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The secret war in Yemen - by Fares Hasan (2013)

Updated: Jan 16, 2021


The Republic of Yemen is an Arab country located in the southern part of the Arab peninsular. It is bordered from the north by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, from the east by the Sultanate of Oman, from the west by the Red sea and from the south The Gulf of Aden, the Arab sea and the Indian Ocean. Yemen is a very important trade route between Asia and Africa, and it controls one of the busiest sea lanes in the world The Bab al-Mandab gateway (Margolis, 2013). Yemen has a population of 25,408,288 (Yemen Demographics Profile 2013, 2013) where 45% live under the poverty line and 38% are unemployed (Margolis, 2013). Yemen is considered as the poorest Arab country and one of the least developed countries in the world (National MDG Reports).

The secret war is the term used to describe and refer to the undeclared drone-lead war or military combat of United States of America in Yemen, particularly it refers to the drone activities that hits from time to time. The fact is that there is no official reason behind calling it the secret war except that there is no official talk about it and US officials refused to confirm or deny even the existence of military strikes in Somalia and Yemen (Woods, 2012). It has started in 2009 according to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. This military combat in full view has the features of undeclared drone-lead war the same as in Pakistan while in its particularities claimed to be a counter-terrorism campaign to ultimately eliminate threatens against the US or its interests.

The secret drone-lead war in Yemen has brought up so many questions about its purposes and validity and weather it serves the purposes it has been initiated for or not. However, the governments of Yemen have been questioned and the public opinion in Yemen and the United States conveyed controversial reactions. This varies from the refusal of the activities to accusing the government of Yemen to work against the well of the nation and the parliament. Recently, the government of the US has reluctantly released acknowledgment to the media confirming that they have such military drone-lead war in Yemen whereas the government of Yemen has denied that the bombarding operated by US military. The government of Yemen remains ambiguous about this issue as it claims that the Yemeni Air Forces is the operator. Despite the fact that there were some operations held by the Yemeni Air Forces but most of the airstrikes were by the drones of the Navy of United States.

Problem Definition

The issue I want to discuss here: is the campaign effective in countering terrorism and should it continue its operations? In general this issue takes a lot of attention among Jurists, journalists and human rights advocates as well as Congress members lately in the United States; moreover this argument gathered a lot of people in Yemen as it concern everyone from jurists to the farmers and fisher men. The core point of this argument goes beyond the efficiency issue to stress more on the purposes of this campaign which take several dimensions in the area after the Arab spring.

Secondly, the efficiency of this issue comprises from three arguments comes from the purpose of the military campaign. According to a letter from President Obama to Congress a six monthly obligation under the war Powers Resolution based on 1973, in which he ought to inform politicians about US military actions abroad. Obama has characterized “direct action” military operations in both countries Yemen and Somalia (Woods, 2012).

The U.S. military has also been working closely with the Yemeni government to operationally dismantle and ultimately eliminate the terrorist threat posed by al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the most active and dangerous affiliate of al-Qa’ida today. Our joint efforts have resulted in direct action against a limited number of AQAP operatives and senior leaders in that country who posed a terrorist threat to the United States and our interests. (Woods, 2012)

This letter states the purposes of the US military campaign in three points: firstly to eliminate the terrorist threat posed by al-Qa’ida, secondly to targeting operatives and senior leaders and thirdly to support the Yemeni government and protect the threatened interests. Because most of the related documents are leakage by the media I would try to keep the arguments in the orbit of the above text from the letter of the President Obama.

The problem of this whole propaganda is the absence of official and trustworthy clarifications by any of the governments except from the gradually growing opposing movements of the human rights advocates and the public opinion in Yemen. In contrast, the leaders seem to appreciate the cooperation and their statement conveys the utmost support to the war no matter what the price is.


This military campaign doesn’t really fulfill its point in eliminating the threats of AQAP – al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula – against the United States and its interests as it violates the laws of war; because most of the casualities of these airstrikes were civilians and ordinary people; in several times it happened to have had children and women among the casualities  (ELLIOTT, 2010), (ROGGIO, 2013), (Katz, 2013). In this month December 12 U.S. airstrike killed 15 civilians on their way to wedding according to (St. Pete for Peace). The exact target of that strike is not known. Seventeen civilians are reported to have been killed in Yemen in 2013, and an additional 25 were killed in 2012, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal (ROGGIO, 2013).

