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Drones Aren’t a Good Option in Yemen

U.S. officials are correct to focus their attention on countering Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. But that does not mean that drones are a good option in Yemen.

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The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post report that the Obama administration has decided to move CIA drones into Yemen to step up the air campaign against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP. The administration is right to be concerned that AQAP is taking advantage of Yemen’s political crisis. But relying on drones to roll back the terrorist group’s gains is the wrong prescription for that diagnosis. It is highly likely amid the chaos in Yemen that the blowback from relying on “death from above” will drive more recruits into AQAP and wipe out any small tactical gains. The best way to blunt AQAP advances is to help resolve the political crisis in Sana’a as rapidly as possible.

AQAP has emerged over the last several years as the terrorist group that presents the most direct threat to the United States. Al Qaeda Central’s operational capacity in Afghanistan and Pakistan was degraded significantly even before the killing of Osama bin Laden. AQAP, one of the many regional Al Qaeda affiliates that have sprung up recently, was implicated in at least three attacks on the U.S. homeland since 2009: the Ft. Hood shootings in Texas, the failed Christmas Day airliner bombing over Detroit, and the foiled cargo aircraft bomb plot last fall in the United Kingdom.

U.S. officials are correct to focus their attention on countering AQAP. But that does not mean that drones—which have been effective in Pakistan—are a good option in Yemen.

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