September 09, 2013
Credit: Lockheed Martin
The unexpected appearance of an unarmed, conventional U.S. aircraft only added fuel to already simmering online opposition to the American UAV campaign. “It caused a [public relations] nightmare,” a Yemeni official in Washington says, referring to the audible drone emanating from the Lockheed Martin-made P-3 Orion circling overhead.
Some panicked Sanaa residents mistook the unidentifiable object for one of the Pentagon or CIA-operated UAVs that had reportedly killed four suspected Al Qaeda suspects earlier that morning, including one featured on the “25 Most-Wanted Terrorists” list announced by Yemen's supreme security committee.
Despite the image problems created by the aircraft, the Yemeni official says it works. “It's perfect for pin-pointing and intercepting signals. On the spot. Instantly,” the official says. “We need it.”
The escalation of U.S. security actions in Yemen accompanied the State Department's Aug. 2 worldwide travel alert, warning of the increased potential for terrorist attacks in the Middle East and North Africa and the temporary closure of 19 U.S. embassies and consulates, including in Sanaa.
The extra precautions taken here are a function of the Yemeni government's acknowledged inability to contain Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) since the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings divided the government and military forces. This culminated in the transfer of power from President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who served for 33 years, to his deputy of almost two decades, Abd Rabu Mansur Hadi, in February 2012.
Despite a year and a half of reforms and capacity-building efforts under Hadi, the Yemeni official says, “We don't have a functioning military.”
AQAP's insurgent tactics during this period have further raised its profile as the principal terrorist threat to U.S. homeland security, owing to a series of attempts to bomb U.S. bound-airliners, beginning with the “underwear bomb” plot on Dec. 25, 2009.