I think there’s a lot wrong with the Navy SEAL raid in Yemen, but let’s look at the facts: the object of the raid was not meant to be a firefight but was instead an intelligence-gathering operation against al-Qaeda. It was a joint operation between American Navy SEALs and Special Forces troops from the United Arab Emirates, with air support from remote-operated drones and conventional aircraft. The raid had been planned by former President Barack Obama though the decision whether or not to go ahead with the operation was left to Trump’s discretion. After being briefed, the mission was approved by President Trump fairly quickly.
Military officials affirmed that the raid was a disaster. The SEALs were detected very quickly after the operation began. After undergoing unexpected rooftop fire from al-Qaeda combatants (some of whom were female, a rarity that added to the chaos), the American troops called in an airstrike which destroyed the building and, as of now, is believed to have contributed to civilian casualties. Further crossfire claimed the lives of other civilians, including Nawar Anwar Al-Awlaki, the eight-year-old daughter of Anwar Al-Awlaki, a US citizen and al-Qaeda leader who was killed in a 2011 drone strike. She is believed to have died from blood loss by a gunshot wound to the neck. In all, the Pentagon estimated that 14 al-Qaeda fighters had died in the raid while the Yemeni government reported 13 civilian casualties. Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens was fatally wounded and three other SEALs suffered combat wounds as well. Toward the end of the raid, a US military helicopter worth $70 million dollars was intentionally abandoned and destroyed in order to prevent it from getting into enemy hands.
Where to begin? Underreported military operations in Yemen are nothing new. The American drone war, begun by former President George W. Bush in 2002 and expanded exponentially under the Obama administration, will remain one of the worst parts of Obama’s legacy and one of the most controversial elements of the War on Terror in certain circles. Obama’s Pentagon used a bit of linguistic slight of hand to redefine exactly who was an enemy combatant, leading to fuzzy statistics at best, but here are a few: Yemen, from 2004 to the present, has seen approximately 145 to 165 confirmed drone strikes. These strikes led to the deaths of 601 to 871 people, 65 to 101 of whom were civilians, and at least 8 of whom were children. When including suspected drone strikes and other covert operations, the numbers nearly doubled.
Proponents of the drone war argue that it is a way to eliminate enemy combatants efficiently, cheaply, and without risking American lives by putting boots on the ground. While true, the opposition argues that drone strikes have been an effective recruiting tool by terror organizations. A lot of the drone strikes are taking place in areas that haven’t been officially declared war zones or sovereign nations that are too small and poor to effectively resist the lean that American military might puts on them. “The inherently secret nature of the weapon creates a persistent feeling of fear in the areas where drones hover in the sky, and the hopelessness of communities that are on the receiving end of strikes causes severe backlash… both in terms of anti-U.S. opinion and violence” writes Hassan Abbas in a 2013 article for The Atlantic.
The anti-American anxieties already present in the Middle East, mixed with the relative obscurity of the drone program and the promises of the new Trump administration to go even further in combating terror, combine to form a fertile hotbed of new terrorists. It is said that every civilian killed in the Middle East creates new terrorists and increases the overall appeal of radicalization in the remote villages where the only visible American presence flies around in the skies and occasionally blows someone to bits. The retaliation comes in the form of targeting anyone who is deemed responsible and immediately available to attack. “Many in Pakistan now believe that drone strikes tend to motivate Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban to conduct terrorist attacks that target Pakistan’s security forces as well as civilians… the duplicity of Pakistan’s political and military elite in giving a green light to the U.S. drone policy proved to be counterproductive” Abbas writes.
I also find it a bit hypocritical that, with Trump’s first military blunder facing increasing scrutiny, a lot of news agencies who have kept their reporting of the drone program to a quiet minimum are now (slowly) addressing drones as a front page concern. This is a good thing, but I have to question where the outrage was when the Obama administration killed 12 wedding attendees and injured 14 others in Yemen, an event that “turned a wedding into a funeral” causing the villagers to “live in fear day and night”. With promises of increased militarization and retaliation, not just against terrorists but their families as well, we can expect more drone strikes out of the Trump administration, and from that, more terrorists. Obama’s Kill List will also see a significant expansion in the years to come in order to keep up with fires that the drone strikes attempt to put out with gasoline.