Years ago I read a detailed bio on Osama Bin Laden, and one detail stood out in my mind more than anything else I read. It was the moment his dislike of the United States had intensified to the point where he then considered America an enemy. That moment was after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990. After taking Kuwait, he was lining large amounts of troops against the Saudi border. Many in the world were worried that Saddam’s next move was an invasion of the oil rich kingdom. One of the people most concerned was Osama Bin Laden. In 1990, he was leader of the victorious Al Qaeda faction in Afghanistan. I say victorious, because this organization; among others, fought the Soviets and successfully drove them from Afghan soil. The last Soviet troops had pulled out just the year before.
In 1990, when the Saudis were under such a grave threat, Bin Laden offered to organize an army of Afghan war veterans to protect the homeland. The Saudi Royal Family met with him, but declined his offer. As Bin Laden learned, the Americans were being called in to help. Saddam’s army was massive, and well equipped, but the insult to Bin Laden’s mujahedeen was the same. From then on, he was America’s enemy. After the Gulf War, US military assets remained in Saudi Arabia, putting the taboo of their presence on the most sacred soil of Islam on an indefinite time table.
In February 1996, the Khobar Towers Bombing took place in Saudi Arabia, killing 19 US servicemen. This was the first terrorist attack against Americans linked to Al Qaeda. Later that same year, Osama Bin Laden issued at fatwa, in which he declared war on the United States. It was entitled: Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places. The land that is mentioned is Saudi Arabia.
In 2003 after the US drove Saddam Hussein from power, US forces began to withdraw our small force from Saudi Arabia. This went largely unnoticed, since most discontent towards US policy at the time concerned Iraq, WMD’s, and George Bush’s justifications for going to war. Bush was still accused by some of his opponents of appeasing Al Qaeda by pulling out of the kingdom. US assets were mainly there as a counterweight to Saddam, so the pullout did make some sense. Whatever the argument though, US forces were gone.
Today, at the top of the list for what America is doing to anger the Muslim world, you would have to see our continued support for Israel, and the Drone Strikes. The funny thing about drones, is all their positives add up to one negative. They are cheaper than cruise missiles, but more precise, and they don’t risk a pilot. They don’t come off as invasive as a manned plane I don’t think, and perhaps more importantly; if a drone is shot down, there is no obligation to retaliate. They can also find targets to strike while they hover over an area. Without this technology, I don’t think the US would have carried out hundreds of strikes on Pakistani soil. It’s almost as if anytime we can pinpoint a threat, a handy means of taking care of it is right at our disposal. Increased intelligence with increased capability might not in the end bring us a more secure world, despite the surgical nature of a drone strike.
During Obama’s first term, there was a huge increase in the number of drone strikes in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Yemen also has seen increased strikes by US drones, as Al Qaeda seemed to move the planning of their global terrorism there. A war against the government of Yemen also heated up with the outbreak of the Arab Spring incidents, and there is no doubt that some of the US airstrikes in the country are in support of the government. I don’t imagine that an anti-western group would be allowed to take over a country that sits by one of the busiest shipping bottlenecks in the world. In 2011; when US involvement in Yemen was ramping up, new Drone bases in Ethiopia, Djibouti, and the Seychelles were reported, along with the increasing number of drone strikes in Yemen. In 2012, the number of strikes were even higher in the country. Then, in February of this year, a story broke that should have been one of the biggest of the year – a secret US drone base was reported to exist in Saudi Arabia. What made the story even more disturbing is it was reported by The Telegraph in the UK that US media had kept the story a secret for two years.
It’s hard to know what should be more troubling, a reopening of wounds that helped lead to the war on terror in the first place; a two year cover up by the media, or that the story of the Drone Base seemed to fall from the headlines as quickly as it appeared there. If you Google Saudi Drone Base, you will see a lot of articles from February of this year about the US base, and not much else on the subject.
It’s no secret that Americans can be distracted from what is important. While we’re ringing our hands about the Zimmerman shooting, the Miley Cyrus VMA performance, or the latest Tweet by whoever, the Muslim world isn’t being engulfed by the same silly distractions. I’m sure the Drone Base hasn’t been forgotten by anyone in Saudi Arabia. In August of this year, a story broke that might confirm my fears.
In early August the US state department closed diplomatic posts in 19 cities around the world. This was in response to detected terrorist “chatter” that was on levels that had not been seen since before the 911 attacks in 2001. Another apparent reaction to the threat was an uncommon flurry of US Drone Strikes in Yemen that occurred over the space of a few weeks. Around 8 strikes killed at least 34 people, 7 of whom were reported to be Saudi nationals. In the end, the plot was revealed as an intent to storm part of a major oil port in Yemen and seize Western hostages. I’m far more concerned though with the seven Saudi nationals who were killed in the US strikes. They lead us to yet another concerning report by the Yemeni government that an increasing number of Saudi nationals are crossing the border to join Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
While there is no evidence of a link between the revelation of the secret US Saudi drone base, and the increased amount of Saudi nationals crossing the Yemeni border for suspicious reasons, it would be foolish also to pretend that this is a non-factor in motivations. Our worst problem in the war on terror is someone who’s sympathetic to terrorists making that final leap and becoming one. I can’t think of anything that could accomplish this better than a hidden US military base in Saudi Arabia carrying out strikes on another part of Arabia.