Speaking at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington D.C. this afternoon, President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi of Yemen expressed unwavering support for the controversial CIA drone program in his country.
Hadi praised the "high precision that's been provided by the drones," adding that they leave "zero margin of error if you know exactly what target you're aiming at." He further acknowledged that drone strikes form an essential component of the campaign against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) because of the Yemeni Air Force's inability to carry out night operations with its aging fleet of Soviet-made MiG-21s. "It's highly unlikely," he said, that these aircraft "would be successful."
Hadi's public endorsement of the U.S. drone program, which has expanded exponentially under President Obama, represents a shift from his predecessor's policy of denying U.S. involvement. According to a 2010 U.S. diplomatic cable, for instance, President Ali Abdullah Saleh told Gen. David Petraeus, "We'll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours."
Hadi also accused Iran of seeking a foothold in his country by creating a "climate of chaos and violence."
Yemen, which is in the midst of a delicate GCC-led transition following the ouster of longtime dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh, faces a conflict with Houthi militants in the north, a stubborn separatist movement in the south, and a growing Al Qaeda presence in the country's tribal hinterlands. Much of the country's infrastructure -- including schools, roads, and hospitals -- has been destroyed in the fighting and thousands of citizens have been displaced.
At the same time, Yemen is grappling with critical water and energy shortages, a burgeoning youth population, and the second highest unemployment rate in the Arab world.
In the mist of this crisis, Hadi charged, Iran is trying to "thwart the political solution in Yemen" as a hedge against its waning influence in Syria. Iranian spy networks, he said, are "backing military action" in the south and "buying political opposition figures and media figures."
Hadi sought to portray the security situation in Yemen as a regional and international threat as part of his bid to drum up assistance from international donors. AQAP, he said, is a "common enemy" that poses a "serious and real threat" to the West as well as the Arab world. Moreover, if Yemen descends into civil war, he warned, the situation will likely be "way worse than Somalia or Afghanistan to the area, to the region, and to the world."
Following Hadi's address at the U.N. General Assembly yesterday in which he called for "more logistical and technical support" in the fight against Al Qaeda, the Friends of Yemen -- composed of the P-5 and the GCC -- promised an additional $1.46 billion in financial assistance to Yemen, bringing the total to nearly $8 billion pledged by international donors.
When questioned by the Atlantic Council's Frederick Kempe about his country's most pressing needs, however, Hadi hinted at still more economic assistance: "Seventy five percent of the solution" to Yemen's crisis, he said, "is an economic solution."