The not-so targeted recent Yemen drone strikes

White House comments reveal lack of knowledge of those killed and their threat level

Published August 16, 2013 7:48PM (EDT)


The Obama administration has defended the recent uptick in drone strikes in Yemen as crucial, targeted killings to remove the growing threat of al-Qaida in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP).

However, comments from the White House on nine recent strikes, which began on July 27, once again show that the killings are anything but "targeted."

An NBC report on Friday, for example, highlights that the White House could not tell whether a Yemeni killed in a recent strike was or was not al-Qaida’s master bombmaker Ibrahim al-Asiri:

A Yemeni government spokesman denied media reports that the most recent strike, which killed four al-Qaida militants over the weekend, had severely wounded al-Qaida’s master bombmaker. Mohammed al-Basha, press attaché at the Yemeni embassy in Washington, said via Twitter Wednesday morning that “Reports that #AQAP’s Chief Bombmaker, Ibrahim al-Asiri, was killed or wounded are incorrect.”

In the U.S., three separate sources at three agencies all said they don’t know for certain whether al-Asiri was hit in the weekend strike. One senior official said, “We just don’t know.” Two others expressed skepticism, saying there’s no evidence to support any claim he was killed or wounded.

A U.S. intelligence official told NBC News that three of those killed in Saturday’s strike had been identified, and “none were of operational significance.”

As has been noted here and elsewhere -- including by human rights groups like Amnesty International and legal clinics at NYU and Stanford -- the use of the term "targeted killing" is inappropriate for drone programs that regularly rely on nothing more than loosely defined "signature" behavior in choosing targets.

Yemeni youth and human rights activist Baraa Shiba, testifying on Capitol Hill in May about the effects of drone strikes in his country, warned of the growing anti-American sentiment fomented by drone strikes that kill Yemenis who are not al-Qaida operatives. "Every lethal mistake the U.S. makes is kerosene for an insurgency. And it all comes at a critical time for Yemen," he said.

By Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email

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Al-qaida Aqap Drone Strikes Drones Targeted Killing Targeted Killings Yemen