Yemen: repression, drone strikes escalate

At least 24 were killed in Yemen’s capital Sanaa on Sept. 18 as security forces opened fire on protesters calling for the ouster of longtime president Ali Abdullah Saleh. The violence, Yemen’s worst in months, began two days earlier, when tens of thousands gathered for Friday protests, to be met with gunfire from uniformed troops and plainclothes snipers as they marched toward government buildings. Following the initial fire, a sustained confrontation ensued. The Organizing Committee of the Popular Youth Revolution then called for sustained protests to remove the “remains of the regime.”

In a statement released after the bloodshed, Saleh’s General People’s Congress Party expressed condolences for the victims—while blaming the opposition and defected military figures for the violence. Saleh continues to recuperate in Saudi Arabia from injuries sustained in a June attack on his compound. Gulf Arab states have failed in repeated efforts to get Saleh and the opposition to sign a power-transfer agreement and end months of unrest. (Bloomberg, McClatchy, Set. 18)

Three explosions were also reported near police stations and a security agency office in the southern city of Aden Sept. 14. One young boy was killed in an ensuing gun battle. Islamist fighters in the south have taken advantage of the chaos to stage an uprising of their own, seizing control of a number of towns. Some 80 were killed when the army managed to retake Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan governate, earlier this month. A military official said that negotiations with the Islamists to end the southern uprising are deadlocked. (AP, Sept. 15; BBC News, Sept. 14; Yemen Post, Sept. 11)

The Washington Post meanwhile reports that the Obama administration has significantly increased the frequency of drone strikes and other air attacks against the self-declared al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen in recent months. The strikes are carried out by the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). Unlike in Pakistan, where the CIA has presidential authorization to launch drone strikes at will, each strike in Yemen—and those being conducted in nearby Somalia, most recently on Sept. 15 near the southern port city of Kismayo—requires White House approval. Anonymous officials said intended targets must be drawn from an approved list of AQAP members. White House counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan last week put their number at “a couple of dozen, maybe.” (WP, Sept. 16)

See our last posts on Yemen, the Arab revolutions, al-Qaeda, and the politics of drones.

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