The Problem with Secret Drone War

It's never a secret to those being bombed


passive voice did it

Foreign Policy presents an "air attack gone wrong":

Quoting unnamed Yemeni officials, local and international media initially described the victims of the Sept. 2 airstrike in al-Bayda governorate as al Qaeda militants. After relatives of the victims threatened to bring the charred bodies to the president, Yemen's official news agency issued a brief statement admitting the awful truth: The strike was an "accident" that killed 12 civilians. Three were children.

Nearly four months later, that terse admission remains the only official word on the botched attack. A Washington Post article, published on Dec. 24, reports that "U.S. officials in Washington, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said it was a Defense Department aircraft, either a drone or a fixed-wing airplane, that fired" on the vehicle. But the people of al-Bayda still have received no official word as to who was responsible for the deaths—the United States, which in the past year has accelerated its covert targeted-killing program against Yemeni-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula; or the Yemeni government, whose new president, Abd al-Rab Mansur al-Hadi, was installed with Washington's help.

There have been more than 116 drone strikes in Yemen since May of last year. The president only acknowledged military operations in Yemen in June. The lack of acknowledgement didn't stop the CIA from getting expanded authority to kill militants a few months prior.

h/t to Anthony Shaffer for the link, who adds on Facebook: "The kill with no capture [policy] is distracting from going after the re-emerging terrorist networks—this sort of thing actually gives them time and an additional pool of likely targets to recruit from—by killing innocents like this we have potentially made their surviving family into, at minimum, supporters of the terrorists"

Update: Our own Matt Welch highlighted this article earlier today.


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  1. Killing them over there, so we don’t have to fight them over here (in 20 years when they grew up and inevitably became terrorists).

  2. There is no reason why we can’t capture these people. The Yemeni government is friendly. The only reason we don’t, is that Obama is a moral coward who refuses to expend any political capital in confronting the detainee problem.

    You see they lied. They claimed that terrorism can be treated as a police problem. But they didn’t think that was true. They clearly don’t think that or they would be capturing and trying these people in court. But they can’t or won’t admit they lied. So their solution is just to kill anyone they suspect of being a terrorist. Since neither the media nor their brain dead supporters will ever question them killing, it is from their view, a pretty simple solution to the problem.

    1. ^

    2. John, have you been skipping sloopy’s periodic updates on what “police work” now involves?

      Weak intelligence, wrong targets, and gunplay seem to be prominent features.

    3. While I agree that BO is a coward in pretty much every respect, not just morally, the reality is that if we put US boots on the ground in Yemen the friendly government will either cease being friendly or cease to be the government. And it’s going to take boots on the ground to arrest these people; I don’t think we can trust the Yemeni locals.

      1. I don’t even see why they need to be arrested. Until they actually act on our soil it really does us no good to kill nor capture them.

        Collect foreign intelligence and relay it to the US-based authorities so they can be ready. That’s really all that can be done; anything more is counterproductive. If our authorities/bureaucrats are asleep at the switch and ignore credible threats that turn real, fire them; instead we make excuses for their incompetence because God forbid a public servant be blamed for a disaster.

        1. I would totally agree with this approach. Just saying that arresting them is not a viable option.

          1. Really? That’s news to these people: Family, neighbors of Yemeni killed by U.S. drone wonder why he wasn’t taken alive


            American counterterrorism officials have painted drone strikes as a tool of last resort, utilized only when targets represent an imminent threat and are nearly impossible to take out by other means. But people in Beit al Ahmar say it’s hard to argue that Qadhi’s capture would have been out of the question. He’d already been arrested, and released, before, in 2008 after an attack on the American Embassy. And Beit al Ahmar, nine miles outside Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, is no isolated enclave ? it’s the birthplace of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and home to much of the military’s leadership.

            Sitting less than an hour’s drive from the capital, residents here say Qadhi could have been captured easily. The Central Intelligence Agency in the United States, whose drone launched the missile that killed Qadhi, declined to comment.

        2. Exactly. How about we just do neither. Would it be too much trouble to aggressively profile based on nationality at the point of entry to the USA and deny entry to people from high-risk countries?

    4. *Golf clap*

      John, I know I’ve called Red Tony at least once, but dammit when you make a good point, you make a GOOD damn point.

  3. The first rule about Secret Drone War is that you do not talk about Secret Drone War.

    1. So you’re saying that the problem with secret drone war is that Ed talked about secret drone war. Yep, sounds right.

      1. The whole thing is just a big fantasy that Obama is having.

  4. Oh, I don’t know, something about murder, due process, the rights of the accused, limiting the power of the president, respecting the Constitution, not creating new enemies, you get the drift.

    1. Time to come into the 21st century CE.

  5. We have a declaration of war against Yemen, right?

    1. No. We just have an invitation from the government of Yemen to come in and do their dirty work for them. We are not waging war against the government of Yemen. Quite the opposite actually.

  6. We must protect the children, by killing the children. See how this works? Ok, now back to killin!

    1. Hey! At least no scary looking assault rifles firing entire magazine clips with every pull of the trigger were involved!

    1. To be fair, Fark isn’t all that bad as long as you avoid the Politics tab.

      (One of these days I’ll get back into photoshopping…)

    2. You mean it’s all Bush’s fault?

  7. Yeah dude, OK man that makes a lot of sense. Wow.


  8. That’s why you have to hunt down their children & other relatives & kill them too, so no survivors. Come to think of it, you’re safest if you kill everybody who is not you, because you never know.

    1. If it wasn’t for humans there wouldn’t be violence! BAN THE HUMANS!!!

      It’s for the children.

    2. I say we newk the site from orbit… it’s the only way to be sure.

  9. “Secret drone war”. So secret we know about it and are talking about it.

    1. And yet the government won’t officially acknowledge it’s existence. What’s called an “open secret”.

  10. We’re bombing countries we’re not at war with (remember Cambodia?) — where are the protests? Are college students too busy trying to figure out how to pay back $1T of student loans to be marching in the streets?

    And the phrase “what’s good for General Motors is good for the country” is no longer subject to ridicule by the Left, it’s the official policy of their just-elected President. Where are the so-called “liberals?”

    More important, what decade is this?

    1. More important, what decade is this?

      It’s beginning to feel like the ’30s. Joy.

  11. So these “unnamed Yemeni officials” are paragons of truth?

    I’ve got issues with the drone war, but there’s something really weird going on here.

    Based on the number of articles, here and elsewhere, about how these drones seem to be constantly hitting the wrong targets, one would think that they’d’ve been abandoned by now–they clearly can’t hit the broad side of a barn with them, right?

    Unless, a) they’re WANTING to hit unarmed civilians, b) we’re actually seeing human shields being killed along with the targets and the drones are hitting with pinpoint accuracy, c) the various sources are lying–in much the same way that an enterprising young Palestinian with some karo syrup and food coloring can make a good living being a ‘victim of Israeli violence’ for the Muslim and Western Press.

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