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30 Jan, 2018 15:41

Assange blasts US ‘subservience to Saudis’ as Trump triples drone strikes in Yemen

Assange blasts US ‘subservience to Saudis’ as Trump triples drone strikes in Yemen

US drone strikes in Yemen have tripled under the Trump administration, as the US targets Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula while at the same time providing support to ally Saudi Arabia in its attacks there, a new study shows.

“The Trump administration's subservience to Saudi Arabia's military adventurism in Yemen has lead to 8x the drone assassination rate of Obama,” WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange wrote on Twitter. “Most killed are civilians. Obama, in turn, had 10x the drone kills of Bush.”


Drone program

The targeted drone program was created during the George W Bush administration and multiplied under President Barack Obama, with Trump then taking the reins and further increasing its operations in the first year of his presidency.

Obama carried out 563 strikes, largely by drone, during his two-term presidency, 10 times more than his predecessor, according to research conducted by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Strikes have increased under Trump, with the number of strikes conducted in Yemen tripling in 2017. The Bureau’s research shows there were 127 confirmed US strikes in Yemen in last year, a sizeable increase on 2016’s 32 strikes.

US forces have carried out 10 strikes in Yemen in since the start of 2018, a US Central Command spokesperson told the Bureau on January 29.

Loosening restrictions on drone attacks

The uptick in Yemen strikes was helped in part by the Trump administration’s March decision to declare parts of Somalia and Yemen areas of “active hostilities,” creating a way around a 2013 restriction put in place by the Obama administration which required a sign-off procedure with the White House for strikes in areas of countries not deemed to be active war zones.

According to Obama’s Presidential Policy Guidance, for a strike to be carried out outside a war zone, the target must pose a threat to Americans, and there must be near certainty that no civilians would be killed.

Within a month of Trump’s relaxation of that criteria, the US had carried out more strikes in Yemen than it had in 2016. In April, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said it had carried out some 50 strikes in Yemen from February 28 to the end of March.

According to Reprieve, the first year of Trump’s drone legacy, which includes strikes in Iraq, Syria and Pakistan, has resulted in more loss of life by drone than in Obama’s eight-year presidency.

The Bureau says that between 181-235 people were reported killed by US strikes in Yemen in the last year. During the Obama administration, between 801-1100 were killed in Yemen.

One of Trump’s earliest operations in Yemen was a January 2017 raid and drone attack which killed 23 civilians, including children, and a special operations soldier in an attack Trump described as a “win.”

The US first denied reports of civilian casualties in the Yakla attack, which was said to be targeting Al-Qaeda. However, last February, US Central Command admitted“civilian non-combatants were likely killed,” and that “casualties may include children.”  

Saudi Allies

Aside from the US strikes on Yemen as part of its fight against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, it is also assisting ally Saudi Arabia in its war on the Houthi rebels. The Kingdom uses US aircraft and weapons to conduct its attacks with logistical assistance provided by both the US and the UK.  

The United Nations' Human Rights High Commissioner Office reports there have been nearly 14,000 confirmed civilian casualties in Yemen since the Saudi-led coalition began its campaign in March 2015, with coalition strikes the leading cause of casualties. It said that the true figures are likely “far higher.”

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