“Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has a horrifying history of hiding women and children within militant operating areas and terrorist camps”, the US Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement after murdering an eight-year-old girl in Yemen last weekend. According to Yemeni government statistics, she was killed along with 15 other civilians, eight women and seven other children. Medics on the ground however, claim the death-toll to be much higher.
Nawar Al-Awlaki was an American-Yemeni who was in Al-Bayda province at the time she was killed. She was also the sister of teenager Abdurrahman Al-Awlaki, another US citizen who was killed by a drone strike under the Obama administration in October 2011. Several months after Abdurrahman was killed, when then-President Obama was questioned about it during the US elections of 2012, Robert Gibbs, who was at that point a senior adviser to Obama’s re-election campaign, simply said he should have “had a more responsible father”. His father Anwar, whom US intelligence suspected to be an Al Qaeda recruiter, was killed by a US drone strike months before Abdurrahman.
What went wrong
The operation that apparently resulted in “important intelligence that will assist the US in preventing terrorism against its citizens and people around the world,” according to President Donald Trump, was in fact, according to further evidence given, not well planned out.
Firstly, it was actually the Obama administration that initiated the idea to carry out the raid, but did not for various reasons. The New York Times claimed Obama did not carry out the attack because he wanted it to happen on a “moon-less night”, which would only occur after Trump’s inauguration.
Other reasons presented, which we now realise are more likely accounts, that refer to the fact that Obama did not have sufficient intelligence to carry out the raid successfully. It must not be forgotten that Obama was very aware that his last few months in office meant he was careful to not cause more controversy, and orchestrating the attack would add one more bloody incident to his legacy.
When it became Trump’s turn to address the case, he did so with little regard to the consequences. An anonymous military official told Reuters that President Trump had approved the raid “without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate back-up preparations.”Additionally, out of the two MV-22 Osprey aircrafts that were deployed, one of them suffered from engine failure and hit the ground so hard that it resulted in the injury of three servicemen. It also made a landing in an area filled with landmines, making the situation dangerous for the soldiers, let alone the civilians around them. The attack ended in tragedy and within days Al-Qaeda made further gains in Yemen.
Despite this, the Trump administration is still advocating decentralising the process to approve military operations. Trump’s national security adviser, retired General Michael Flynn, said there are discussions taking place to accelerate the decision-making process when it comes to such strikes. This would be done through delegating more authority to lower-level officials, which would make the operations more risky.
Obama’s continued destruction
So far the Trump administration has proven to be reckless in its domestic and foreign policies and has had no real regard for human rights at home or abroad. When Obama approved the killing of Anwar Al-Awlaki, a US citizen, Anwar was killed without being charged with, or even being convicted of any crime. He was also denied a fair trial to the allegations set against him and was assassinated in cold blood.
His assassination sparked anger and a nation-wide debate. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in conjunction with the Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR) attempted to sue Obama for the assassination and challenged “the government’s asserted authority to carry out “targeted killings” of “US citizens located far from any armed conflict zone”. They stressed that Al-Awlaki had “not been convicted or even charged — without oversight, judicial process, or disclosed standards for placement on kill lists” and the government’s actions “poses the risk that the government will erroneously target the wrong people.”
Obama’s policies surrounding the Saudi-led war in Yemen were also products of misinformation, and lacked real consideration for the domestic political situation in Yemen. Because the war happened at a very sensitive time, in a very sensitive geopolitical climate, Obama seemed to primarily care for sustaining a balance between not upsetting Riyadh and Tehran. He refused to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia, whilst failing to undermine Iran’s efforts in supplying the Houthi rebels. As Trump’s policy stands, he will continue to arm Saudi the way Obama did, if not more than Obama’s administration, but will most likely show little regard for finding a sustainable political solution to the Yemen conflict.
Supporters of the Saudi-led coalition argue that supporting the operation would secure the Arabian Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula from Iran. They remind sceptics that Riyadh and its allies have allegedly curbed the wider threat the Houthis pose to the region and that they have also taken part in counter-terrorist operations against Al-Qaeda.
However, this argument provides little context. The military operation has done little to force the Houthis and Saleh to withdraw, and has cost the lives of thousands of civilians. Yemen’s third largest city of Taiz is still besieged and despite the fact that the Saudi-led coalition has destroyed the Al-Hudaydah port to deter the Houthis and Saleh loyalists from smuggling weapons into Yemen via the Red Sea, weapons are still being brought into Yemen illegally from the exact port they have destroyed.
Trump would continue to support the flawed operation because it will increase arms sales. He would have little regard for the cost of human life, or for finding a political end to the conflict. The Obama era’s drone strikes and raids will continue. However, Obama’s violent history in the Peninsula must not be forgotten and Trump’s ferociousness towards Yemen must be viewed from the lens of the continuation of the Obama administration’s policy.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.