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Drone strikes in Yemen escalating, officials report

January 23, 2013|By Ken Dilanian
  • There have been four strikes in five days in Yemen, reportedly by U.S. drones similar to this one seen in a Defense Department photo.
There have been four strikes in five days in Yemen, reportedly by U.S. drones… (Associated Press )

A U.S. drone strike targeting militants on motorbikes killed five in central Yemen on Wednesday, a senior Yemeni official said. It was the fourth strike in five days, marking what the official called a significant escalation in the U.S.-Yemeni campaign against that country’s Al Qaeda affiliate.

The U.S. carried out 42 targeted drone missile strikes in Yemen last year and 10 the previous year, according to the Long War Journal website that tracks strikes through the news media.

 “The campaign has intensified,” the Yemeni official said, adding that the government has been repositioning troops targeting Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The CIA and Obama administration officials declined to comment on the strikes. 

Al Qaeda militants in Yemen are part of a larger insurgency, many of whose members do not have international terrorist aspirations. An administration official said the U.S. targets militants in Yemen only when they pose a threat to American interests, such as the embassy or the ambassador. The official declined to say whether the strikes in the last week, in different parts of the country, stemmed from a specific plot.

It was also unclear whether any of the militants killed were leadership figures. The family of the deputy leader of the Al Qaeda affiliate, Said Shihri, has reported him killed, the Yemeni official said, “but so far we don’t have any chatter or intelligence that supports that.”

The flurry of strikes in Yemen comes as the administration is considering codifying a set of procedures and policies governing how targeted killings are carried out -- how militants are added to kill lists, who reviews the evidence and which government agencies get a say. The so-called counter-terrorism playbook is not yet complete, an official said this week.

On Tuesday, Yemeni Human Rights Minister Hooria Mashhour criticized the drone strikes, saying, "I am in favor of changing the anti-terrorism strategy. I think there are more effective strategies.”

Yemeni President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, however, praised the operations when he visited Washington in September.

“They pinpoint the target and have zero margin of error, if you know what target you’re aiming at,” Hadi said at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

There have been no allegations that women or children were killed in the strikes of the last five days. It is impossible to verify whether all those killed were Al Qaeda militants, as some news reports from the region have suggested.

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