Al Jazeera English's Inside Story asks, "Are US Drone Strikes A War Crime?"
Gregory Johnsen, a specialist on Yemen, writes on his blog Waq al-Waq:
Last week the Washington Post published a three-part series it entitled "Permanent War." The first piece, by Greg Miller, talks about the disposition matrix and sets the stage for the next two: a profile of John Brennan by Karen DeYoung and a look at one of the US drone base in Djibouti by Craig Whitlock.
All three pieces are worth reading and include some fine reporting --- all three pieces also focus heavily on Yemen, which shouldn't be surprising. In DeYoung's piece Brennan is quoted as saying Yemen is a "model" for US CT efforts.
Indeed, in many ways since the US started bombing there in December 2009, Yemen has been a laboratory for the US to try out different approaches in its war against al-Qaeda. But I'm not so sure the results are as positive as Brennan and many of the other anonymous officials quoted suggest.
To begin with, I'm not sure how Yemen can be viewed as a model --- at least in the positive sense Brennan seems to indicate --- when AQAP [Al Qa'eda in the Arabian Peninsula] has tripled in size since the US started bombing.
Estimates of the group's size vary widely. But both US and Yemeni officials estimates in December 2009 suggested that AQAP was around 200-300, while today official US estimates range from 1,000 to several thousand. Yemenis who are close to AQAP suggest that the group has as many as 6,000 fighters.
But even taking the most conservative official estimate of AQAP's current strength, which happens to be Brennan's: the group still went from 200-300 fighters in 2009 to 1,000 today.
Some have also suggested that just looking at AQAP's strength in terms of recruits and fighters isn't an accurate judge of what matters most to the US, which is preventing an attack against the homeland as well as against US personnel in Yemen. That is a fair if impossible point to prove. Mostly this is just guess work --- we can argue about how close AQAP is to pulling off an attack against the US, but until the group actually does, this is more of an academic exercise than anything else.
Additionally, I would argue that events from this spring --- when an undercover agent came away with AQAP's latest underwear bomb --- shows a couple of things:
1. Despite the US bombing campaign in Yemen, which has been partially designed to keep AQAP on its heels so that it can't plot attacks against the US, the organization is still actively plotting and attempting to launch new attacks;
2. The more recruits AQAP gains the bigger of a talent pool it has upon which to draw. And for those who would argue that local Yemeni and Saudi recruits don't pose the same level of threat to the US that foreign-born militants do, I would cite the case of Ibrahim Asiri --- the bomber we are all so worried about --- who was a local Saudi recruit.