OSINTSUM 18JAN2015

165551161

10 Gitmo detainees from Yemen sent to Oman

Egypt extends participation in Yemen conflict

After 25 years, Saudi Embassy officially reopens in Baghdad

Three Qaeda suspects ‘killed in Yemen drone strike’

AQIM takes Australian couple hostage in northern Burkina Faso

US confirms Americans kidnapped in Baghdad

It’s been 25 years since the start of Operation Desert Storm

Al Qaeda Attacks in Burkina Faso Kill at Least 30

Oil slides to lowest since 2003 as Iran sanctions lifted

Sanctions lifted after Iran found in compliance on nuclear deal

#Drones are Not the Problem in #Yemen @alastairsloan

In Alastair Sloan’s recent write up on US “Drone” policy in Yemen he lacks comprehensive understanding of US policy to Yemen. His argument is the same as most foreigners who instead of researching US policy towards Yemen merely elaborate on Tweets and blog posts about how evil the drone program is blaming the US for causing all of Yemen’s problems at worst, and at best not doing anything more than bombing Yemen. You are far off sport. In a previous response to Human Rights Watch critique of the drone program I clarified some facts that they seemed to have forgotten about. A great annotation is

“In the new assistance package, the State Department will provide roughly $47 million in security assistance. The Pentagon will provide an additional $112 million to train and equip the Yemeni security forces to conduct counterterrorism operations. On the civilian side, the United States will provide $178 million for humanitarian aid, development and assistance to help Yemen transition to democracy.”

 
But hey Alastair, all the US does is drone Yemen right? It is funny that the only people during my 5 months in Yemen I ever heard even mention drones, let alone complain about them were expats. Yemenis want jobs, water and electricity. All of which the international community to include the US is doing their best to help with.

 

Response to Article on #Drone Attack in #Yemen

Image

In Conor Friedersdorf’s recent article in the Atlantic, he proposed several questions regarding the recent air strike that reportedly hit a wedding party in Yemen killing several innocent civilians. However, he fails to provide any answers or actual analysis outside of his version of arm-chair foreign policy. This method of ‘journalism’ predominantly found in the international relations realm has rapidly become the standard as opposed to the exception. I will now answer some of Conor’s questions from the standpoint of someone who actually works in the international security business and currently resides in Yemen…unlike Conor…on both accounts.

Can you imagine the wall-to-wall press coverage, the outrage, and the empathy for the victims that would follow if an American wedding were attacked in this fashion?

Here in Yemen there was a ton of outrage in the news, and in other international outlets. If the author did not see much in the US news about it perhaps he needs to broaden his news consumption parameters. As per the US “droning” domestic weddings please see my next point.

Or how you’d feel about a foreign power that attacked your wedding in this fashion?

Perhaps it would be more understandable if 1) American terrorist groups planned, plotted and executed terrorist attacks from the United States targeting other countries. 2) If our weddings consisted of Hilluxes filled with gun toting Tribesmen. Conor, have you ever even seen a Yemeni wedding?

How many actual al-Qaeda terrorists would we have to kill with drones in Yemen to make the benefits of our drone war there outweigh the costs of this single catastrophic strike?

One. That is the answer. Consider for a moment (because clearly you like rhetorical questions with no answers) if this strike successfully targeted those planning the AQAP 5 December attack on the Ministry of Defense Hospital. We could conceivable say that the 15 +/- potentially innocent people’s lives saved 50+ not counting the wounded, property damage and window rattling of my building when it went off here in Sana’a (as opposed to your isolated Venice life)

If U.S. drone strikes put American wedding parties similarly at risk would we tolerate our targeted-killing program for a single day more?

If the risk of the wedding party possibly being a convoy of AQAP soldiers then the answer is yes. You should know how far America is willing to go to feel safe – you seem to cover the topic extensively.

Our policy persists because we put little value on the lives of foreign innocents.

