In a recent piece for Just Security, Former NSC Senior Director for Counterterrorism Luke Hartig recently analyzed the Trump administration’s new drone strike policies and their implications for human rights, national security, and U.S. foreign policy. According to The New York Times, President Trump is considering a new policy for drone strikes recommended by his national security team. The administration is expected to publish a Principles, Standards, and Procedures (PSP) document, which will replace the Presidential Policy Guidance (PPG) that was drafted during President Obama’s administration. The revised policy could substantially impact counterterrorism operations around the world, particularly Yemen.
The International Center for Religion and Diplomacy (IRCD) recently published two reports relating to the development and implementation of non-military counter terrorism strategies. The first report details the impact of ICRD’s project to train Yemeni activists; The second focuses on the role of religion and community in the context of Yemen’s civil war.
According to a report by the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, US military assistance and counterterrorism policies in Yemen have destabilized the country and produced effects counter to US interests. US military aid to the Yemeni government, under both President Saleh and President Hadi, has allowed the presidents to undemocratically consolidate power through appointing family members and allies to military positions. It has also contributed to the current war in Yemen; the Houthi-Saleh alliance use weapons that the US gave to Yemen previously, and counterterrorism military aid to the government is often used to maintain the government’s fight against the Houthis. Meanwhile, counterterrorism efforts against AQAP are undermined by the continuing chaos of the war and by the government’s prioritization of the fight against the Houthis which, at times, leads to cooperation between the government and AQAP.
Jacqueline Hazelton published a report in Lawfare magazine examining the merits of America's use of armed drones through the lens of the American grand strategy of restraint. The study is comprehensive, however it must be noted that due to the secrecy surrounding drone programs and the varying contexts in which drone strikes are carried out, it is difficult to empirically attribute public discontent and radicalization to drone strikes. While this is a limitation of study it is also Hazelton’s chief criticism of the US’ drone program. She argues that:
An article in the Washington Post analyzed the complicated relationship between the US and the UAE. The UAE’s desire for influence has driven it to enhance its international credibility by building up a sophisticated, capable military and increasing its involvement in conflicts. Much of the time, the UAE sides with the US: it leads in the fight against AQAP in Yemen and it has contributed troops in Western-backed conflicts such as in Somalia or Afghanistan. However, the UAE’s support for autocrats, its efforts in resisting peace, and its alleged illegal actions in conflict zones that risk US culpability have undermined the alliance between it and the US.
WASHINGTON DC -- On 23 May, 2017, United States special operations forces conducted a counterterrorism raid in the Governorate of Marib. It was the first publicly acknowledged US raid in Yemen since a similar operation in January, an attack that resulted in the deaths of 25 Yemeni civilians and one Navy SEAL.
Saferworld’s new report, “Blown Back,” outlines the mistakes and lessons of the West’s counterterrorism, stabilization, and statebuilding efforts in Yemen. The report also offers recommendations on how the US and other foreign states should reconsider their regional strategies and alliances. External actors’ approaches to Yemen have had significant negative impacts due to an inability, or unwillingness, to prioritize the grievances of Yemen’s people over counterterrorism imperatives. Failure to address these grievances has led to increased popular support of the armed opposition groups that the West is working to eliminate.
Yemen’s most fundamental challenge has been the failure of a state dominated by kleptocratic elites to play a constructive role in addressing the drivers of its instability and poverty...Despairing of political processes, people have turned to group identities to seek redress for grievances, and protect their interests.
In their all-consuming efforts to fight terror, external actors have recklessly provided weapons and equipment to Yemen’s deeply divided security forces despite the high risk of military capacities being diverted from their intended purpose. Furthermore, the use of drones and other sophisticated weaponry by the West, which has killed at least 87 civilians and likely hundreds more, has merely fed anti-US sentiment and boosted recruitment by militant groups. The Saudi-led coalition’s blockade, bombardment, and ground campaign have had a similar effect.
Saferworld’s report advises that, in order to achieve its counterterrorism goals, the West must understand the driving forces behind Yemen’s many conflicts. It should revisit its objectives with a focus on peace while reconsidering its support for fundamentally illegitimate actors. Above all, Western countries need to explore every possible alternative to military attacks inside Yemen as well as demonstrate their genuine commitment to development, justice, and democratic values.