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U.S. Drone Strike Kills 16 Year-Old American Citizen

The U.S. drone war in Yemen has taken out another victim:

A wave of CIA drone strikes targeting al-Qaeda figures in Yemen is stoking widespread anger there that U.S. policy is cruel and misguided, prioritizing counterterrorism over a genuine solution to the country’s raging political crisis.

Politics has never been a concern to Sam al-Homiganyi and his fellow teenagers. This month, though, they were shocked by the sudden death of a friend and are struggling to understand why.

Fighting back tears, his gaze fixed downward, al-Homiganyi, a lean-looking 15-year-old from the outskirts of Sana’a, told TIME, “He was my best friend, we played football together everyday.” Another of his friends spoke up, gesturing to the gloomy group of jeans-clad boys around him: “He was the same as us. He liked swimming, playing computer games, watching movies … you know, normal stuff.”

The dead friend was Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, a 16-year-old born in Denver, the third American killed in as many weeks by suspected CIA drone strikes in Yemen. His father, the radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, also an American citizen, was killed earlier this month, along with alleged al-Qaeda propagandist Samir Khan, who was from New York. When Abdulrahman’s death was first reported in the Western press, his age was given as 21 by local Yemeni officials. Afterward, however, the Awlaki family put out a copy of Abdulrahman’s birth certificate.

According to his relatives, Abdulrahman left the family home in the Sana’a area on Sept. 15 in search of his fugitive father who was hiding out with his tribe, the Awalak, in the remote, rugged southern province of Shabwa. Days after the teenager began his quest, however, his father was killed in a U.S. drone strike. Then, just two weeks later, the Yemeni government claimed another air strike killed a senior al-Qaeda militant. Abdulrahman, his teenage cousin and six others died in the attack as well. A U.S. official said the young man “was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” and that the U.S. was trying to kill a legitimate terrorist — al-Qaeda leader Ibrahim al-Banna, who also died — in the strike that apparently killed the American teenager.

Abdulrahman’s distraught grandfather is not buying the explanation. Nasser al-Awlaki, who received a university degree in the U.S., had for years sought an injunction in American courts to prevent the Obama Administration from targeting and killing his son, Anwar. He told TIME, “I really feel disappointed that this crime is going to be forgotten. I think the American people ought to know what really happened and how the power of their government is being abused by this Administration. Americans should start asking why a boy was targeted for killing.” He continued, “In addition to my grandson’s killing, the missile killed my brother’s grandson, who was a 17-year-old kid, who was not an American citizen but is a human being, killed in cold blood. I cannot comprehend how my teenage grandson was killed by a Hellfire missile, how nothing was left of him except small pieces of flesh. Why? Is America safer now that a boy was killed?” As for Abdulrahman’s father, Nasser says that the U.S. “killed my son Anwar without a trial for any crime he committed … They killed him just for his freedom of speech.” He levels the charges directly at the U.S. President. “I urge the American people to bring the killers to justice. I urge them to expose the hypocrisy of the 2009 Nobel Prize laureate. To some, he may be that. To me and my family, he is nothing more than a child killer.”

I believe the phrase they use is “collateral damage.”  This is one of the problems with the new world of remotely controlled warfare. If this had been a raid by a SEAL team, and they had seen that there were children around the target, does one seriously believe that they would’ve opened untargeted fire without regard to the possibility of taking out innocent life? I’d certainly hope not. One also has to wonder what kind of reputation this creates for the United States in the minds of the people of the Arab world. Doesn’t it tend to reinforce the words of the radicals who want us to be viewed as the enemy? Certainly seems like it does to me.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. epador says:

    Um, Doug, just how did a 16 year old innocent kid from around the block in the US just looking for his father end up hanging out with terrorists in Yemen?

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 17 Thumb down 12

  2. ponce says:

    If this had been a raid by a SEAL team, and they had seen that there were children around the target, does one seriously believe that they would’ve opened untargeted fire without regard to the possibility of taking out innocent life? I’d certainly hope not.

    Unfortunately for the innocent civilians of the world, our special forces make up less than 1% of our military.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  3. tps says:

    How is this new? Collateral damage has always been there. In WW2, you had B-17’s dropping hundreds of bombs on a target because you knew half of them, if not more, would miss and hit the houses around the factory. You try not to but you accept that fact that non-targets are going to get hurt. Even the ICC recognizes that an attack on a purely military target can get civilians killed because they were in the way by pure chance.

    I wouldn’t be too sure about the hypothetical SEALS either. Depending on the target, say OBL, I suspect they wouldn’t have a problem designating an apartment building for a laser guided bomb.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  4. john personna says:

    I linked this a week or so ago in a Libya thread.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. john personna says:

    (Perhaps this is a different 16 YO)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. michael reynolds says:

    I don’t like the term collateral damage because it’s one of those weasel phrases designed to insulate us from reality. We kill innocent people sometimes. We need to acknowledge reality, not conceal it behind jargon.

    We have spent many billions of dollars on weapons systems meant to reduce ‘collateral damage.’ But we will still, on occasion, kill a woman, or man, or child who has done nothing wrong, and does not in any way deserve to die. In the process we create widows and orphans. We leave behind a world of pain.

    This is why war, no matter how necessary, is evil.

    But the solution is not to limit ourselves to inserting ground troops. The lives of our men count, too. We would be creating widows and orphans of our own.