To the contrary the US goes through extensive efforts to avoid civilian casualties. Having actually watched artillery strikes checked and checked again to avoid possible civilian casualties I can vouch for that. If we did not care about civilian casualties we would have just dropped a JDAM on the town and called it a day. Frankly, when was the last time you have actually been in a position to be the one making the decision of “I can probably kill that bad guy, but I may kill potential innocent people…what do I do?” Judging from your bio, never. So no, you do not know where people in my business place our value. In fact we generally cherish human life so greatly that we are willing to make the hard decisions because in the long run far more lives are saved. I find the people who cherish life more, are the ones who witnessed it lost so many times and have to deal with the nightmares for the rest of their lives if they make a bad decision. What happened when you make a bad decision? Low site-hits?

Even putting them through the most horrific scene imaginable on their wedding day is but a blip on our media radar, easily eclipsed by a new Beyonce album. 

Perhaps you are watching the wrong news. Re-evaluate yourself. Here in Yemen I didn’t even know Beyoncé came out with a new album until I read your ‘article’.

Is attempting to pick off alleged militants while in a wedding convoy with innocents the highest standard we can set to avoid civilian deaths?

Yes. Yes it is. And if you knew anything about war (or arguably the rest of the world outside of your bubble) you would know that the alternatives are far worst. JDAM? Cruise Missile? Battalion of Marines? Delta or SEAL Team? Yeah it is the highest standard. The armed UAV program is the lowest form of engagement besides doing nothing. Also, if you are going to refer to them as “alleged” militants then you rightfully so need to refer to the innocent as “alleged” innocents.

Does anyone believe that, if not for our lethal drone program, the United States would’ve sent the Air Force or ground troops to fire on this wedding party?

No. Of course not. But if we did you would be writing an article critiquing those operations too. It is a lose-lose with critics like you who profess nothing but commentary with no solutions nor experience in the field. Armed UAVs are far more delicate than Air Force resources and there is no chance of a downed US pilot. As with ground troops we cannot send them (we tried years back) because the Yemeni government rejected the idea. Seriously, stop proposing these random rhetorical hypothetical questions with no purpose but to produce drama.

Is anyone else skeptical that the targets in this wedding convoy would be immenently attacking us right now if not for those Hellfire missiles?

You in Venice at your Starbucks? Probably not. They wouldn’t be able to get through Border Patrol. However, they could very easily attack our Aid workers here, our Embassy, our allies’ embassies, our citizens in Yemen (like me), our allies’ citizens, or in case you have forgotten – those foreign citizens from our ally state of Yemen. Do not be naïve about this and try to draw grand conclusion using this logic. It is deeply flawed. Or go ask that question to any family member of the victims of the USS Cole, 11 September attacks or the myriad assortment of other attacks.

The moral course, if we must have a drone program that puts civilians at risk, would be to apologize for any terrible mistakes that we make, pay reparations to the wronged survivors, and explain what steps will be taken to insure nothing like this will ever happen again. Instead, according to CNN, “U.S. officials declined to comment on the report.”

  1. We cannot apologize (nor comment) because the program is technically classified. Duh.
  2. Reparations were paid. On that topic how much is a human life worth to you? How much is enough? How do you calculate that? Now there would be a decent article you could write from your Starbucks table and be probably accurate with just facts you find online. Hell, I would even help you with it. It would make for a great assigned reading in a Philosophy of Ethics class.
  3. They have explained steps to be taken and Obama has been sure to assure that there is more careful analysis to be done for the decision to strike or not. The armed UAV program has scaled back a number of operations however it is still delicate work and yet it must be done. So despite the countless strikes that were highly successful with little to no civilian casualties (I challenge you to even define “civilian” in asymmetrical warfare) there is still a chance that things can go wrong.
  4. More so, the verdict is yet fully in on the exact numbers of those killed and who was who. Being that you will never step foot at the site nor will ever be on the side where you need to make the decision to fire or not, perhaps you should avoid articles on the topic. It would be like if I wrote an article critiquing life in Venice considering I have never been there nor have any involvement in the city.

