Trump promised to kill innocent Muslim families – and he’s following through. At least ten innocent Yemeni women and children were killed on Sunday in the first military operation in that country authorized by president Donald Trump. Given Trump’s repeated promises to target “terrorist’s families” and murder civilians, the massacre is an ominous beginning to what will surely be another four years of terror at the hands of drones and helicopter gunships for the people of Yemen.
Medics and witnesses in the heavily impoverished Yakla district of the southern al-Bayda province where the raid took place put the total death toll at around 30, including ten women and children. Among the fighters killed was Abdulraouf al-Zahab, a senior AQAP figure. Also killed was the eight year-old daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, the notorious US-born Yemeni preacher who inspired many terror plots and was killed in a drone strike in 2011. “Why kill the children?” her grandfather said in a statement, “this is the new administration – it’s very sad, a big crime.”
Fahd, another local resident who asked that only his first name be used, told Reuters that several bodies remained under debris and that many houses and a local mosque were destroyed. This sort of death and destruction has become tragically commonplace in countries like Yemen where the United States is conducting an often indiscriminate drone campaign against the remnants of al-Qaeda.
This raid in particular, however, has inspired fears of a new normal of targeting civilians and fighters’ families under president Trump. That is exactly what he pledged to do as a candidate, among a litany of other war crimes, and Sunday’s raid sets a dangerous precedent.
Trump’s and the military’s responses are ominous as well, coming straight out of the Orwellian alternative-fact era in which we are living. The Pentagon’s official statement on the raid made no mention of civilian casualties, instead noting that one US commando died and three were injured.
Trump too called the operation “a success” and ignored the civilian casualties, instead noting that “Americans are saddened this morning with news that the life of a heroic service member has been taken in our fight against the evil of radical Islamic terrorism.” That death is indeed a tragedy and we mourn for the soldier’s family, but so too the deaths of ten innocent civilians are a tragedy. It is precisely the ranking of human worth by nationality and religion that smacks of fascism and engenders such hatred among the undervalued peoples.
Indeed there is now a scholarly consensus that these sort of raids and strikes are not only immoral but counterproductive, serving only to inspire a backlash against the United States for very little benefit. Stephen Zunes, the head of the Middle Eastern Studies Program at the University of San Francisco, had this to say to Al Jazeera: “Drone strikes and intervention over the past 15 years have stirred up more terror, extremism and anti-Americanism than it has curbed, and this incident will once again resume the debate whether this is an effective counter-terrorism strategy.” We can only hope that with Trump’s heinous policies of targeting civilians that debate will finally be settled against such strikes, not only because they are counterproductive but because they are fundamentally immoral.