US drones, al-Qaeda, and stuttering diplomacy: Yemen under fire

US drones, al-Qaeda, and stuttering diplomacy: Yemen under fire
The US has upped airstrikes on al-Qaeda targets in recent weeks with the latest strike coinciding with a flurry of UN activity aimed at restoring order in conflict-racked Yemen
3 min read
10 March, 2017
Yemen's civil war has seen conflict plague Abyan province [Archive/AFP]

A suspected al-Qaeda member was killed in a US airstrike in Abyan province on Thursday, on the same day the UN's envoy to Yemen held talks in Saudi Arabia aimed at ending the country’s brutal civil war. 

According to local sources the suspected al-Qaeda member was killed while riding a motorcycle in the al-Wade'a district of the province. 

The Aden Observer identified the deceased as one Qassem Khalil. 

In recent weeks the Trump administration has upped a long-running US campaign, in place since 2009, targeting al-Qaeda in Yemen, with almost daily strikes taking place focused particularly in Abyan and Shabwa provinces.

Stuttering peace proposals

The reported drone strike took place as UN envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed met in Riyadh with the Secretary General of the Cooperation Council (GCC), Abdul Latif al-Zayani. 

The state-affiliated Saudi Press Agency reported that the talks were aimed at establishing national dialogue towards a peace deal in Yemen, where the Iran-backed Houthis are battling forces loyal to exiled President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi who is backed by a UN-led coalition of states carrying out airstrikes in the country. 

Ould Cheick is also set to meet with Hadi, who is currently based in Saudi Arabia, during his visit, amid a flurry of diplomatic activity - including a recent visit to Russia - aimed at stymying violence in Yemen. 

According to reports from Saudi media Ould Cheikh is proposing a revised peace plan including provisions for the retention of President Hadi in office until stability enables presidential elections to take place, the abolition of the post of vice president, currently head by Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, and the formation of a compromise national unity government.

It maintains a provision calling for the Houthis to give up their arms, according to Saudi media.

At least 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen since Saudi Arabia entered the conflict in March 2015 after Houthi rebels took control of the capital Sana'a and overthrew President Hadi, according to the UN.

To date UN brokered negotiations have failed to bring about a lasting ceasefire.

Al-Qaeda revival

The collapse of a central state has enabled al-Qaeda to expand, in an environment defined by growing sectarianism, shifting alliances, security vacuums and a burgeoning war economy, according to recent reports from The International Crisis Group. 

On Thursday US Central Command Gen. Joseph Votel told senators that he was "satisfied" that a January special ops. raid in Yemen in which Chief Special Warfare Officer William "Ryan" Owens was killed, and six other US servicemen injured had not involved "poor decision-making or poor judgment".

Local medics said that as many as 30 people, including civilians were killed at the scene of the attack, among them, the 8-year-old daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical cleric and US citizen killed by a drone strike in Yemen in 2011. 

Speaking on Thursday Votel said that Centcom investigations had put the number of civilians killed in the controversial raid between four and 12.