking this is not the most effective way to combat terrorism? What will it take for policy-makers to get it? Are they waiting for some drone pilot in North America to take out someone who is clearly an ally -- then try to call it a "tragic mistake"?

When one of last night's news stories was about that sign language interpreter the Mandela memorial who had a history of mental illness and violent ideation. There he was, for all the world to watch, gesturing with hand signs that hearing-impaired people knew were gibberish (and many tweeted or said so in other ways) -- standing by the side of the US president and other world leaders, advertising a security gap big enough to fly a drone through.

In a time of facial and voice recognition technology it's not a stretch that some surveillance program, reading and interpreting sign language for the hearing impaired, could trigger a surgical strike to take out that guy who was plainly too dangerous to stand close to a world leader (so the story would play out). Sounds implausible? Nearly two hundred mass killings in America since the Newtown massacre sounds implausible, too, but that story no longer make the news.

So, too, drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan (and who knows where else?) kill many non-combatants and leave others damaged for life in a blind, ham-fisted attempt to "take out the bad guys." Sometimes a dangerous local intersection kills enough people that local authorities install a traffic light or improve visibility. Short-sighted planning is not remarkable in small towns but we like to think that when the stakes are bigger the official response is more effective.  Not so, unfortunately.

"Sick" is right. Notice the time stamp -- 2:33AM
Look what happened between then and  7:15AM, a few hours later:
UPDATE 1-Air strike kills 15 civilians in Yemen by mistake -officials
Fri Dec 13, 2013 7:15am IST
(Adds comments from U.S. official, paragraphs 5-6) 
Dec 12 (Reuters) - Fifteen people on their way to a wedding in Yemen were killed in an air strike after their party was mistaken for an al Qaeda convoy, local security officials said on Thursday. 
The officials did not identify the plane in the strike in central al-Bayda province, but tribal and local media sources said that it was a drone. 
"An air strike missed its target and hit a wedding car convoy, ten people were killed immediately and another five who were injured died after being admitted to the hospital," one security official said. 
Five more people were injured, the officials said. 
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged media reports about members of a wedding party getting killed in a counterterrorism strike. 
"We have no information that corroborates these reports," the official said, without elaborating. 
The United States has stepped up drone strikes as part of a campaign against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), regarded by Washington as the most active wing of the militant network. 
Yemen, AQAP's main stronghold, is among a handful of countries where the United States acknowledges using drones, although it does not comment on the practice. 
Human Rights Watch said in a detailed report in August that U.S. missile strikes, including armed attacks, have killed dozens of civilians in Yemen. 
Stabilising the country, which is also struggling with southern separatists and northern rebels, is an international priority due to fears of disorder in a state that flanks top oil producer Saudi Arabia and major shipping lanes. 
On Monday, missiles fired from a U.S. drone killed at least three people travelling in a car in eastern Yemen. (Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Additional reporting by Phil Stewart in Washington; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Mohammad Zargham)
 Those of us who have been tracking events in the Arab world for the last several years know that the picture is far more complicated than the us-versus-them narrative most Americans tend to believe.

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