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Podcast: Baraa Shiban on US Drone Strikes, AQAP, the Houthis & the Power Vacuum in Yemen

Baraa Shiban, Reprieve’s Yemen Project Coordinator

Amidst a power vacuum in Yemen, the United States has continued to launch drone strikes against alleged al Qaeda militants. There have been three strikes since January 26, which altogether have killed at least ten people. In the strike on January 26, a child was killed by the attack.

While Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has issued statements affirming that militants associated with their group have died in each of these attacks, what is remarkable is the operations continue without a government in Yemen. All too often the cooperation between Yemen officials and US officials has been hyped to defend drone strikes when they are criticized.

Baraa Shiban, a human rights activist and project coordinator for Reprieve who is based in Yemen, said, “It seems like the United States doesn’t care if we have a government, if it is democratically elected, if it is representative of the people. What’s going to continue is the drone program whether the Yemeni people like it or not.”

Shiban joins the “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast this week to talk about the latest developments in Yemen, including recent US drone strikes and the Houthi uprising. Shiban addresses how counterterrorism operations in past years may have actually benefited AQAP and how AQAP may take advantage of this power vacuum. Shiban shares some background on the Houthis and describes their cooperation with the US. He shares what he thinks the US and Yemeni leaders should do differently in the aftermath of the Houthis’ coup.

During the discussion portion of the show, we talk about how Ferguson police may be trying out a new weapon, a Republican state representative who we think, based on his views on rape, probably has raped his wife, Corrections Corporation of America requiring visitors to let guards inspect their tampons and US senators and their fact-free fringe views on Guantanamo Bay prisoners.

The podcast is available on iTunes for download. For a link (and also to download the episode), go here. Click on “go here” and a page will load with the audio file of the podcast. The file will automatically start playing so you can listen to the episode.

Also, below is a player for listening to the podcast. You can listen to the podcast this way or you can go to iTunes and find the podcast listed there.

{!hitembed ID=”hitembed_1″ width=”500″ height=”360″ align=”none” !}

*

Below is a partial transcript of the interview.

KEVIN GOSZTOLA: What about how US drone strikes are continuing even in the midst of political turmoil in Yemen?

BARAA SHIBAN: I think this is what is quite significant about the counterterrorism efforts in Yemen, that the United States always actually emphasizes the fact that it’s in cooperation with the Yemeni government and it has approval of the Yemeni president and there are certain measures and precautions taken with the Yemeni intelligence before each strike.

What’s quite interesting is the drone strike didn’t stop, like it started during the days of the former president Ali Abdullah Sale, and after the 2011 revolution, which forced Saleh to step down. The drone strikes didn’t stop and continued and now, even with the president Hadi resignation, the drone strikes continued. It seems like the United States doesn’t care if we have a government, if it is democratically elected, if it is representative of the people. What’s going to continue is the drone program whether the Yemeni people like it or not.

And I think the recent three drone strikes made raise to the surface many questions and concerns by the Yemeni people about who actually is approving these drone strikes and who is coordinating with them. And, actually what kind of legitimacy does the United States have to come into Yemen without the presence of a government—it’s very clear that they don’t have approval of anyone at the Yemeni Cabinet—and continue droning the Yemeni people.

RANIA KHALEK: I remember when I met you a couple years ago at a drone conference in DC and you were talking about a friend of yours that had been involved in the uprising that overthrew Ali Abdullah Saleh. And I think that was, what in 2011? And you mentioned he was later killed in a drone strike. So, before we move on, could you recap about that and the significance that drones have not been killing just militants but actual innocent civilians?

BARAA SHIBAN: Absolutely, the guy you are talking about here he’s an elementary school teacher. In 2011, he took down to the streets with us and started protesting against the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. During the elections of Ali Abdullah Saleh, he was the one who used to come to Change Square holding the picture of Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and he was trying to actually to convince people that it is time to be part of the system and this time might be finally the only time when we have a true representative as president. Very interestingly, one year after Ali the elementary school teacher was convincing people to participate in the elections, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi did announce that he is in favor of the drone program and Ali was killed in a drone strike.

Ali was an elementary school teacher and on his own time he used to work on his own cab. He picked up some villagers from his village and he was killed in a drone strike in early 2013.

GOSZTOLA: I want to ask you for your views and thoughts about what has been happening with AQAP from your point of view and possibility it’s a different perspective than what many people get here in the United States, as in it is the truth about how these drone strikes might be of benefit to AQAP in the way they are being carried out. I would also like some context on the Houthis and how their uprising relates to what AQAP is doing. I understand AQAP is labeling Houthis as an ally of the United States and working and cooperating with the US and that is probably contributing to tensions.

