Yemeni drone strike reportedly turns 'wedding into funeral'
U.S. officials investigating if drone strike mistakenly struck wedding
The use of unmanned drones to batter suspected terrorist camps in countries such as Afghanistan and Yemen by the U.S. military has drawn heated criticism. These strikes have killed many unarmed civilians and innocent bystanders, many claim. Now, the U.S. government is investigating a claim that such a strike in Yemen, intending to attack al-Qaeda operatives in fact killed a dozen people at a wedding instead.
U.S. officials have acknowledged the claims and the incident is under investigation. It's one of the few times the U.S. government has confirmed an internal review of a drone strike.
Nasser Al-Sane, a local Yemeni journalist, took photographs and videos and then handed them to NBC News, which in turn showed the video to White House and Pentagon officials.
"You cannot imagine how angry people are (about the strike). They turned a wedding into a funeral," Al-Sane, who lives near the town of Radda, where the drone strike took place, says.
U.S. officials have acknowledged the claims and the incident is under investigation. It's one of the few times the U.S. government has confirmed an internal review of a drone strike. It's also the first time since President Barack Obama pledged to tighten rules for the strikes in a major speech last May.
"Given that there are claims of civilian casualties, we are reviewing it," one U.S. official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
White House National Security Staff spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said she could only respond "generally" on the incident.
"Before we take any counter-terrorism strike outside areas of active hostilities, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured - the highest standard we can set," she said. "And when we believe that civilians may have been killed, we investigate thoroughly."
The intended targets, officials say, were "dangerous al-Qaeda militants," including Shawqui Ali Ahmed al Badani, a "mid-level" operative who is suspected of helping orchestrate a terrorist plot that led to the shutdown of U.S. embassies around the world in August.
A Yemeni official speaking on the condition of anonymity, acknowledged reports that civilians in a wedding party were killed prompted the Yemeni government to authorize the local governor of the province to offer compensation. Which is the equivalent of about $110,000 in cash as well as 101 Kalashnikov rifles - to tribal leaders in the village.
"It is a total mess," the official said. "It is completely not clear who was killed. This is should be a wake-up call to everyone involved (in drone strikes) to find out what's going on."
"It is impossible to look at that footage and conclude anything other than some people were killed and terribly injured," Rosa Brooks, a former Defense Department policy adviser to the United Nations says. "But that just to me highlights the importance of having a really robust and transparent process . and right now, we don't seem to have one at all."
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