Drone Warfare in Somalia & Yemen
Since 2002, the United States (US) has launched at least 4,788 drone strikes (“Drone Warfare,” n.d.). During the administration of President Barrack Obama, drone warfare became a key strategic tool in prosecuting the ‘war on terror’ (Klaidman, 2012). And in President Donald Trump’s first year in office, his administration tripled down, carrying out 161 drone strikes in just Somalia and Yemen (Purkiss, 2018). Covert drone strikes are depicted as means to employ discriminate violence against specific individuals and groups designated as terrorists and Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) by the US Department of State. While drone strikes by the US and allies against Al-Shabaab (Somalia) and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has resulted in assassinations of key insurgent leaders, it has not been as discriminate as advertised. Since 2002, over 10,000 people have been killed by US drone strikes with at least 1,500 being civilians and 330 children. The objective of US national security is to take the fight to these insurgencies so as to debilitate their capabilities to strike the US. Drone strikes also have the benefit of being utilized under a Presidential order, not requiring the political capital and congressional support to prosecute a war. With the continued reliance on drone warfare by US presidents, an in-depth study of the impacts and unintended consequences is merited. We are conducting a study on the impact drone warfare has on insurgencies and civilians. What happens when insurgent leaders are killed? Does is debilitate the organization or does it make it more radical and resilient? Research has shown that despite 15 years of drone strikes against AQAP, they are currently the largest (4,000 members), most resilient, and hardline they have been since their emergence in Yemen (International Crisis Group, 2017, pp. 27–28). And what are the effects on civilians? Do civilian casualties push civilians to join insurgencies? Will civilian deaths create a more welcoming place for insurgents or will civilians collaborate with the counterinsurgency? We seek to answer these questions and more. We are conducting fieldwork in Somalia and Yemen along with desk research to pursue answers to these questions. Over the course of the next two years, we will be producing a series of three papers we will publish in academic journals with the goal of influencing US drone policy. In terms of US national security policy, drone warfare has been viewed as given to make America safe. However, this assumption needs to be scrutinized and examined to determine if the covert drone campaign the US is waging around the world is making the nation safe or increasing risk.