Returning to the basics, the reason for the fight against al Qaeda is the fanatics attack, terrorize and murder civilians in order to impose their rigid agenda on people who don’t want it. Over 100,000 Yemeni civilians fled immediately following the AQAP occupation of Zinjibar. They remain in dire circumstances, living in Aden schools, nearly a year later.
Families in other towns occupied by AQAP cannot leave; they are too poor and don’t know where to go. Some don’t want their homes looted by AQAP or are afraid of AQ retaliation. Despite General Patraeus’ prior statements regarding al-Mahfed, physical proximity to al Qaeda does not equal complicity or material support–especially when dealing with extremely impoverished people living in a country without any infrastructure or basic services including water.
While certainly US drone strikes seek to minimize civilian casualties, and it is AQAP’s crime in sheltering among civilians, families captive in the AQAP occupied towns are terrified of both AQAP and the drones. They want to know what to do, and that they won’t be killed by US drones, and no one is telling them anything except al Qaeda. The transitional government’s statements about a “massive war” on al Qaeda didn’t contain any references to the primary goal of the war– the protection of the people.
Any US narrative or planning about battling al Qaeda in Yemen (now that we can read it all in Al Shaq Alawasat) has to take into account both the lethal and non-lethal impacts of counter-terror policy. Mass internal displacement is but one. US policy statements should explicitly affirm that the goal of the WOT- the protection of civilians- extends to Yemeni civilians, and that they are as equally valued and deserving of life as any potential victims of AQAP in the US. (Whatever the actual metric is.)
Also these remarks by Victoria Nuland ( State Dept Press Briefing 3/5/12 ) are a slap in the face to many southerners by ignoring the very real issue and treating the southern movement like a bunch of dead-enders. thorooughly alienating the population where the battles are raging is not going to help either. She could have said, the US recognizes the very real grievances, regional discrimination yadda yadda but the Obama administration is reluctant to speak of any of Salehs many many crimes.
Related: the Lawfare Blog’s write up of AG Holder’s speech regarding the targeted use of lethal force, including against US citizens.
Meanwhile AQAP mutilates soldiers corpses:
USA Today: The death toll from an al-Qaeda assault on a military base in southern Yemen has risen to 185 government soldiers, military and medical officials said Tuesday. Many soldiers’ bodies were found mutilated and some were headless…The surprise attack and the mutilations have left government troops “fearful,” and in “low morale,” according to a senior military official who was part of the defeated force. Another 55 soldiers were captured and paraded through a nearby town by the militants, who lost 32 of their fighters in the assault.
Medical officials in the area confirmed the latest death toll and said some of the bodies of soldiers recovered were missing their heads and bore multiple stab wounds. They said that bodies packed the military hospital morgue to which they were taken, with some taken to vegetable freezers in a military compound for lack of space.
A senior military official said that the attack left his soldiers “fearful of al-Qaeda because of the barbarism and brutality of their attack.”— “It was a massacre and it came by surprise as the soldiers were asleep,” he said. Militants sneaked behind army lines and attacked from the rear where there was “zero surveillance.”
Recent AQAP war crimes: corpse mutilation, sheltering among civilians, using children as operatives, assassinations of civilians, looting residents’ homes, forced exile, behanding and other torture, crucifying suspected spies
Recent AQAP civil rights violations: banning news papers, satellite TV, smoking cigarettes, denying school (and sunlight) to girls.