    The answer is to strive constantly for peace, to promote peaceful and democratic ideals around the world, and to continue refining our tactics and the weapons themselves.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 28 Thumb down 1

  7. @john personna:

    It might be the same story. I don’t remember seeing your comment but then it’s been one of those weeks.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. Clovis says:

    @michael reynolds:
    It happens but rarely that I am in complete agreement with you. Well put.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  9. ponce says:

    I don’t remember seeing your comment but then it’s been one of those weeks.

    I noticed your tweet count jumped from your usual 1000 a week to 1700 tweets this past week.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. Liberty60 says:

    OK, even if we can get past the killing of innocents part-

    Are we prepared for China/ Iran/ Syria/ North Korea to blow up a house in Denver, because someone they consider a dangerous terrorist lives there?

    These strikes are the abortion clinic bombing of international relations- once you legitimize a tactic it gets everyone thinking of how they can use it for themselves.

    Right now, thathypothetical bomb is made hypothetical only because the US is so powerful no one would dare try it.

    But at some point, the balance will shift- maybe China and Russia will lock into a tacit alliance, or Russia will make a pact with the EU for natural gas sales, and buy their aquiescence or whatever, making it diplomatically and militarily impractical for the US to retaliate.

    Its the old axiom of when you step outside the law you lose the protection of it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 4

  11. Liberty60,

    As with artillery, the tank, and air warfare, this is an advance in the art of war that will have unforeseen consequences I’m sure.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  12. ponce says:

    Looks like Israelis killed 5 Gazans with a drone strike today, and the Gazans launched their own “drone” and took out an Israeli.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/30/world/middleeast/israeli-drone-strike-kills-militants-in-gaza.html?hp

    Our technology spreads.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. michael reynolds says:

    @Liberty60:
    I don’t think the comparison works.

    We don’t carry out drone attacks in countries where the rule of law pertains and where responsible governments exist. If we were launching drone attacks in France that would be comparable.

    We strike in countries where governments cannot maintain sovereignty — Yemen — or countries where that sovereignty is very limited and/or the government supports terrorism — Pakistan. If we were to lose control of, say, the entire Northwest, and it were infested by terrorists who made a habit of attacking Chinese targets, and were tacitly or actively supported by elements in our government, then we’d have a comparable situation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  14. @michael reynolds:

    We don’t carry out drone attacks in countries where … responsible governments exist.

    Well, the responsible government standard certainly won’t perclude drone attacks against the US. ;>

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 3

  15. ponce says:

    We strike in countries where governments cannot maintain sovereignty —

    The 9/11 terrorists got their training in America,

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 6

  16. michael reynolds says:

    @ponce:
    Which would be relevant if some country came to us and pointed the terrorists out and we then refused or were unable to cope with them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  17. ponce says:

    Which would be relevant if some country came to us and pointed the terrorists out and we then refused or were unable to cope with them.

    Michael,

    Your contempt for brown people is becoming obvious again.

    Try to remember everybody the U.S. military slaughters with its toys are innocent civilians or alleged terrorists.

    Alleged.

    And American taxpayers are funding billions of dollars in bribes for the right to operate in these countries.

    We slaughter brown people because we can get away with it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 12

  18. michael reynolds says:

    @ponce:
    You’re a child.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  19. ponce says:

    You’re a child.

    Haha, and you’re starting to sound like Eric.

    An ugly American.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 9

  20. Ben Wolf says:

    @epador:

    Um, Doug, just how did a 16 year old innocent kid from around the block in the US just looking for his father end up hanging out with terrorists in Yemen?

    He went looking for his father, or did you not bother to read?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 3

  21. Charlie says:

    While collateral damage is certainly regrettable, it it also important to understand that when you put yourself in the company of bad guys, you are putting yourself at risk. Likewise, if you are a bad guy, you are putting those around you at risk. If a bank robber takes his kid along, isn’t that his fault if the kid gets hurt? Lesson: don’t be around terrorists because you may get killed along with them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

  22. mother of 1son says:

    The family states he was killed while barbecuing under the moonlight with his cousin. Then in this article they admit he left the family home to go and search for his father. Which was it? One sounds completely innocent and the other sounds like he put himself in harms way. Why would they allow a child, a 16 yr old to walk out into a potential war zone looking for his father whose hiding out, knowing he could be killed just by being with him? You can’t have it both ways. You can’t knowingly put your family in danger or allow your children to walk into it and then be surprised and outraged when something horribly tragic happens.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  23. 11B40 says:

    Greetings:

    At sixteen, I was 6’3″ and went about 215 during basketball season, so there’s that. Most of the local bartenders in my part of the Bronx had no trouble mistaking me for someone over 18 years, so there’s that. I had also been successful in physical confrontations with grown men for various reasons, so there’s that.

    But then on the other had, we know that muslims have absolutely no animosity towards those parts of the world that reject their religion-dipped ideology, so there’s that. And, as everyone knows, muslims never lie because their hearts are too full of love for all their fellow human beings, so there’s that.

    Almost similarly, our military forces, who are trying to protect us from these Islamic religious psychopaths, have yet to be sufficiently hollowed out was evidenced by the fact that they’re still managing to find and appropriately dispose of some of these worse than bad guys, so there’s that. And some of these very same military forces seem to have gone off the reservation and are obviously operating without the benefit of some of this country’s most incisive legal minds, so there’s that.

    So, Esquire, ask yourself, “Do you have a passport.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 5