This is not journalism. You are a guy who felt guilty with his privileged life and decided to draft up a list of rhetorical questions that he makes no effort to answer – and masquerades it as journalism. This is amateur work. I am confident you can do better,

Also, you misspelled “imminently”. 

Epiphanies from Leon Panetta on #Drone #Yemen

Epiphanies from Leon Panetta on #Drone #Yemen

“We’re talking about a war here, my friend. It’s a war against people who attacked this country. And it’s a war against people who would attack this country again if they were given the chance. Now, you can go to war with F-16s and blow the hell out of them and everybody else, you can drop bombs on them, or you can use weapons that are a hell of a lot more precise and do this in a way that avoids a lot of collateral damage. I don’t have a problem going after people that want to attack this country.”

Human Rights Watch Drones On…

Drone

Introduction

In a recent blog post published by the Human Rights Watch at The Huffington Post they discuss their recently published report “Between a Drone and Al-Qaeda: The Civilian Cost of US Targeted Killings in Yemen”. This report is causing serious waves throughout international media (I literally monitor Google News for all items containing the term “Yemen”) with a huge explosion of articles, blog posts and commentary across the digital media world. After reading a few of these I came across the HRW blog post which seems to have the best summary of the report (inshallah, it is written by themselves). Reading the post I was aghast at the number of points either taken out of context, completely based off limited information and just plain biased reporting. Let’s go through their report and see where they failed horribly at spreading such a scandalous report that is being cited around the world as proof of “international war crimes.”

Drones are Not the Problem

“Yemenis told us that these strikes make them fear the US as much as they fear Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula”

This is such an exaggerated quote it is disheartening for all writers, journalists and researchers out there. Walk the streets in Yemen on any day and talk to the people. Sure, they idea of strikes is unnerving and as a semi-nationalist public with firm beliefs in territorialism they generally disdain the strikes. However, I assure you this is not in the forefront of their minds nor concerns on a daily basis.  Most people in Yemen are focused on bringing home the bacon milk so to speak. Their concerns are zeroed in on work, school, family and religion. They number one issue in Yemen that directly impacts via hindrance is power cuts (internet, water and food are there too). Of course when it comes to

In the Arab World’s poorest country, it is not “drone strikes” that are the cause of the nation’s problems, instead it is something far more average; something most academics who sit at desks writing, seem too often to forget about: as one Yemeni stated “We are hungry and we need jobs.” Frankly, I find it appalling and arrogant for a group of such disconnected individuals to really think that the Drone UAV Campaign is the greatest issue facing Yemen.

I would have written and published this piece much sooner had it not been for extensive power & internet outages here in Yemen Since starting this I have been without power for arguably a cumulative 3 daysout of water for 1.5 days and without internet access for something like 4 days. I assure you the average Yemeni is far less concerned about a Hellfire missile than this report makes one believe. In a place where you have arguably far more disturbing things to worry about and far more common issues such as lack of utilities and a near crisis level of starvation a drone taking you out is of little consequence particularly considering the infrequency of occurrences.

The focus on these strikes as opposed to the real problems that affect Yemen, are missed completely, but then again, the real problems don’t make for good site hits, link-backs and viral media. Because in the end it is critiques like this that succumb to the same needs as any online brand – the need for readership. Let us take a look at the issues that affect Yemenis far more than the remote fear of a Hellfire missile falling out of the sky.

Recently, Yemen was listed as one of 16 countries classified as having “alarming” levels of hunger, according to the Global Hunger Index. Food scarcity and inflation is far more a dire situation in Yemen than any buzzing sound up above. So to the critiques of the US UAV program I ask you – What are you doing about this? Because from a US perspective I can tell you that America is doing something about it. It was reported that the final 42,000 metric ton flour donation to the UN World Food Programme (WFP) from the United States Government’s Food for Peace office. The wheat will be milled in Hodeida before being distributed by WFP to some of the 600,000 Yemenis displaced by conflict and instability.

