Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Yemen and the Continued use of the AUMF

It has been in the news recently that the Director of the U.S. CIA, David Petraeus, has asked President Obama to expand the use of armed drones over the Arabian skies of turmoil-ridden Yemen.  Critics, including Yale Law School professor Bruce Ackerman in an article published in the Washington Post on April 20th (http://www.law.yale.edu/news/15401.htm), have said that Obama's executive authorization of the expanded (or continued) use of drones in Yemen would be illegal without the statutory consent of the U.S. Congress.  Ackerman finds that the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed by congress in 2001, authorizing the president to militarily engage any and all of those persons and organizations whom operationally supported or were directly responsible for the attacks of 9/11, does not apply to Yemen and presumably the terrorist group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).  I, however, tend to disagree with Ackerman's conclusion.

First, nowhere in the AUMF does it specify that military engagement of those responsible for the 9/11 attacks is limited to Afghanistan. Nor does it specify that military engagement is limited to al Qaeda. However unfortunate some may find the wording, the AUMF allows for military engagement against any organization or support-network which the U.S. finds was responsible for 9/11 wherever they may be on Earth. Clearly, this vague terminology played a role in creating a political firestorm regarding the status of terrorists caught within the U.S., but that's an issue for another day.

Secondly, there is the quite obvious fact that AQAP carries the al Qaeda name and banner.  This isn't just a convenient branding, AQAP's leaders have ascribed to al Qaeda proper's agenda and have pledged loyalty to its leader - initially Osama bin Laden and now Ayman al-Zawahiri.  While other jihadist groups have a primarily regional or nationalist terror agenda, AQAP's main focus is the continued use of Yemen as a sanctuary to make certain that the U.S. experiences more and even deadlier 9/11s.  Neither Al-Shabaab, nor Boko Haram, nor even the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban have such a clear and concise anti-American agenda.  To be sure, there is no difference between al Qaeda's agenda prior to 9/11 and AQAP's current agenda.

Lastly, while the AQAP name was not official when 9/11 occurred, there is the history of operational linkages between al Qaeda and Yemen.  Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, the al Qaeda operative responsible for the deadly 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, was known to be the link between Al-Shabaab and AQAP before his death in 2011.  In fact, phone records identified a location in Yemen as a key al Qaeda planning and support hub in the successful carrying-out of those bombings.  Furthermore, al Qaeda planned and executed the 2000 suicide-bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, and both suicide-bombers, as well as many of their convicted accomplices, were Yemeni nationals.  It is no wonder that on September 11, 2001, Ali Soufan and other special agents of one of the FBI's top counterterrorism squads at the time, I-49, watched the 9/11 attacks unfold from a television in the U.S. Embassy in Sana'a.

At first glance it may appear to some that AQAP is wholly apart from al Qaeda - or at the most a loosely affiliated iteration - but upon closer inspection one can see that AQAP is al Qaeda and always has been.


  1. Good post, I generally agree with your conclusion...I would just add that just because the Administration is legally permitted to ramp up drone strikes doesn't mean they should. AQAP has a national/regional agenda through its surrogate, Ansar al-Sharia, as well, and obvious American involvement helps to reinforce AQ's narrative in a lot of ways. I don't think its a coincidence that the increased use of drones in Yemen has coincided with a spike in membership and tribal support for AQAP.

  2. Yeah that's a good point Rick. Aside from whether the drone strikes provide more benefits than costs, it brings up the question as to whether the AUMF is worded too broadly and should be amended.