Drones still flying as US reopens most embassies in the Arabian Peninsula


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The Independent Online

Most US embassies that were shut after a wave of global terror threats from al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula will reopen today, but Washington warned that its Yemen outpost would remain closed due to "ongoing concerns" in the region.

The State Department reopened 18 out of 19 diplomatic missions that were closed due to security threats following an increased use of drones to attack suspected members of the terror group in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. US officials now consider AQAP to be the single most dangerous terror threat to the West.

The first US drone strike on Yemen occurred in 2002, after which there was a nine-year gap. In the past year, though, there have been 20 attacks on Yemeni targets, 15 of which have occurred in the past six months.

The latest caused the deaths of at least seven suspected Saudi militants this week, which analysts said indicated Saudis were crossing the border into Yemen to carry funds or "seek terrorist training".

On Thursday three airstrikes in Yemen killed 12 suspected militants, according to US officials. They said the strikes had been launched in mountainous areas where terrorists are said to "enjoy protection" of anti-government tribes.

Four of the suspected militants were killed in Wadi al-Jadd, the southern province of Hadramaut. A day before, Yemeni officials said they had foiled a major AQAP plot against oil pipelines and ports.

There have been more than 300 casualties from drone strikes in Yemen, the ancestral homeland of Osama bin Laden, since 2002.

Washington evacuated most of its personnel from Lahore, Pakistan's second-largest city, and the Yemeni capital of Sana'a. Since the end of June, US drone attacks in Yemen's southern and central provinces have killed a total of 34 suspected militants, but human rights campaigners claim innocent lives have been lost in the attacks.

One senior Yemeni official said yesterday that AQAP was recruiting "tech-savvy and well-educated" Saudis and Pakistanis – including Ragaa Bin Ali, a bomb-maker from Pakistan killed in a recent drone attack.

While the US drone programme in Yemen is becoming increasing controversial and attacked by human rights campaigners, the US government continues to refuse to discuss individual strikes.

Earlier this year, President Obama announced he hoped to wind down the war on terror and claimed stricter guidelines would be put in place for the use of drones. "America does not take strikes to punish individuals," he said.

But at a White House conference on Friday he refused to discuss the wave of recent attacks. He said: "I will not have a discussion about operational issues."

Fadl Abdullah, head of the Yemeni Organisation for Human Rights, has claimed the US is now "randomly bombing" vehicles based on information from informants and intercepted phone calls. He claimed nine civilians had been killed in recent strikes.