“If we are ignored and neglected, I would try to take my revenge. I would even hijack an army pickup, drive it back to my village and hold the soldiers in it hostages,” said Nasser Mabkhoot Mohammed al-Sabooly, the truck’s driver, 45, who suffered burns and bruises. “I would fight along al-Qaeda’s side against whoever was behind this attack.”
One airstrike among dozens
After Osama bin Laden’s death last year, Yemen emerged as a key battlefield in the Obama administration’s war on Islamist militancy. AQAP members are among those on a clandestine “kill list” created by the administration to hunt down terrorism suspects. It is a lethal campaign, mostly fueled by unmanned drones, but it also includes fixed-wing aircraft and cruise missiles fired from the sea.
This year, there have been at least 38 U.S. airstrikes in Yemen, according to the Long War Journal, a nonprofit Web site that tracks American drone attacks. That is significantly more than in any year since 2009, when President Obama is thought to have ordered the first drone strike.
The Radda attack was one of the deadliest since a U.S. cruise missile strike in December 2009 killed dozens of civilians, including women and children, in the mountainous region of al-
Majala in southern Yemen. After that attack, many tribesmen in that area became radicalized and joined AQAP.
“The people are against the indiscriminate use of the drones,” said Yemeni Foreign Minister Abubaker al-Qirbi. “They want better management of drones. And, more important, they want to have some transparency as far as what’s going on — from everybody.”
The concern over civilian casualties has grown louder since the spring, when the White House broadened its definition of militants who can be targeted in Yemen to include those who may not be well-known.
“We don’t attack in populated areas,” said an Obama administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of discussing the U.S. airstrikes here. “We don’t go after people in dwellings where we don’t know who everyone is. We work very hard to minimize the collateral damage.
“Having said all that, like any programs managed and operated by human beings, mistakes happen. We are not perfect.”
The rise in U.S. attacks came as AQAP and other extremists seized large swaths of southern Yemen last year, taking advantage of the political chaos of the country’s populist Arab Spring revolution. Before that, AQAP orchestrated failed attempts to send parcel bombs on cargo planes to Chicago in 2010 and to bomb a Detroit-bound U.S. airliner the previous year.