SHIBAN: I think the United States—since it witnessed the Houthis increase of influence in many regions of the country—it found that actually Houthis could do their part of the job. Houthis could save the United States from sending troops on the ground and can actually and the role of the US would be just supporting them with drones.

The first time, which this strange relationship occurred to the surface, is in November 2014 when the Houthis expanded their military operation into the province of al Bayda. This province has been subject to many drone strikes in the past two years, and the Houthis started their military presence there. That’s when the United States started droning heavily the areas.

Now, whether the people were in support of al Qaeda presence or not, when they see their areas have been directly affected, their areas, their neighborhoods, their villages have been repeatedly droned by the United States, this creates an atmosphere of acceptance of al Qaeda presence. Not simply because we are in favor of al Qaeda but because the enemy of my enemy is my friend. And I think this is what the United States is not realizing in its current war on terror, which is by the time you’re creating more enemies than you actually started with. If this war continues in this, I would say with no reevaluation of the process, we would end up having more people, more tribes, more people on the ground, not because they support al Qaeda but because they have been affected by the drone strikes and the efforts against terrorism.

GOSZTOLA: For people who don’t know about where this faction comes from and the history behind it, can you talk about the rise of the Houthis? I know that they have had a problem with the Yemeni government and Ali Abdullah Saleh wanted to use American resources and funds to go after and attack them and then the United States wanted those resources and funds to remain focused on alleged al Qaeda militants. But, can you talk about this uprising?

SHIBAN: Houthis started their uprising or their presence in north of the country in 2004. Before that, I would say not many people knew about them or knew who the Houthis are. But when Ali Abdullah Saleh launched six wars against them, this is when they started to get more supporters on the ground. As the history of any cycle of violence, when the violence and the violations against a specific group increases, the more supporters it receives.

For the credit of the United States, at the time they did refuse to use their resources against the Houthis and simply because I think any of the US funding should not be used for local disputes and local conflicts. But, I mean, by time, when the Houthis started to expand north, I think that is when the United States felt that maybe we can get benefits of their mutual enemy, of having al Qaeda as their common enemy, and use their presence on the ground.

I don’t think there is a direct coordination, but there is actually some sort of an understanding that we can keep droning and striking alleged al Qaeda militants while Houthis take control on the ground.

For the rest of the interview, listen to the podcast episode.

CommunityThe Dissenter

Podcast: Baraa Shiban on US Drone Strikes, AQAP, the Houthis & the Power Vacuum in Yemen

Baraa Shiban, Reprieve’s Yemen Project Coordinator

Amidst a power vacuum in Yemen, the United States has continued to launch drone strikes against alleged al Qaeda militants. There have been three strikes since January 26, which altogether have killed at least ten people. In the strike on January 26, a child was killed by the attack.

While Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has issued statements affirming that militants associated with their group have died in each of these attacks, what is remarkable is the operations continue without a government in Yemen. All too often the cooperation between Yemen officials and US officials has been hyped to defend drone strikes when they are criticized.

Baraa Shiban, a human rights activist and project coordinator for Reprieve who is based in Yemen, said, “It seems like the United States doesn’t care if we have a government, if it is democratically elected, if it is representative of the people. What’s going to continue is the drone program whether the Yemeni people like it or not.”

Shiban joins the “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast this week to talk about the latest developments in Yemen, including recent US drone strikes and the Houthi uprising. Shiban addresses how counterterrorism operations in past years may have actually benefited AQAP and how AQAP may take advantage of this power vacuum. Shiban shares some background on the Houthis and describes their cooperation with the US. He shares what he thinks the US and Yemeni leaders should do differently in the aftermath of the Houthis’ coup.

During the discussion portion of the show, we talk about how Ferguson police may be trying out a new weapon, a Republican state representative who we think, based on his views on rape, probably has raped his wife, Corrections Corporation of America requiring visitors to let guards inspect their tampons and US senators and their fact-free fringe views on Guantanamo Bay prisoners.

The podcast is available on iTunes for download. For a link (and also to download the episode), go here. Click on “go here” and a page will load with the audio file of the podcast. The file will automatically start playing so you can listen to the episode.

Also, below is a player for listening to the podcast. You can listen to the podcast this way or you can go to iTunes and find the podcast listed there.

{!hitembed ID=”hitembed_1″ width=”500″ height=”360″ align=”none” !}<!–more–>

*

Below is a partial transcript of the interview.

KEVIN GOSZTOLA: What about how US drone strikes are continuing even in the midst of political turmoil in Yemen?

BARAA SHIBAN: I think this is what is quite significant about the counterterrorism efforts in Yemen, that the United States always actually emphasizes the fact that it’s in cooperation with the Yemeni government and it has approval of the Yemeni president and there are certain measures and precautions taken with the Yemeni intelligence before each strike.

