Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi offered a salient endorsement of the Obama administration's use of drone strikes in his country, stating, "They have zero margin of error, if you know exactly what you're aiming at."
His remarks drew mixed responses from a packed audience in Washington's Wilson Center Friday afternoon, where he spoke about a variety of issues facing Yemen's transition to democracy, including the need for U.S.-backed financial and intelligence assistance. "The electronic brain is unmatched by the human brain," he said, adding that the Yemeni Air Force cannot adequately carry out missions at night because they mostly use Soviet-era fighter jets made in the 1970s.
In addition to drone strikes, the Yemeni military also plays an important role in combating the country's vibrant al Qaeda presence, which actively recruits children to become suicide bombers. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the militant group's Yemen branch, has been known to tell children to ask their parents to pray for support in securing a spot on the group's suicide bomber list, Hadi said.
The country's increasing separatist and al Qaeda militant presence -- including a rebel group located in the north that has fought with Saudi Arabia -- is fueled by widespread unemployment, poverty and institutional problems within the education sector. Eighty-eight schools have recently shut down, and approximately 600,000 graduates are looking for work, which creates an additional burden for three quarters of the country's population who are under 30 years old. Many, in turn, seek out alterative opportunities with AQAP.
During his Washington visit, Hadi also met with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to discuss various Middle East issues, including the recent influx of violent protests in Sana'a following an American-made video denigrating the Prophet Muhammad. Earlier this week, Vice President Joe Biden thanked him for providing security to diplomats at the U.S. embassy in Yemen.
Remarking on the progress made since he took office in February, Hadi called for additional support from the United States and international community to help avoid a civil war, which he warned would be worse than in Somalia or Afghanistan. He also thanked Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, who provided oil and electric assistance during the presidential elections: "We cannot hold elections when we don't have power."