US Forces in Yemen

Mabkhout Ali al Ameri with his 18-month old son Mohammed, shortly after a botched US raid on al Ghayil in January 2017 had killed at least 20 villagers, including Mohammed's mother Fatim Saleh Mohsen. © Iona Craig

Belligerent
US Forces
Country
Yemen
start date
end date
Civilian Harm Status
Belligerent Assessment
Declassified Documents
Strike Status
Strike Type
Infrastructure

Incident Code

USYEM022-C

Incident date

July 14, 2011

Location

مديرية الوضيع, Wadi’a district , Abyan, Yemen

Geolocation

13.713333, 46.011944 Note: The accuracy of this location is to District level. Continue to map

Airwars assessment

Initial reports of a US or Yemeni bombing raid upon a police station in Wadi’a district on July 14, 2011 may have resulted in as many as fifty people killed, with as many as thirty civilians among the deceased. Militants were also killed and injured, though there was huge variation in the numbers reported, which ranged from six to 50 killed and 10 to 12 others injured.

Yusra A @YusraAIA tweeted that warplanes struck a police station in Wadi’a; the location was believed to be a gathering place for militants, with Al Jazeera adding that the militants had taken over the police station. Long War Journal also reported that US airstrikes struck a police station in Yemen, killing six “Islamic militants” during a nighttime raid. @YusraAIA went on to tweet that six armed people were killed, including Mohammed Sufina, a leader of these militant groups. An eyewitness told al Jazeera that the entire police station was demolished and while six dead bodies of gunmen were pulled from the ruins of the police station, the death toll could “climb with ongoing rescue operations”.

Yemeni journalist Nasser Arrabyee claimed that “some 20 Al Qaeda fighters were killed… including leaders Hadi Mohammed Ali and Abu Bilal”. Sahafanet added that eight militants were killed, including “Hadi Mohammad Ali Al-Sa`tari, Al-Tali from Al-Ain, and a person called Al-Hassan from the Mudia and Maslah district. Another is from Marib, whose identity has not been identified, and another is called Al-Kudur from Mudiyah, and three have not yet been identified.” The source added that “the raid injured more than ten others, including a person named Farouk Al-Sout, who was seriously injured, and he was treated at Al-Razi Hospital in Harar.”

Yemeni newspaper Akhbar al Youm reported that fifty “Al Qaeda militants” were killed while CNN reported that Yemeni officials claimed that a single US drone strike had killed fifty militants in Southern Yemen.

“The casualty toll is high because fighters were gathered in that area with family members,” a senior security source in Abyan allegedly told CNN. Witnesses also told the channel that “at least 30 civilians” – “hiding from the attacks” were among the dead. However, according to CNN, “the Yemeni government said that a US drone was not involved in the attack and that its air forces conducted the raid. The Interior Ministry said on its website that nine fighters were killed and dozens were wounded and that the number of deaths was expected to rise.” However, Yemeni officials told the Associated Press that the strike must have been carried out by an American plane “because Yemeni planes aren’t equipped for nighttime strikes”.

The CNN report went on to quote Yousra Bandar, a mother of three, who said: “No one knows who is dying in Abyan. We want to leave the province, but go to where? Leaving the province is a slow death for all of us.”

The incident occured around dawn.

Geolocation notes

Reports of the incident mention the police station in Al Wadi’a district in Abyan province. The coordinates for Al Wadi’a district (مديرية الوضيع) are: 13.713333, 46.011944. Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to locate the police station.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    8 – 30
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
  • Suspected attackers
    US Forces, Yemeni Air Force
  • Suspected target
    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
  • Belligerents reported killed
    6–50
  • Belligerents reported injured
    10–12

Sources (25) [ collapse]

US Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    US Forces
  • US Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Yemeni Air Force Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Yemeni Air Force
  • Yemeni Air Force position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    8 – 30
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
  • Suspected attackers
    US Forces, Yemeni Air Force
  • Suspected target
    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
  • Belligerents reported killed
    6–50
  • Belligerents reported injured
    10–12

Sources (25) [ collapse]

Incident Code

USYEM082-C

Incident date

May 15, 2012

Location

جعار, Ja'ar, Abyan, Yemen

Geolocation

13.223161, 45.305486 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Town level. Continue to map

Airwars assessment

Between 13 and 26 civilians – 14 of whom were named – died and 21 other civilians were injured in two or more alleged US, Yemeni, or Saudi airstrikes on the same location in Jaar on May 15, 2012, according to sources. An additional three to 25 AQAP members were also killed in the strikes.

