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Why most US-backed airstrikes kill children and civilians? The case of Yemen people

You can’t bomb a country into existence, however much America seems determined to try.

In the last week, 164 Yemeni civilians have lost their lives in the Saudi bombardment of my country (and increasing rapidly reaching 1,400 today). In media reports – full of geopolitical talk of “proxy wars” and “regional interests” – the names of the dead are absent.

As always, it is ordinary Yemeni families who are left grieving, and forgotten. (Over 100,000 have already fled their hometowns)

The US has a central role in all of this. As US officials told the Wall Street Journal, “American military planners are using live intelligence feeds from surveillance flights over Yemen to help Saudi Arabia decide what and where to bomb”. (And bomb the life out of the Yemenis?)

Investigating US drone strikes on my country, I have seen the aftermath of aerial bombardment time and time again. The weeping father; the young girl unable to walk from shrapnel wounds; the mother, mute from shock.

I try to record what has taken place; most of them just ask in return what my questions will do to bring back their loved ones.

The few that find words express powerlessness and confusion as to why the might of a distant US military has been visited on their simple lives.

I represented the youth in Yemen’s revolution in 2011. I had never been particularly politically interested before the revolution, but those remarkable days changed my life forever, and I was proud to take my place in the process that was set up by the international community to guide my country to democracy.

Over months of hard negotiation, we created the framework for Yemen’s new constitution.

yemen boy rubble

A Yemeni boy stands in front of a damaged house in the village of Bani Matar, a day after it was reportedly hit by an airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition against Shiite Huthi rebel positions. Photograph: Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images

Meanwhile, inexplicably, US drones continued to drop bombs on communities across the country .

The blanket claims by the American government that these attacks were clinically picking off terrorists were patently untrue: I went to the attack sites, and met the bereaved relatives of builders, children, hitchhikers.

I know my country, and my fellow countrymen; the people I was meeting were simple souls, scraping a living in Yemen’s tough agricultural hinterland.

Large political questions were far from their minds. When asked, they would all condemn the terrorist groups who had provided the pretext for the attacks.

We took reports of our investigations to President Hadi, and begged him to stop the attacks. They clearly destabilised all our genuine political efforts.

Hadi would try and change the subject: he knew full well that the US economic support propping up our country was dependent on turning a blind eye to American counter-terrorism activities.

Even last week, as Saudi warplanes were refuelling to fly more sorties, anti-aircraft guns were barking over the capital, and President Hadi was fleeing the country, the White House Press Secretary was still trying to defend the so-called “Yemen model” of counterterrorism that was founded on these drone attacks.

I listened to his words with incredulity, that he could so blindly ignore the evidence of his own eyes.

I understand that Yemen’s problems are complicated, and need time to resolve, but America’s desire to see my country primarily through a counterterrorism lens was a grave mistake.

The National Dialogue was the forum for mending Yemen; US drone attacks consistently undermined our claim to be the sole, sovereign forum for Yemenis to resolve Yemeni disputes.

Truly concerning is President Obama’s belief that Yemen should act as some sort of model for other conflicts – notably the one being waged in Iraq and Syria.

Reporters have already revealed Centcom’s efforts to cover up a drone strike in el-Bab in Syria in which 50 civilians died, as well as the botched attack on Kafr Daryan in which 12 more were killed.

When I read those reports, I am taken straight back to the awful drone attack sites I have visited in Yemen: 12 dead when a wedding convoy was hit in Yakla; a mother, father and young daughter all blown up together when a minibus was hit in al-Saboul.

The surest way to ensure America’s security isn’t bombing my countrymen and women; it’s to help countries build strong institutions, which doesn’t happen through the crosshairs of a drone feed. It’s been tried in Yemen. Please take our current pain as proof it won’t work anywhere else.

Note 1: NBC News has obtained exclusive videos and photos taken in the aftermath of the strike.

The graphic images show the scorched bodies of young men who villagers say were part of a convoy on their way to the wedding celebration when they were killed in their pickups by two Hellfire missiles fired by a U.S. drone.

The video and photographs were shot by Nasser Al-Sane, a local Yemeni journalist, and given to NBC News by Reprieve, a human rights group critical of U.S. drone policy.

