Saturday, 29 September 2012

Yemen’s Leader Praises U.S. Drone Strikes


New York Times, By SCOTT Shane,29/09/2012

WASHINGTON — The president of Yemen gave an unqualified endorsement of American drone strikes in his country during a visit here on Friday, cementing his status as a favored counterterrorism partner of the United States.

President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, elected in a one-candidate election in February, said at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars that the precision afforded by drones gave them a marked advantage over the aging Soviet aircraft in the Yemeni Air Force.

“They pinpoint the target and have zero margin of error, if you know what target you’re aiming at,” said Mr. Hadi, a former army officer and the successor to Ali Abdullah Saleh, who stepped down after protests against his three-decade rule.

The United States “helped with their drones because the Yemeni Air Force cannot carry out missions at night,” he said. “The electronic brain’s precision is unmatched by the human brain.”

Mr. Hadi expressed no concerns about any reaction against drone strikes, which critics and some government officials have said can fuel anti-American sentiment and feed militancy.

Though Mr. Saleh permitted counterterrorism strikes by American drones, cruise missiles and jets beginning in 2009, American officials have found Mr. Hadi a more reliable partner than his capricious predecessor. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terrorist network’s affiliate in Yemen, has mounted several plots against the United States.

On Tuesday, President Obama underscored America’s gratitude to Mr. Hadi by dropping by as the Yemeni president met in New York with John O. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s counterterrorism adviser. While Mr. Obama spoke briefly with several heads of state at a reception during the United Nations General Assembly meeting, Mr. Hadi was the only one singled out for a meeting.

Mr. Obama thanked Mr. Hadi for protecting the American Embassy and diplomats in Sana, the Yemeni capital, during the recent wave of protests against a crude American video insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

American military strikes in Yemen against those suspected of terrorism began in December 2009 and were suspended for months after May 2010, in part because of concern about civilian casualties and the killing of a deputy provincial governor. The C.I.A. and the United States military later resumed strikes using missiles fired from drone aircraft, including the strike in 2011 that killed the American-born militant cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and another American.

By the count of The Long War Journal, a Web site that tracks counterterrorism operations, there have been 33 American strikes in Yemen this year, compared with 10 last year.

The attacks increased as Al Qaeda and its allies seized parts of two provinces, Abyan and Shabwa, amid the chaos related to a power struggle in Sana. Yemeni forces, which Mr. Hadi said were led by paramilitary groups, later ousted Qaeda fighters from several towns.

“Now they are scattered all over,” Mr. Hadi said of the Qaeda supporters. “But they will never regain the force they once had.”

Mr. Hadi said the deep poverty of Yemen, which is running out of oil and water, “is nurturing Al Qaeda.” He said the $1.5 billion pledged by international donors on Thursday would help Yemen avoid civil war, which he said would be “catastrophic” for the region and the world.



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