Fifteen people who had been heading to a wedding in Yemen have been killed in an air strike. Local media reported that a drone attack had been responsible, and the party-goers had been hit instead of an Al-Qaeda convoy.
“An air strike missed its target and hit a wedding car convoy, ten people were killed immediately and another five who were injured died after being admitted to the hospital,” a Yemeni security official told Reuters.
Five more people were injured in the attack which took place in Radda, central al-Bayda province on Thursday, the source added.
The group had been en route to the the village of Qaifa, the site of the wedding, when it was hit. The assault left charred bodies strewn in the road and vehicles on fire, officials told AP.
While officials would not identify the source of the air strike, local and tribal media sources attributed the deaths to a drone attack.
No comment followed as to whose drone may have delivered the strike. However, the US is known for its counter-terrorism assistance to the country which at times includes UAV raids.
Washington has recently increased the intensity of its drone strikes in Yemen, despite widespread criticism sparked by the fact that strikes are far from being ‘surgical’.
In October, Human Rights Watch released a damning report on US drone strikes in Yemen. It described six of the total of some 80 targeted killing operations in the country. In those six attacks 82 people were killed, 57 of whom – or practically 70 percent – were civilians.
“President Obama says the US is doing its utmost to protect civilians from harm in these strikes. Yet in the six cases we examined, at least two were a clear violation of the laws of war,” HRW Senior Researcher Letta Tayler commented at the time.
In the same month, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counterterrorism, Ben Emmerson, said that US drone strikes had killed 2,200 in Pakistan in the past decade, 400 of whom were civilians and another 200 ‘probable non-combatants’. Pakistan is another country, where the local population vehemently opposes American drone strikes.
"There are many, many examples of civilians - women, children, older people - being killed by these drones," anti-drone activist Leah Bolger told RT in an interview.
And even if the drones attack the people that the CIA intends to attack, this is outside the judicial process, and these are illegal attacks. They violate the sovereignty of Yemen, of Pakistan, Afghanistan. Even if the person attacked is a bona fide member of Al-Qaeda, until they can be proven to have done something that is against the law, these are extrajudicial assassinations."
In addition to the high civilian casualty rates, critics say drone strikes are done in violation of international law, and question whether the Obama administration has the authority to sanction the killings without a court warrant.
One particular practice denounced by human rights activists is the use of so-called ‘signature strikes’, in which a drone attack is given a go based not on identification of known Al-Qaeda fighters, but on the behavior of people.
In practice, drone pilots may attack any males, who look old enough and are armed. Considering that people living in tribal areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan or Yemen have a long tradition of carrying personal weapons as a sign of manhood, ‘signature strikes’ are prone to kill many civilians, critics say.
Yemen is considered to be the Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)’s main foothold of what is deemed the most active wing of the militant network.
Critics maintain that the drone strikes program in the country has done nothing to stem the growth of Al-Qaeda, and has even increased support for the terror network.
“Every time there is a drone strike, that’s the best recruiting tool for Al-Qaeda. Killing people in a wedding party, I am sure, will lead to not tens, but probably a hundred people joining Al-Qaeda,” political activist Medea Benjamin told RT. “This guarantees that the cycle of violence will go on in perpetual war.”
However, in August, Yemen requested that the US supply the country with drones in order to help it fight the Al-Qaeda threat.