As thousands of Yemenis protested against Houthi rebels on Saturday, the White House and Pentagon have indicated the continuing unrest in the country is no impediment to continuing the drone campaign.
The Washington Post reported earlier:
Armed drones operated by the CIA and the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command remain deployed for now over southern Yemen, where al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is based. But some U.S. officials said that the Yemeni security services that provided much of the intelligence that sustained that U.S. air campaign are now controlled by Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, who have seized control of much of the capital.
Reuters also reported:
The collapse of the U.S.-backed government of Yemen on Thursday has left America’s counter-terrorism campaign “paralyzed”, two U.S. security officials said, dealing a major setback to Washington’s fight against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a potent wing of the militant network.
Three U.S. officials said the halt in operations included drone strikes, at least temporarily, following the abrupt resignation of the president, prime minister and cabinet amid mounting fears the Arab world’s poorest country was veering toward civil war.
In contrast to those claims by unnamed officials, National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey stated to press: “The political instability in Yemen has not forced us to suspend counterterrorism operations.”
“We will continue to take action to disrupt the continuing, imminent threats to the United State and our citizens,” he said.
Further casting doubt on a halt in drone activities, Pentagon spokesperson Rear Admiral John Kirby said that “unilateral and partnered” counter-terrorism operations “are not suspended,” the Guardian reported; Reuters reported Kirby as saying it would be “wrong to conclude… that we won’t take action if and when necessary.”
Speaking to MSNBCs Ayman Mohyeldin on the changing situation in Yemen, Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,stated Saturday, “Our anti-terrorist efforts are not going to stop.”
“We will continue our anti-terrorist activities in any part of the world we think the interests of the United States requires,” he said.
The varying claims of continued counter-terrorism efforts come as thousands rallied in Sanaa and other cities on Saturday to protest the Houthi rebels, who have gained control of the capital. The Wall Street Journal reporte that there were also separate protests against Yemen’s President Abed Mansour Hadi on Saturday.
The protests come days after Hadi, Prime Minister Khaled Bahah, and members of the Yemeni cabinet resigned after a standoff with the rebels who had stormed the palace and president’s home.
The Intercept reported Thursday: “While the U.S. government had continued to back Hadi as a close partner in the war on terror, it’s the Houthis, also known as Ansar Allah, who have been battling AQAP on the streets of Sanaa. […] But the Houthis oppose American involvement in Yemen–even to fight al Qaeda–and this helps explain why the Obama administration is unlikely to embrace the new power structure anytime soon. Another reason is that they are seen as aligned with Iran.”
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that as many as 84 confirmed U.S. drone strikes in Yemen have killed up to 541 people since 2002, adding that there could be more than one hundred additional drone strikes during that time.