Political Analysis

Drone-shy U.S. to give Yemen 10 modified planes for ‘targeted killing’

By Cheryl K. Chumley

The Obama administration is poised to give the Yemen Air Force a fleet of two-seater propeller planes — akin to what’s used to dust crops — that have been modified so they can carry laser-guided missiles and a high-tech intelligence system.


The White House is tired of dealing with concerns and criticisms about its quiet drone war that’s ongoing in the nation, and so instead will provide the Yemeni military with “targeting killing” gear of its own, BuzzFeed reported, citing documents and three sources that were listed as familiar with the administration’s effort.

The crop duster-like crafts were chosen over more high-tech drone planes for their ease of operation, BuzzFeed reported. Specifically, even the most poorly trained pilot can learn to navigate a crop duster, those familiar with the project explained.

At the same time, another source said to the media outlet that U.S. pilots might still fly these same planes alongside their Yemeni counterparts — meaning, America would still be involved in that nation’s government-run attempt to uproot al Qaeda.

In a Central Command memo dated Feb. 3, the program — called “Precision Strike” — was described as having the potential to “greatly enhance counter terrorism objectives to support action against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” BuzzFeed reported. The group, AQAP, is viewed by U.S. authorities as a player in terrorist attacks, the most notable of which included the failed “underwear bomber” attack in 2009.

A Pentagon spokesperson told BuzzFeed that the “Department of Defense is reassessing the program at this time,” and could not say when the planes would be sent to Yemen. But an official with the Yemeni government confirmed to BuzzFeed that the program was going forth, and that “eventually Yemen will be able to carry out precision strikes without the aid of its allies.”