In a country where it is known that poverty is often a driver of instability, why do so many critiques fail to annotate the connection between AQAP and much of the poverty over all. Look at how Yemen’s oil revenues declined to $585 Million from its comparable period last year. Take note of the citation: “The repeated attacks on the oil pipeline linked production blocks in Marib province and the refinery in Hodeida affected significantly the quantity of the crude oil production of designed for domestic consumption.”

How about those critics try to focus on how much money AQAP and its affiliated supporters is costing the Yemeni government and how this impacts the people of Yemen who are just trying to get by day to day.

Yemen’s poor people — around half the country’s population — do not have much of a voice at the talks. Like the woman in the video, many do not even know what the dialogue is. Instead, they are scrambling to make enough money to eat.

Our Policy is Not Drones

The media’s completely biased and hyperbole surrounding the use of UAV strikes is greatly hindering the problems in Yemen. Yes, to be sure, you are making it worse. Not only do you provide ammunition for those opposed to any form of engagement by the International Community in general and the US in particular, causing more incendiary drama that is unneeded; you are single handedly ignoring the troves of reporting, data, information and observations that cover the more important aspects of Yemen.

According to the anti-drone lobby, if you will, all the US does is send drones to Yemen to kill innocent people either intentionally or through negligence. Perhaps you are forgetting the large swaths of assistance the US provides to Yemen. Fret not, I will remind you, don’t mention it, it’s my pleasure.

To begin with, I highly recommend reading “High-Value Target: Countering al Qaeda in Yemen” by Former US Ambassador to Yemen Edmund J. Hull, as it details first-hand the efforts that were made by the US in Yemen when this situation really began to pick up speed.

Next we are going to look at the assistance package from the US to Yemen from 2012. CNN’s Security Clearance Blog reported at the time that:

“In the new assistance package, the State Department will provide roughly $47 million in security assistance. The Pentagon will provide an additional $112 million to train and equip the Yemeni security forces to conduct counterterrorism operations. On the civilian side, the United States will provide $178 million for humanitarian aid, development and assistance to help Yemen transition to democracy.”

Yes that is right, the math shows that the Civilian side of the assistance was greater than the amount of Military aid…by $20 Million. That is “$337 million in assistance in the 2012 fiscal year, up from $147 million provided in the previous fiscal year.” Now because there are many different avenues of funding for many types of aid let’s take a look at what the US is doing for the political transition of the country. In March 2013, the US Department of State reported:

In coordination with the international community, including the United Nations, the United States plans to provide $10.4 million in technical and operational assistance to support the Yemeni-led National Dialogue process, slated to begin March 18. We plan to contribute $1.2 million to support constitutional reform and referendum projects. We also plan to provide $8.4 million in technical assistance to prepare for national elections in February 2014, including for reforms to Yemen’s voter registry. We are also supporting the efforts of Yemeni women to ensure their voices and perspectives contribute to Yemen’s transition.

Looking at the Civilian/Humanitarian side of the aid alone for the 2012 fiscal year, Nabeel Khoury, (former Deputy Chief of Mission 2004-2007) stated “this is more than ten times what U.S. assistance to Yemen was during the 2004-2007 period.” So not only do we provide a ridiculous amount of aid to Yemen – we have exponentially increased it.

It is not just the government that provides a great amount of assistance either. The large mega American corporation of Proctor & Gamble donated millions of vaccinations to the Yemen people, reported TradeArabia.com:

“In total over five million vaccines were donated by P&G to Unicef campaign for use in Yemen. These vaccines were distributed and used by Unicef and the Yemeni Government to vaccinate up to two million mothers of child-bearing age over a period of several weeks in 2011.”

The international community overall is pouring assistance into Yemen. Look at the efforts to better education in Yemen by UNICEF, who recently signed a $72.6 Million agreement to support educational needs in Yemen.

Unprofessional Research

“With rare exceptions, the US government only acknowledges its role in targeted killings in general terms, refusing to take responsibility for individual strikes or provide casualty figures, including civilian deaths.”

