Yemen: CIA wants free rein in use of drones against terror

No need to identify targets, suspicious behaviour enough

20 April, 10:55

War on terrorism in Yemen War on terrorism in Yemen

(ANSAmed) - NEW YORK - The CIA wants greater freedom in Yemen. The US secret service wants the authorisation to strike using drones, the lethal unmanned aircraft, even against presumed terrorists whose identities remain unknown. The CIA bases its demands on models of intelligence known as "suspicious behaviour", such as images showing militants gathering in an Al Qaeda camp or during operations of loading or unloading explosives.

The practice, known as "Signature Strikes", is widely used in Pakistan, and the head of the CIA, David Petraeus has asked for it to be applied against the Yemeni branch of Al Qaeda, which is currently seen as the greatest terrorist threat to the US, the Washington Post reports.

For the Obama administration, though, agreeing to such a demand could be a serious risk, given the complexity of the current political situation in Yemen, where it is hard to distinguish between international terrorism and internal uprising.

Although Obama has said on several occasions that drones are a fundamental instrument for the fight against terrorism, he has also recognised that "there is a perception that we are carrying out a series of random raids", underlining recently that "these are targeted efforts, concentrated against people who feature on a list of active terrorists who are trying to strike against Americans".

Recent estimates by the Obama administration suggest that since the President took office in the White House, more than 1,500 presumed terrorists have been "eliminated" by drones in Pakistan alone. Eight of the 20 supreme Al Qaeda leaders have also been taken out thanks to the remote-controlled aircraft, while around 60 civilians have lost their lives in so-called "collateral damage". In Yemen, the use of drones dates back to last year and has been more contained, with a total of 8 attacks in the last 4 months.

Thanks to the use of drones in Yemen, however, the CIA has been able to eliminate one of Al Qaeda's most senior figures, the ideologist Anwar al-Awlaki, who was born in America and had been hiding in a remote mountainous region in the country. Some senior officials, who preferred to remain anonymous given the sensitivity of the issue, say that the CIA's request has also been presented to the National Security Council, but no decision has yet been taken. The White House has refused to comment, but plenty of people remember Obama's assertion that everyone should understand that drone operations are conducted "on a tight leash". (ANSAmed).

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