I am still reading Jeremy Scahill’s long but engrossing book Dirty Wars that looks at how the US government now essentially views the entire world as a battlefield and feels that it is free to attack anyone anywhere that it decides is a threat. The book’s main focus is of course the wars in the Middle East but the three interweaving major threads that run through the book shift from events in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan to other countries, especially Yemen and Somalia.
One thread is the story of how Anwar al Awlaki became transformed from being perceived as a moderate Muslim who was the go-to person when the government and the media wanted a calming response following 9/11 to one of the most wanted people who was killed in a drone attack in Yemen, with his 16-year old son and other Americans killed shortly after. I learned a lot more about the evolution of his views than I had known before and will write about them later.
The other two threads deal with the less-publicized story of how the US government is heavily involved in the shadows of Yemen and Somalia, nations that have weak central governments and strong local chiefs and warlords, and bribing all manner of undesirable elements in their efforts to identify, target, and kill those identified as enemies. Especially in Yemen the government has long agreed in secret to allow US special forces and drones to carry out attacks that the Yemeni government then takes credit for in order to avoid inflaming the local population that foreign troops are operating in the country. But despite these efforts, there have been numerous deaths of civilians that have caused great anger because the locals are convinced that the US carried them out. Scahill visited and talked with people in many of the communities involved.
It is in this light that we have to consider the recent spate of embassy closings because of the reported communications intercepted between the al Qaeda head Ayman al Zawahiri and the head of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) Nasir al-Wuhayshi, both of whom are featured prominently in Scahill’s book.
Just today Yemen says that it foiled a major al Qaeda plot but if the recent past as reported by Scahill is factored in, then if it happened at all this was likely a US operation. But J. K. Trotter says that there is considerable skepticism among national security reporters about whether what the administration is saying about its intelligence sis true and why it is suddenly going high profile about its powers of communication interception at this time.
As is usually the case, the truth will not come out until later, so it is best to reserve judgment.