Reports said that two or more strikes in quick succession reduced an entire block to rubble. Initial reports from government sources claimed two or three senior Al Qaeda militants were killed as well as at least eight civilians. This changed as more details emerged in subsequent reports.

Amnesty International identified 14 civilian victims by name – including a pregnant woman: 33 year old taxi driver Nuweir al-Arshani and the 12 others that died in the second strike as Majed Ahmed Abdullah Awad, aged 26; Salem Mohsen Haidar al Jalladi, aged around 35; Adeeb Ahmed Ghanem al-Doba’i, Mohammed Abdullah Saleh Hussein, Munir bin al-Haji bin al Assi, Ahmed Abdullah Ahmed al-Shahari, Salem Abdullah Ahmed Abkar, Hussein Mubarak Ahmed, Abd al-Rahman Motahhar, Hafez Abdullah Mubarak, Mohsen Ali Salem and Amir al-Azzani. Mariam Abdo Sa’id, aged in her thirties and pregnant, was reportedly a passer-by hit by flying shrapnel and died. Samir al-Mushari, 31, was wounded in the strike and suffered burns. Survivor Samir al-Mushari told USA Today 26 civilians died.

The strike was variously labelled as the work of US drones or a “botched” Yemen Air Force raid. Witnesses told NPR they were sure the strike was carried out by a US jet that was grey and “looked like an eagle”. And in January 2013 an investigation by the London Times reported the strike as a possible attack by a Saudi Arabian bomber. One resident described the aircraft he saw: “It wasn’t Yemeni. It was a black plane. It was Saudi.”

There was a consensus among reports that there were more than one strike on at least one house and possible also on some vehicles.

Al-Haidari reported that eight bodies were initially found and twenty-five people were hurt. Four of those twenty-five later died from their injuries.

CNN reported militants were killed in the first strike and civilians who gathered at the scene were killed in the second.

The BBC reported that civilians “were hit as they were trying to dig out the bodies of those killed in the initial attack.” Abdullah was badly burnt in the second strike. He told NPR the man who died in the first strike was just an ordinary citizen. The second strike killed at least 12 people instantly. ‘”They were cut…in pieces,” he said. “A wall where the second strike hit is still covered in blood.”

The owner of the house Nouir Muhammad Abdullah al Arshani, 33, (aka Nuweir al Arshani) was killed in the initial strike. Thirteen more died in the second attack “a few minutes” later.

Amnesty noted that residents and relatives vouched that al Arshani was unrelated to AQAP while some residents claimed that the house behind him had been rented to AQAP. His brother insisted that this was not the case. Witness accounts said that  “At around 8am or 8.30am, an aircraft flying low over Jaar roared towards al Hurur…and bombed Nuweir’s home. I saw pieces of the house flying through the air and thick dust… I and others ran to the site to help. The house was reduced to rubble and I could hear women screaming from the house just behind it… we helped around five to seven women and children get out of that house, and then a child saw parts of Nuweir’s body amid the rubble. We dug in and removed his body and placed it in the car of someone who took him to the [MSF] medical centre.” He continued that AQAP militants in an ambulance arrived and then left but an argument developed over their presence and the strike. That was when the second strike occurred.

Passers-by gathered at the scene and the aircraft “returned and bombed and fired into the crowd.” Nour Awad Haydara al Hawla, 60, was among the wounded. She suffered a stroke at the shock of the explosions near her home.

Amnesty and Swiss rights group Alkarama, who independently investigates the strike, also published the names of 12 men killed in the follow-up attack. Hassan Ahmed Abdullahs brother died in the strike. He told al Akbar:

“About 15 minutes later [after the initial strike], another plane suddenly struck the same building killing 15 people, including my brother. He was wounded by shrapnel in his chest, liver, and neck. He also had burns on 50 percent of his body.”

