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What It's Like to Have Your Home Town Attacked by American Drones

One of the most peaceful and beautiful places in Yemen was struck by U.S. drones this week--and it was all to kill one man.

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In an area like Wessab, where schools are small and there are almost no good medical centres and asphalt roads, and where poverty is abundant but crime has almost been nonexistent over the last few years, effective counterterrorism comes not from the air but rather by building a hospital to decrease the number of women’s deaths that occur every day due to lack of medication. In other words, simply by having a decent government that provides for citizens rather than making coalitions with terrorists 

I have many friends and family in Wessab who I regularly visit. This is now less of an option. Drones hover over the roads leading to my village and many others in Yemen. They make you look at the sky from left to right to make sure that you are safe.

If law isn’t practiced a few minutes away from the police station, how can people there trust justice and the government any longer?

If al-Radmi was a target, an arrest would have been simple. He was not some elusive figure, hiding far from the reach of the central authority. He lived a few hours from Sanaa and less than a kilometer away from government headquarters. Apparently, he was in the company of a government official at the time of the strike, having come from an area where they solved social problems together. Rather, what the drones have done is terrifying a village with thousands of the most modern people in Yemen.

At such times, it is tempting to conclude that the US has no interest in a measured response to terrorism. It is difficult not to think it doesn't matter to them whether they terrorize (and radicalize) entire populations as they check another name off their “kill list.” It is also unclear what my own government’s role in this slaying was — whether Yemeni officials knew in advance and stood by silently or whether they were racing to share responsibility for the killing to cover for the US. Both are problematic.

Drones have a tremendous psychological effect on those living in their shadows. Villagers say drones hovered over Wessab for three days before they struck. The ominous buzz of the drones terrorizes communities. Where will they strike? Will I be next? These are the questions youngsters now grow up asking.

The "collateral damage" of drones cannot just be measured in corpses. Drones are traumatizing a generation and further alienating Yemenis from any cooperation with the West, or even with the Yemeni central government.

Today, the vast majority of Yemenis do not support AQAP. Enough senseless killings, though I very much doubt that this will change. I also fear it is not a good idea for me to go back to the village, as in the past the villagers have associated me with the US as someone who believes in the American values and moved out of the village via generous American scholarships.

Whoever pressed that button thousands of miles away killed my longstanding counterterrorism efforts. All the US public diplomacy of me being America’s informal ambassador to an area that US officials cannot even locate on a map are now lost in this wreckage. Worse still, they made al-Radmi look like a hero.

The US continues to play with fire in Yemen by being inconsiderate and ineffective in its counterterrorism policies. With such behavior as its headline, it digs a grave for people like al-Radmi and more graves for any future peace in Yemen and the American values.

As the US continues to hold workshops to educate Yemenis in the capital on the rule of law — through its right hand USAID — it is killing them outside the law through its left hand, the drones strikes.

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