Will a United States drone strike that killed 14 Yemenis traveling in a wedding caravan Thursday finally change the conversation on drones? The tragic incident that everyone – save maybe the U.S. government – is calling a mistake is calling the ethics of drone warfare into question.
In recent years, the United States has done a good job of downplaying the errors and civilian casualties inherent in drone warfare. Not only has the current administration underreported the number of children killed in drone attacks, but also the mainstream media has underreported the details in general.
However, this week’s massive drone blunder is not escaping international attention as it typically does. In addition to the 14 fatalities, the missile attack injured 22 more, with nine of the wedding-goers still in critical condition.
“This was a tragic mistake and comes at a very critical time,” said a senior national security official in Yemen. “None of the killed was a wanted suspect by the Yemeni government.”
Although the United States has largely remained expectedly mum on the strike, two of the statements released by military officials are already at odds with each other. In the first statement, an official seemed to acknowledge that the U.S. had mistaken a wedding caravan for an al-Qaeda caravan. Later, however, a second official stated that al-Qaeda suspects may have been part of the wedding party.
After all, nothing says “I’m sorry” quite like “but there’s a chance we actually killed a couple bad guys in there, too!” Given all other reports, the follow-up statement comes across as an attempt to avoid accepting responsibility.
The United States has increased its drone offensives after militants killed 52 people in Yemen’s Defense Ministry last week. Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack, citing it as revenge for the Yemeni government condoning drone warfare in the country. Though that may be an excuse, it does lead credence to the theory that the U.S.’s careless drone usage ultimately creates more enemies than it eliminates.
After all, it’s not just terror groups who have turned against the United States. Civilians who see their harmless friends and neighbors murdered by drones become radicalized. Nabeel Khoury, former State Department official in Yemen, estimates that “the U.S. generates roughly 40 to 60 new enemies for every… operative killed by drones.”
Case in point, Abdullah al-Kabra, a resident of Radda, the town where the wedding caravan was traveling, agreed to speak to the press after witnessing the most recent attack. “More than 50 innocent civilians in our town have been killed by drones,” said al-Kabra. “All those who were killed were supportive of the government’s anti-terror campaign. That will surely not be the case of their tribes and families if the government does not strongly intervene.”
It’ll be interesting to see whether this wedding catastrophe is the last straw that sparks the international community into doing more than passively condemning drone warfare. One thing is for certain: if the Yemeni government were to have “accidentally” killed 14 American civilians, we would have invaded their country by now. The double standard where the American military can play fast and loose with the lives of innocent people abroad and face no repercussions needs to be addressed.
Photo Credit: Rick McCharles