Jeffrey Fleishman and Ken Dilanian @ LA Times:
AL SARRAIN, Yemen — The U.S. drone flew over a cluster of mud houses on a ridge and, according to Yemeni officials, locked onto Adnan Qadhi, a mercurial man of many guises, including radical militant, peace mediator, preacher of violence and army general.
Villagers said Qadhi climbed out of his utility vehicle the night of Nov. 7 to make a cellphone call shortly before the missile struck. His photo — broad face peering from beneath a tilted red beret, stars on his epaulets — now hangs in a small grocery store in a land where farmers work narrow fields below the villas of politicians, tribal leaders and a former president that rise like fortresses on nearby hilltops.
Some here call him a martyr, others a fanatic. But the life and death of Qadhi, a senior officer in the 1st Armored Division who preached holy war in mosques and donned government-issued fatigues, epitomizes the political instability, tribal intrigue, crisscrossing allegiances and radical Islamist passions the United States must sort out when targeting militants in Yemen. At times, Washington risks being drawn into internal conflicts and becoming increasingly despised in the Arab world’s poorest nation.
Extremists here have a history of shifting tactics and circumstances. They were pressed into service by the government of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh when needed, then arrested and jailed when the political winds changed. Later they vanished from prisons by the scores, set loose across tribal lands. Yemeni security officials say that era is ending, and they’re stepping up military offensives to rout extremists — fighters from Libya, Somalia and other nations, and assassins on motorcycles intent on killing intelligence officials.
At the same time, the Obama administration has intensified airstrikes against the Yemeni group Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which plotted in 2009 and 2010 to blow up American airliners. A 2011 drone attack killed Anwar Awlaki, an American-born Muslim preacher and militant recruiter. Weeks later, a U.S. airstrike killed Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, who tribesmen and relatives say had no links to terrorism.
The Long War Journal, a website that tracks U.S. drone activity, reports that since 2002, America has launched 57 airstrikes in Yemen, killing 299 militants and 82 civilians. The number of strikes has risen dramatically from four in 2010 to 40 so far this year.
“Why do these Americans come and interfere in Yemen?” said Radhwan Dahrooj, the grocer in Al Sarrain. “Why do they kill our people? If they have charges against someone why do they not arrest him and bring him to justice?”