Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Continued Drones Over Yemen?

With the U.S., U.K. and France pulling out of Yemen, what is the U.S.'s continued authorization for drone strikes in Yemen? If Yemen has no government, how does the U.S. have authorization from the government for drone strikes? 

It is generally accepted that the drone strikes in Yemen are part of the CIA operated drone strikes rather than the military led ones (both are controversial). On March 25, 2010, Harold Koh, State Department Legal Advisor, stated that "it is the considered view of this Administration . . . that U.S. targeting practices, including lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, comply with all applicable law, including the laws of war." (1) This is based upon the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). That AUMF is not the one that Obama has recently asked to be repealed

As of Friday Feb 6, 2015,  the site The Long War Journal showed the following graph charting drone strikes in Yemen, charting 110 strikes since 2002.

The U.S. claims that they have the support of the Yemni government to help achieve their goal of eliminating Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen. However, with the recent change in power/coup, who has given them that authorization?

On Jan 22, the Houthis seized control of the presidential palace and placed the President under house arrest. The President and his Cabinet soon tendered their resignations. While the negotiation is on going, both sides have walked out on different parts. The government that resigned is stating that the Houthis are threatening them with force if they do not agree to their specific plan to re-form the government. The U.S. is continuing to use drone strikes in this power vacuum.

How is this applicable to the U.S.? 

Well, as the U.S.'s current legal justification rests upon the consent of the now defunct government, is it business as usual until they are notified otherwise? How will they notify the U.S. if they no longer want the strikes to continue, if there are no U.S. personnel in the country? 

CNN is reporting that the Houthis took all U.S. Embassy vehicles parked at the airport and wouldn't let departing marines take their weapons. However, in the next non sensational paragraph, they state "a senior U.S. military official told CNN the Marines disabled their weapons and gave them to a Yemeni security detail, which had escorted them to the airport, because the Marines were flying commercial." 

Further in the CNN article, they state that U.S. officials had not yet engaged in talks with the Houthis as of last month. It is often difficult for the U.S. to "engage in talks" with opposition parties. The government often has problems with the U.S. talking with the "enemy" since the U.S. has a history of "regime change" in many of these countries.

As I wrote this article, The Washington Post published an article about the closure of the U.S. Embassy effecting the CIA operatives in the country (who often are stationed at U.S. Embassies and under diplomatic cover). Further, "a former senior U.S. official said that the embassy had served as the primary base in Yemen for U.S. intelligence operations." 

So not only is the lack of clear legal authority an issue, this closure will now effect the targeting of militants. 

Future of Cooperation?

While one member of the Houhis' political bureau has called U.S. drone strikes as a violation of Yemeni sovereignty, the Houthis do NOT like AQAP. In fact, they might hate AQAP than they dislike the U.S. This could work in the U.S.'s favor as eliminating a possible political threat to their new "all inclusive government" would coincide with the U.S.'s goal of eliminating AQAP. 

However, until a new government is formed, and an official statement released or communicated to the proper U.S. authorities, these questions will remained unanswered. 

For more interactive information, I suggest you head over to International Security to take a look at when and where strikes occurs as well as who was targeted or killed.

Sources not linked above are listed here: (1) Milena Sterio, "The United States' Use of Drones in the War on Terror: The (Il)legality of Targeted Killings Under International Law," Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law, vol 45, 2012, p 199

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