In December 25th last year airstrike targeted a rickety Toyota truck packed with 14 people rumbled down a desert road from the town of Radda, which al-Qaeda militants once controlled. The airstrike results in 11 of the passengers were dead, including a woman and her 7-year-old daughter. A 12-year-old boy also perished that day, and another man later died from his wounds (Raghavan, 2012). According to The Washington post the civilian casualities number increase since the spring as the number of airstrikes increased too (Raghavan, 2012) .

According to information from St. Pete for Peace organization, there are big numbers of the civilian casualities than what the official reports announce. The later points are some of the airstrikes that happened during 2013 and the numbers convey the civilian casualities:

–          October 22 – US strikes in Yemen have killed dozens of civilians, says report.  Human Rights Watch says 57 civilians have been killed in six drone and plane attacks that ‘clearly or possibly’ violated international law (St. Pete for Peace).

–          August 8 – US drones pound Yemen – 34 killed in 10 days in at least 8 airstrikes (St. Pete for Peace).

–          Jan. 24 – US airstrike in Yemen mistakenly hits house, killing 9 including 2 children (St. Pete for Peace).

Moreover, according to a report by Human Rights Watch, where six US targeted killings in Yemen examined, one from 2009 and the rest from 2012-2013. The report states that several airstrike attacks killed civilians indiscriminately in clear violation of the laws of war; the others may have targeted people who were not legitimate military objectives or caused disproportionate civilian deaths (Human Rights Watch, 2013).


The airstrikes as well as any military cooperation lead direct actions is refused by the majority of the Yemenis in public and parliament officials (al-Sayaghi, 2013). In deep point the airstrikes and whole drones-lead war works against the will of the people of Yemen and their representatives in the parliament. Lately in the 16th of December this Year the Yemeni Parliament passed anti-drone motion to be banned, yet the non-binding motion need to be approved by the President of Yemen (al-Sayaghi, 2013).

In the recent Year (2013) a number of protestations have been held against the drone-lead war and the U.S. military interference in Yemen (Abdullah, 2013). The public of Yemen shows a complete refusal of the airstrikes; demonstrations spread widely in the country expressing various ways that emphasize the proportion of disagreement people carry. The art was one of the ways of protesting against airstrikes in Yemen; Graffiti and Poetry. Street artists in Yemen even campaign against the drones (Root, 2013). The same source describes the art works: “An American drone hovers along a main thoroughfare in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a. Not a real drone, but rather a 7 foot-long rendition of an unmanned aircraft spray-painted near the top of a whitewashed city wall. Below it, a stenciled-on child is writing: “Why did you kill my family?” in blood-red English and Arabic script.” (Root, 2013). In Sana’a the old city there is a weekly demonstration where they burn an effigy of a U.S. aircraft during a demonstration to protest against what they say is U.S. interference in Yemen, including drone strikes, after their weekly Friday prayers (Abdullah, 2013).


The airstrikes work against its’ purposes and bring harm to the Yemeni government as well as the picture of United States in the view of public in Yemen. According to a letter written by 26 of the U.S. Congress members say:

The implications of the use of drones for our national security are profound. They are faceless ambassadors that cause civilian deaths, and are frequently the only direct contact with Americans that the targeted communities have.  They can generate powerful and enduring anti-American sentiment. – (Woods, 2012)

This letter conveys the risen awareness about the impact of the airstrikes among the senior officials in the U.S. whereas the reports states the harm brought by the airstrikes to the reputation of the U.S. aids for Yemen in the mentality of public. The Yemeni writer Farea al-Muslimi testified in a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing about drone strikes in his country, “The drone strikes are the face of America to many Yemenis. If America is providing economic, social and humanitarian assistance to Yemen, the vast majority of the Yemeni people know nothing about it,” (ZAKARIA, 2013).

The AQAP which is one of the most active affiliations of alQa’ida gains sympathy and support in his war against the Yemeni government and its key backer, the United States (Raghavan, 2012). According to The Washington Post, interview some of the relative victims speaking to a Western journalist about the incident for the first time, it expressed willingness to support or even fight alongside AQAP, as the al-Qaeda group is known (Raghavan, 2012). “Our entire village is angry at the government and the Americans,” Mohammed said. “If the Americans are responsible, I would have no choice but to sympathize with al-Qaeda because al-Qaeda is fighting America.” (Raghavan, 2012).