Clearly the authors have ignored the fact that it was the Yemeni government, who, when the strikes began, insisted that the US did not take credit for the strikes (same as in Pakistan) out of fear that it would erode political credibility of the administration in the eyes of such a territorial public. But hey, feel free to leave critical facts out of your reporting because it paints a picture better to sell your idea.

“The six strikes investigated by Human Rights Watch killed 82 people, at least 57 of them civilians.”

Let’s look at the fact that of the 6, yes, only 6, attacks that are used as case studies, HRW themselves caveated that “security concerns prevented visits to four of the attack areas.” So the researchers visited only 2 of the 6 locations that they are reporting on. For such an incendiary report to only have conducted research at 1/3rd of the sites is simply poor research methods. The fact that the researchers could not even access 2/3rds of the site locations speaks volumes to the fact that these areas are dangerous and riddled with a notable number of bad guys.

Look at the fact that of the 6 locations or incidents, only one of them occurred in 2009 and the rest all between 2012 and 2013. So If the US has been striking Yemen for years does it not make one question their empirical research if 5/6ths of their research only covered a brief period of time of the operations they are researching?  This is just bad research from a scientific perspective. The time and space data are both not representative of the overall theory being published.

Alternatives to UAVs

We used to just swoop in and vanish you from whatever mud-hut tin-roof hide out you were in whether it be Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen or Pakistan. Then everyone threw their hands up claiming that not only the initial onsite detention was illegal, but the “enhanced interrogation” methods we used were illegal. Okay fine, how about we just hold on to you forever, but then the indefinite detention of detainees was protested and protested so well that the US could not continue it at the level and frequency that they were. This eventually led to the fact that for a bad guy to be neutralized, which we are going to do no matter what – because we generally do not like our skyscrapers and planes falling out of the sky over our cities – if we cannot detain him, cannot process him legally (via criminal means) then the only other option is to kill him. What did people expect to happen?

Summary

Frankly, I cannot begin to do justice to the argument against the HRW report and subsequent reporting from it, in its defense. To ascertain a far better grasp of the fallacies of logic in them I implore you to read two additional responses that – if I had better internet would have beat in publishing the same arguments – truly delve into a clearer picture of the issue. The first one is Joshua Foust’s How Human Rights Groups Misinterpret Drone Strikes and the second is Benjamin Wittes’ Thoughts on the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International Reports. Writtes’ piece actually elicited a response by HRW that you can read here and his subsequent response to them here. I must say that reading HRW’s primary defense of their poor research to Writtes as summarized by saying in effect ‘sure our research was weak but it is not our fault, it is the US governments fault for not telling us everything!’ – well there is an argument that truly wins. Kudos to you HRW. Try focusing on issues that have caused far more deaths in Yemen than UAV strikes such as say I don’t know, maybe the North…or better yet, focus on the human rights abuses by Al Qaeda who crucified a human being.

A Brief Personal History of the UAV

In a recent email from a friend of mine, she had asked me about “alternative uses” of drones aside from kinetic strikes. I typed up a quick response to her that focuses on my experience with UAVs and some narrative in response to how the public generally only knows UAVs as “Drones” and only knows them as weapons platforms:

Read More

Response to Akbar Ahmed’s “Wayward in Waziristan” on ForeignPolicy.com

I wanted to repost a response of mine to the following article titled “Wayward in Waziristan” by Akbar Ahmed, Harrison Akins. Though the intention is great – to request further civil engagement to and with Waziristan to counter the threats stemming from the area – the implementation or lack thereof is highly troubling. My response is as follows (partially edited from the original response):

No one argues that you do not need to understand the human terrain (to include history) to stabilize a region. The US knows that better than anyone after the equivalent of 20 War Campaign years (8 in Iraq and 12 in Afghanistan) under their belt. This is why in Iraq and still in Afghanistan; Coalition Forces implement extensive think tank resources, intelligence feedback programs, atmospherics programs, Human Terrain Teams, Female Engagement Teams, religious engagement teams, cross cultural training and various operational mechanisms.

Read More