NBC News showed the video to White House and Pentagon officials who declined comment on it. A Yemeni official said the images are consistent with what its government knows about what happened after the attack.

“You cannot imagine how angry people are (about the strike). They turned a wedding into a funeral,”  Al-Sane, who lives near the town of Radda, where the drone strike took place, told NBC News.

Baraa Shiban, a human rights activist who interviewed local villagers two days after the  strike, said he saw no sign that  Badani was anywhere near the village, noting that he was from another region of Yemen, and, as a “stranger” to the area, was unlikely to have been invited to a gathering celebrating the wedding between a groom and bride in two neighboring villages.

“There was clearly a wedding party,” said Shiban. He said he believes U.S. officials “may have been fed the wrong intel. They saw a group of people waiting in trucks for a convoy and they assumed they were militants, so they made the decision to strike.”

Nasser Al-Sane / Reprieve

The bodies of nine men allegedly killed in a U.S. drone strike on Dec. 12 are lined up prior to burial near the town of Radda, Yemen. Villagers said the victims, among the dozen people killed in the strike, were on their way to celebrate a wedding when the attack occurred.

Shiban said he has compiled a list of the 12 men killed in the strike. They were shepherds and khat farmers, who ranged in age from 20 to 65, he said.

Al-Sane, the journalist who shot the video and also interviewed local villagers, acknowledged that the young men killed in the strike were carrying rifles.

But he said this is not at all unusual for a wedding procession. “In an Arab wedding, it is a tradition for people to carry arms,” he said. “They shoot bullets in the air as a form of expression. That’s how they celebrate a wedding.”

The disputed U.S. drone strike in al-Baydah province in central Yemen came just a week after al Qaeda militants launched one of the most-devastating insurgent attacks in the country — an assault on the  Yemen Ministry of Defense and a military hospital that killed 52 people, including  women, children and doctors.

While the attack reportedly stirred anger toward al Qaeda in the country, the drone strike triggered a strong backlash against the U.S. as well.

Within days, Yemen’s Parliament voted for a resolution calling for an end to all drone strikes in the country. (The US can no longer claim that is has Yemen government approval)

Shiban is a member of Yemen’s National Dialogue, an officially sanctioned assembly of citizens tasked with finding solutions to the critical issues facing the country, and serves as the local coordinator for Reprieve, a human rights group that has been critical of drone strikes.

Abubakr Al-Shamahi / Reprieve

A pickup hit by a missile fired by a U.S. drone on Dec. 12.

In a report Shiban filed for Reprieve, and which the group shared with NBC News, he said local villagers told him the drone attack had taken place on a convoy of 11 cars and trucks carrying about 60 people traveling from the home of the bride to the neighboring village of the groom. While the convoy was waiting  in a valley for more guests to join, the group heard the sound of a drone approaching, it said.

He quoted Ahmed Mohammed Al Shafe’ee, a 70-year-old shepherd, as saying his 25-year-old son – the father of seven, including a 15 day old baby — was among those killed in the attack.

“We heard a loud explosion coming from down in the valley,” he said, according to Shiban’s report. “I arrived to the site and there were bodies scattered all over the place. The people told me that my son Aref had died.” When he returned to the village, Al Shafe-ee was quoted as saying, “I saw the women of the village gathered crying and screaming.”

Another villager, Sheikh Salah Al-Taisy, is quoted as saying that there was no place to take cover.

“There was no way to run. It is a very remote area,” he said. “…We live in fear day and night. Our children and women cannot sleep.”

Nasser Al-Sane / Reprieve

A piece of one of the U.S. Hellfire missiles that villagers say hit the celebrants.

According to Shiban’s report, nine bodies were taken to the village of Radda for a mass burial. The photos and videos Shiban sent to Reprieve show a row of burned corpses lined up on the ground surrounded by local villagers, as well as a scorched truck purportedly destroyed in the attack. They also show villagers holding up a banner in Arabic saying, “America Spills the Blood,” as well as local residents playing with the remains of a Hellfire missile bearing the words “Warning — two man lift” in English.

Andrew Bossone shared this link on FB

“You can’t bomb a country into existence, however much America seems determined to try.”

America saw my country primarily through a counterterrorism lens, which was a mistake. Instead of fixing the problems, drone strikes made them worse
theguardian.com|By Baraa Shiban

adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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