On 12 December 2013, 15 civilians who were part of a wedding convoy were killed in an unmanned US drone attack in Central Yemen. A Yemeni official has explained that the air strike was a mistake. The missiles had missed their target.
Three days earlier, another US drone had killed 3 persons driving on a road in Al-Qatan in the Hadramout province of Yemen. They were also civilians.
The US based Human Rights Watch (HRW) had investigated 6 selected drone strikes since 2009 and concluded that 57 out of the 82 killed were civilians. This included a pregnant woman and her 3 children killed in September 2012.
Another human rights group, Amnesty International (AI), had also examined suspected drone strikes between May 2012 and July 2013 in North Waziristan, Pakistan, and from the evidence available suggested that more than 30 civilians were killed in four of those air attacks.
A report released by the UN Assistance Mission and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights indicates that there were 2,754 civilian deaths and 4,805 injuries from drone strikes in 2012 alone in Yemen and Pakistan.
In response to various criticisms of these strikes, the US Administration insists that civilian casualties are “rare” in this particular mode of warfare which began in 2004. But the evidence, as we have shown, tells a different story.
The US Administration is also wrong when it argues that drones have been an effective weapon in the fight against terrorism. On the contrary, it is because drone attacks have wiped out innocent civilians, including women and children that terrorism has increased. An example would be the events that constitute the backdrop to the two recent drone strikes in Yemen. The two drone strikes it seems were in retaliation to an Al-Qaeda attack on the Defence Ministry in Sana, Yemen’s capital, on 5 December 2013. The attack killed 56 people. While claiming responsibility for the heinous massacre, Al-Qaeda emphasised that it was carried out because of US drone strikes in Yemen that have been going on for years. This is also true of Pakistan where Al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives on either side of the Pakistan – Afghanistan border become even more determined to commit acts of terror when they see innocent villagers with whom they often share bonds of kinship bombed out of existence by US drones.
It is not surprising therefore that a huge movement against drones has developed in Pakistan in recent years. Both Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Opposition Leader, Imran Khan, are campaigning against drone attacks. The Peshawar High Court has ruled that drone attacks are “illegal, inhumane, violate the UN Charter on human rights and constitute a war crime.” In Yemen too, a significant segment of society is totally opposed to drone strikes though the US backed government of Mansour Al-Hadi acquiesces with them.
There is no sign yet to indicate that President Obama will abandon his drone policy. Both Yemen and Pakistan are vital to the US’s hegemonic power. Yemen is adjacent to the Bab-el-Mandeb which connects the oil fields of the Persian Gulf to the Red Sea, the Suez Canal and Europe. Pakistan is strategically situated in relation to China and Russia and the rich oil fields of Central Asia.
The only way to get Obama to abandon his policy is for more citizen groups in Asia and the West to speak up against US drone strikes. Both the print and electronic media should also do much more to raise the awareness of the people so that they would be persuaded to act against this war crime. Isn’t it a shame that major media channels gave so little attention to the poor and innocent victims of the drone strikes a few days ago?
Dr. Chandra Muzaffar,
International Movement for a Just World (JUST).
16 December 2013.