A target of a US drone strike escapes as the unmanned vehicle killed up to a dozen civilians in its wake, according to the Associated Press. The targeted drone strike of Al-Qaeda mid-level leader Shawqi Ali Ahmad al-Badani prompted the US military to conduct the drone strike against an 11 vehicle wedding procession in Radda, Yemen. The attack left 12 dead as well as 15 injured, all of whom were attending the wedding, according to the report. Among those injured was the bride.
The US official report claims that there may have been members of Al-Qaeda present in the procession, but family members of victims and survivors say all that who were injured or killed were civilians. The Yemeni government stands with the US, saying that most of the those in attendance were Al-Qaeda militants.
Human Rights Watch released the report Thursday, using civilian interviews as well as eyewitness reports to confirm the strike.
Al-Badani is accused of masterminding several plots against the US and other foreign targets, leading the US to temporarily close 19 diplomatic posts last summer. US officials maintain that the only individuals injured in the strike were affiliates or members of Al-Qaeda. Al-Badani is also one of the top figures on Yemen’s most wanted list.
While the CIA currently conducts the majority of the US drone programs, President Obama made a promise in a May 2013 speech to transfer authority to the Pentagon in an effort to make the drone program more accountable and transparent. Nine months later and little action has been made to transfer authority. Critics of the president say he has dragged his feet like this on a majority of major issues ranging from the Keystone XL pipeline to Guantanamo.
US officials have declined to comment on the operation, noting that in Yemen they have two operations being conducted simultaneously, one under the guise of the CIA. For this reason, the US cannot comment on the other operation, because militants could use process of elimination to figure out which one is being conducted by the CIA.
Under CIA guidelines, mentioning the existence of a drone strike is legal, but discussing its intent or operational capacity is not permitted. Obama set out new drone program guidelines to address this lack of transparency issue.
Amongst Obama’s drone program guidelines is the provision that there must be a “near certainty” of no civilian casualties. Observers are saying that with the information provided, it seemed as though there was a much higher doubt of certainty than US officials have officially reported and according to all reports from witnesses, those injured were not al-Qaeda militants.
Letta Tayler, a counter-terrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch said that the “US refusal” to comment on the attack that left 12 dead on their way to a wedding “…raises critical questions about the administration’s compliance with its own targeted killing policy.” She went on to say that while there may have been the “possibility” of Al-Qaeda fighters present, the likelihood that there were civilians present and killed should not be ruled out.
The drone program has come under fire after President Obama made his address last May, saying the program was overdue for serious oversight.
Lawmakers in Congress oppose the move, saying that more transparency in the drone program will only open it up to vulnerability to attack by militants. The Obama administration has conducted 390 drone strikes in the past five years – almost 8 times more than were launched under the Bush administration.
Supporters of President Obama hoped he would reduce the US’s aggressive foreign policy abroad, only to see him ramp up the use of unmanned drones which have killed over 2,400 people.
The latest incident involving an injured bride, an escaped terrorist and a number of dead civilians marks the latest event in the ongoing US drone program.
by John Amaruso