Small Wars Journal

Hidden Toll of US Drone Strikes in Yemen: Nearly a Third of Deaths are Civilians, Not al-Qaida

Hidden Toll of US Drone Strikes in Yemen: Nearly a Third of Deaths are Civilians, Not al-Qaida by Maggie Michael and Maad al-Zikry – Associated Press

The United States has waged a drone war in Yemen for 16 years, trying to suppress al-Qaida’s branch here. But the campaign has had a hidden cost: civilians cut down by the drones' missiles.

There is no comprehensive count of civilian deaths because of the difficulty of confirming identities and allegiances of those killed. But in an examination of drone strikes this year alone, The Associated Press found that at least 30 of the dead likely did not belong to al-Qaida.

That is around a third of all those killed in drone strikes so far in 2018.

The Pentagon does not release its assessment of the death toll, but an independent database considered one of the most credible in tracking violence in Yemen counted 88 people - militants and non-militants - killed by drones this year…

Read on.


The use of drones, this -- much like the use of special forces -- is best understood, I believe, in terms of defeating a much weaker opponent's "political attrition" strategy.  A political attrition strategy which (a) includes the "moral" aspect/component of "civilian casualties" as addressed in our article here and which (b) I address in more detail at the bottom of my comment here.

In this regard, let us first lay down a foundation -- but starting, for example -- by considering a concept of "asymmetric conflict;" one which finds: 

a.  A great expansionist power engaged in a "limited war;" this, to "transform and incorporate" outlying states and societies.  (Note that the survival of this great power's way of life, way of governance, etc., this WOULD  NOT seem to be threatened.  If such were the case, then this great power would, one would think, be engaged in "total war.") While:

b.  The opponents of this great expansionist power -- they are engaged in a "total war." (This, given that the survival of these entities' ways of life, ways of governance, etc. -- in the face of the state and societal "transformation and incorporation" efforts of the great expansionist power -- the survival of these such things WOULD SEEM to be in grave danger.)

Next, to understand that these much weaker "resisting transformation and incorporation" opponents -- of the great expansionist power -- will use the significant difference (in importance: "survival" on their part; only "limited potential gain" on the part of the great expansionist power) to their advantage; this, to craft a "political attrition" strategy. 

("Political attrition" here to be understood in terms of the opponents of the great expansionist power -- by way of their sustained resistance -- brought on by fear for the survival of their way of life, etc. -- attempting attempting to "wear down" the great expansionist power -- whose way of life, etc., is not likewise threatened.)  

With this foundation before us, now -- I suggest -- we can understand why (so as to defeat our "resisting transformation and incorporation" opponents' "political attrition" strategy -- which seeks to "wear us down") we might:

a.  Use only "limited means" (for example, drones and special forces); this,

b.  To pursue these "limited wars;" this,

c.  For the "limited" purpose

d.  Of achieving certain outlying state and societal "transformations and incorporations."

Returning now to the "moral" aspect/component -- of "civilian casualties" -- of the "political attrition" strategy of our opponents.  

Might we say that -- by way of our careful use of drones and special forces for example (and in our effort to defeat our opponent's "political attrition" strategy) -- might we say that we have kept these to a minimum?

This such effort -- to "limit" these such casualties -- providing that:

a.  Our fellow citizens -- and those of our opponents -- are less likely to be outraged and, thus, providing that:

b.  Our opponents are less likely to be able to use "civilian casualties;" this, as a means to either:

1.  Bolster their ranks or

2.  "Wear us down?"