The president of Yemen Mansour Hadi confirmed today that he personally signs off on each drone attack made by the U.S. in Yemen. This is a complete turnaround from previous policy which was to refuse to acknowledge U.S. involvement in attacks.
President Hadi was formerly vice-president under the long-ruling Saleh regime. In a deal brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council with the support of the U.S., Saleh stepped down and turned over power to Hadi in return for immunity for him, his family, and cronies for any crimes committed during an uprising against his regime that killed many protesters. Later Hadi, supported by the U.S., ran unopposed for president. and won. Hadi warned that Yemen is still unstable and unless proper security measures are taken could descend into a civil war worse than Afghanistan. Hadi said that unrest could continue as well if an upcoming months-long national dialogue is unable to resolve the Arab Gulf state's deep political and societal rifts.
Hadi noted that he had an excellent counter-terrorism relationship with the U.S. and said that he personally "signs off" on every drone strike conducted by the U.S. This statement is quite extraordinary since the U.S. position is that the Yemen drone program is classified. This should make the ACLU suit under the freedom of information act more powerful since so far the Obama administration claims that to even affirm or deny that the program exists would jeopardize U.S. security. The ACLU has been seeking in vain to obtain information about the drone program.
The president praised the precision of the drones and claimed that past "mistakes" were being avoided. This might be a reference to Yemeni civilians who had been killed by drones. Hadi said he had visited the center from which the drone strikes are launched and said that he could see the operations unfolding "step by step."
The Yemeni military, with U.S. aid, was able to drive Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and other militant groups from territory that they had occupied last summer. However the militants have retreated to the mountains and underground to wage a guerrilla type terror warfare which still takes its toll on the government. The government attacks upon the towns taken over by Islamic militants ruined many houses and destroyed infrastructure so that many inhabitants still remain in cities such as Aden as refugees.
Yemen is still plagued by separatist movements both in the north with Houthi rebels, and separatists in the south, as well as Islamic militants. As with his predecessor Hadi uses the threat of Islamic militants to plead for aid from the U.S. and others. There are still divisions within the Yemeni government and armed forces as well, with members of former president Saleh's family and supporters still having considerable influence.
In a recent Friends of Yemen meeting in New York about $1.5 billion was pledged to help the country bringing the total promised by international donors to $8 billion. How much of this money will go for humanitarian purposes or for reconstruction or how soon was not made clear. No one knows how much of the aid will be siphoned off through corruption either!
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