Some of the officials in the U.S. Congress questioned whether The United States has expanded its targets to include AQAP’s rebel forces that fight against the Yemeni government. In fact there were some attacks resulted in killing rebels against the Yemeni government which brought the governments of United States to affirm: “We’re pursuing a focused counter-terrorism campaign in Yemen designed to prevent and deter terrorist plots that directly threaten US interests at home and abroad … We have not, and will not, get involved in a broader counter-insurgency effort. That would not serve our long-term interests and runs counter to the desires of the Yemeni government and its people.” (Raghavan, 2012). In contrast, the U.S. forces conduct direct action alongside the Yemeni government as it battles in domestic conflict (Goodman, 2013); the major report of the Human Rights Watch has revealed the details of those operations (Goodman, 2013).


The overall perspective of the secret war in Yemen is based on the true facts of continuously growing movements in the media platform, public and official reveals the asserted conclusion that all the means of the so called direct actions including airstrikes proved to be inefficient and ineffective in countering terrorism and they should not continue.

Basically, because it does not serve its purpose in countering terrorism particularly alQai’da affiliate group called al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula or AQAP; instead it caused the death of increasing number of civilians of children and women every time as the last attack resulted in the killing of 15 civilians on December 12th (St. Pete for Peace).

In addition, the increasing calls against the airstrikes impact the purposes of countering terrorism negatively and harm the reputation of the United States. Despite the Aids program of the United States public in Yemen have an emerged picture of the airstrikes and military cooperation, instead of the aids in education, economy and health. The motion purposed by the Yemeni parliament shows the refusal in the official level especially after the majority votes for banning the airstrikes and drone attacks in the country.

Finally, the issue of the secret drones-lead war asserts that there is no way for positive impact for the counter terrorism operations for either the government of the U.S. or Yemen. The only effect America can get is more sympathies and support of the victims’ families and relatives to the AQAP in their war against the government of Yemen and U.S, for all that it should not be continued.


Yemen Demographics Profile 2013. (2013, February 21). Retrieved December 23, 2013, from index mundi:

Abdullah, K. (2013, April 12). Demonistrations against airstrikes in Yemen. Retrieved December 24, 2013, from Reuters:

al-Sayaghi, M. (2013, December 16). Yemeni parliament votes to ban drone attacks. Retrieved December 25, 2013, from Russia Today:

ELLIOTT, J. (2010, November 29). WikiLeaks: U.S. bombs Yemen in secret. Retrieved December 26, 2013, from Salon:

Goodman, R. (2013, October 22). No more foreign wars? Yet America is fighting in Yemen’s civil war. Retrieved December 25, 2013, from The Guardian:

Human Rights Watch. (2013, OCTOBER 22). Between a Drone and Al-Qaeda. Retrieved December 25, 2013, from Human Rights Watch:

Katz, A. (2013, December 20). Local reports initially said at least 13 civilians died from the airstrike. Retrieved December 24, 2013, from Time World:

Margolis, E. (2013). Welcome, Americans, to Mysterious Yemen. Retrieved December 23, 2013, from St. Pete for Peace:

National MDG Reports. (n.d.). Retrieved Novamber 16, 2013, from Unitied Nation Development Group:

NOAH SHACHTMAN, S. A. (2012, June 12). Let’s Admit It: The US Is at War in Yemen, Too. Retrieved December 25, 2013, from Danger Room:

Raghavan, S. (2012, December 25). When U.S. drones kill civilians, Yemen’s government tries to conceal it. Retrieved December 24, 2013, from The Washington Post:

ROGGIO, B. (2013, December 12). US drone strike kills civilians in central Yemen. Retrieved December 21, 2013, from The Long War Journal:

Root, T. (2013, November 30). Yemen’s New Ways of Protesting Drone Strikes: Graffiti and Poetry. Retrieved December 24, 2013, from Time World:

Saba. (2013, December 4). Local news. Retrieved December 25, 2013, from Saba News:

St. Pete for Peace. (n.d.). The U.S. covert war in Yemen. Retrieved December 24, 2013, from St. Pete for Peace:

Woods, C. (2012, June 17). Is the Secret War in Yemen and Somalia Secret No Longer? Retrieved December 22, 2013, from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism:

ZAKARIA, T. (2013, April 23). Yemeni at U.S. hearing describes drone strike on his village. Retrieved December 25, 2013, from Reuters:

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