Drone strikes are causing more and more Pakistanis, Yemenis and Afghans to hate America and join radical militants; they are not driven by ideology or religion but rather by a sense of revenge and despair.
Robert Grenier, the former head of the C.I.A.’s counterterrorism center, has warned that the American drone program in Yemen risks turning the country into a safe haven for Al Qaeda like the tribal areas of Pakistan. Anti-Americanism is far less prevalent in Yemen than in Pakistan. But rather than winning the hearts and minds of Yemeni civilians, America is alienating them by killing their relatives and friends. Indeed, the drone program is leading to the Talibanization of vast tribal areas and the radicalization of people who could otherwise be America’s allies in the fight against terrorism in Yemen. (http://www.livingunderdrones.org/)
The first known drone strike in Yemen to be authorized by President Obama, in late 2009, left 14 women and 21 children dead in the southern town of al-Majala, according to a parliamentary report. Only ONE of the dozens killed was identified as having strong Qaeda connections. (http://www.livingunderdrones.org/)
Bad intelligence has also led to disastrous strikes with major political and economic consequences. An American drone strike in May 2010 killed a prominent sheik and the deputy governor of Marib Province (http://rt.com/news/drone-kills-anti-al-qaeda-cleric-744/). The strike had dire repercussions for Yemen’s economy. The slain sheik’s tribe attacked the country’s main pipeline in revenge. With 70% of the country’s budget dependent on oil exports, Yemen lost over $1 billion. This strike also erased years of progress and trust-building with tribes who considered it a betrayal given their role in fighting Al Qaeda in their areas. The increasing civilian toll of drone strikes is turning the apathy of tribal factions into anger.
The strikes have created an opportunity for terrorist groups like Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to recruit fighters from tribes who have suffered casualties, especially in Yemen. Furthermore, Iran has seized this chance to gain more influence among the disgruntled population in Yemen’s south.
Certainly, there may be short-term military gains from killing militant leaders in these strikes, but they are minuscule compared with the long-term damage the drone program is causing. A new generation of leaders is spontaneously emerging in furious retaliation to attacks on their territories and tribes. Unfortunately, liberal voices in the United States are largely ignoring, if not condoning, civilian deaths in Yemen, including the assassination of three American citizens in September 2011. (http://www.livingunderdrones.org/)
During George W. Bush’s presidency, the media would have been infuriated. But today there is little outcry, even though what is happening is in many ways an escalation of Bush’s policies. The damage is already done, the long term consequences of the drone program will put America at risk for decades. Counter Terrorism has now done the opposite of what it was supposed to achieve.