What’s quite interesting is the drone strike didn’t stop, like it started during the days of the former president Ali Abdullah Sale, and after the 2011 revolution, which forced Saleh to step down. The drone strikes didn’t stop and continued and now, even with the president Hadi resignation, the drone strikes continued. It seems like the United States doesn’t care if we have a government, if it is democratically elected, if it is representative of the people. What’s going to continue is the drone program whether the Yemeni people like it or not.

And I think the recent three drone strikes made raise to the surface many questions and concerns by the Yemeni people about who actually is approving these drone strikes and who is coordinating with them. And, actually what kind of legitimacy does the United States have to come into Yemen without the presence of a government—it’s very clear that they don’t have approval of anyone at the Yemeni Cabinet—and continue droning the Yemeni people.

RANIA KHALEK: I remember when I met you a couple years ago at a drone conference in DC and you were talking about a friend of yours that had been involved in the uprising that overthrew Ali Abdullah Saleh. And I think that was, what in 2011? And you mentioned he was later killed in a drone strike. So, before we move on, could you recap about that and the significance that drones have not been killing just militants but actual innocent civilians?

BARAA SHIBAN: Absolutely, the guy you are talking about here he’s an elementary school teacher. In 2011, he took down to the streets with us and started protesting against the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. During the elections of Ali Abdullah Saleh, he was the one who used to come to Change Square holding the picture of Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and he was trying to actually to convince people that it is time to be part of the system and this time might be finally the only time when we have a true representative as president. Very interestingly, one year after Ali the elementary school teacher was convincing people to participate in the elections, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi did announce that he is in favor of the drone program and Ali was killed in a drone strike.

Ali was an elementary school teacher and on his own time he used to work on his own cab. He picked up some villagers from his village and he was killed in a drone strike in early 2013.

GOSZTOLA: I want to ask you for your views and thoughts about what has been happening with AQAP from your point of view and possibility it’s a different perspective than what many people get here in the United States, as in it is the truth about how these drone strikes might be of benefit to AQAP in the way they are being carried out. I would also like some context on the Houthis and how their uprising relates to what AQAP is doing. I understand AQAP is labeling Houthis as an ally of the United States and working and cooperating with the US and that is probably contributing to tensions.

SHIBAN: I think the United States—since it witnessed the Houthis increase of influence in many regions of the country—it found that actually Houthis could do their part of the job. Houthis could save the United States from sending troops on the ground and can actually and the role of the US would be just supporting them with drones.

The first time, which this strange relationship occurred to the surface, is in November 2014 when the Houthis expanded their military operation into the province of al Bayda. This province has been subject to many drone strikes in the past two years, and the Houthis started their military presence there. That’s when the United States started droning heavily the areas.

Now, whether the people were in support of al Qaeda presence or not, when they see their areas have been directly affected, their areas, their neighborhoods, their villages have been repeatedly droned by the United States, this creates an atmosphere of acceptance of al Qaeda presence. Not simply because we are in favor of al Qaeda but because the enemy of my enemy is my friend. And I think this is what the United States is not realizing in its current war on terror, which is by the time you’re creating more enemies than you actually started with. If this war continues in this, I would say with no reevaluation of the process, we would end up having more people, more tribes, more people on the ground, not because they support al Qaeda but because they have been affected by the drone strikes and the efforts against terrorism.

GOSZTOLA: For people who don’t know about where this faction comes from and the history behind it, can you talk about the rise of the Houthis? I know that they have had a problem with the Yemeni government and Ali Abdullah Saleh wanted to use American resources and funds to go after and attack them and then the United States wanted those resources and funds to remain focused on alleged al Qaeda militants. But, can you talk about this uprising?

SHIBAN: Houthis started their uprising or their presence in north of the country in 2004. Before that, I would say not many people knew about them or knew who the Houthis are. But when Ali Abdullah Saleh launched six wars against them, this is when they started to get more supporters on the ground. As the history of any cycle of violence, when the violence and the violations against a specific group increases, the more supporters it receives.

For the credit of the United States, at the time they did refuse to use their resources against the Houthis and simply because I think any of the US funding should not be used for local disputes and local conflicts. But, I mean, by time, when the Houthis started to expand north, I think that is when the United States felt that maybe we can get benefits of their mutual enemy, of having al Qaeda as their common enemy, and use their presence on the ground.

I don’t think there is a direct coordination, but there is actually some sort of an understanding that we can keep droning and striking alleged al Qaeda militants while Houthis take control on the ground.

For the rest of the interview, listen to the podcast episode.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."