Ahmed Abdullah Awads son Majed was injured in the follow-up attack. In June 2013 he told Code Pink activists in Aden what happened:

“Majed was burned over 50 percent of his body…But there is only an emergency clinic in Ja’ar, and they said he was too seriously injured to be treated there. The nearest hospital is in Aden, and the main road was closed. It took four hours to get there. I held him in my arms while we were driving, and he kept bleeding. On the third day in the hospital, at 2:30 a.m., Majed’s heart stopped and he died.”

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Alkarama and HOOD submitted testimony of victims and witnesses of strikes in Yemen to an April 2013 Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing. The submission included testimony from taxi driver Muhammad Salih Abdullah al Amri, 65. He said:

“I was working on my car when I heard the sound of an explosion…I asked the people in the area what happened and they said that a strike had targeted the al Ashrani house. My house is adjacent to the al Ashrani house. I came and found that my house had been destroyed. Three members of my family had been in the house. One of them was injured, while the other two were not hurt. I took all of them and moved them to the house of one of my relatives in the city…The aircraft returned to bomb the people who had gathered to aid the wounded from the first strike. Rockets fell a few meters away from me. I was in my car and saw that it was on fire. I quickly got out of the car and saw a number of people in front of me lying on the ground. They were burning without any clothes. I saw at least seven or eight of them die at that moment.”

The Red Cross said it was “extremely concerned” at possible airstrikes on civilian locations and urged all warring parties to protect civilian life. The civilian death toll was the highest attributed to US action in Yemen since an attack on a former police station in Mudiya killed up to 30 civilians on July 14 2011 (USYEM022-C).

In April 2013, the US State Department’s annual report on Yemen’s human rights practices was published. In a section titled Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life, the report noted: “Attacks by government forces targeting AQAP and other non-state actors resulted in the deaths of civilians and bystanders, according to Amnesty International (AI). For example, on May 15, an air strike killed a civilian in his home in Jaar, and a second airstrike on the same location reportedly killed at least 13 civilians who gathered at the scene.” The State Department made no mention of possible US involvement in the attack.

The incident occured at 09:00:00 local time.

The victims were named as:

Mariam Abdo Said
35 years old female pregnant Pregnant killed
Nour Awad Haydara al Hawla
60 years old female injured
Majed Ahmed Abdullah Awad
26 years old male Reportedly killed in the follow-up attack killed
Salem Mohsen Haidar al Jalladi
35 years old male Reportedly killed in the follow-up attack killed
Adeeb Ahmed Ghanem al Doba’i
18 years old male Reportedly killed in the follow-up attack killed
Mohammed Abdullah Saleh Hussein
30 years old male Reportedly killed in the follow-up attack killed
Munir bin al Haji bin al Assi
25 years old male Reportedly killed in the follow-up attack killed
Ahmed Abdullah Ahmed al Shahari
26 years old male Reportedly killed in the follow-up attack killed
Salem Abdullah Ahmed Abkar
40 years old male Reportedly killed in the follow-up attack killed
Hussien Mubarak Ahmed
40 years old male Reportedly killed in the follow-up attack killed
Abd al Rahman Motahhar
23 years old male Reportedly killed in the follow-up attack killed
Hafez Abdullah Mubarak
25 years old male Reportedly killed in the follow-up attack killed
Amir al Azzani
45 years old male Reportedly killed in the follow-up attack killed
Hassan Ahmed Abdullah‘s brother
Adult male killed
Ahmed Abdullah Awad‘s son, Majed
Adult male injured

Geolocation notes

Reports of the incident mention that a double airstrike targeted suspected militant vehicles and a building in a residential neighbourhood of the town of Ja’ar (جعار), in the Abyan (أبين‎) governorate. The first strike hit around 9 in the morning, the second 15 minutes later, killing civilians who had rushed to the site of the first strike. Due to limited information and satellite imagery available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further. The generic coordinates for the town of Ja’ar (جعار) are: 13.223161, 45.305486.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    13 – 26
  • (1 woman)
  • Civilians reported injured
    21
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
  • Suspected attackers
    US Forces, Saudi-led Coalition, Yemeni Air Force
  • Suspected target
    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
  • Belligerents reported killed
    3–25

Sources (59) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (2) [ collapse]

  • A boy stands next to his grandmother, Noor Awad al-Houla, 60, at their house in the southern Yemeni town of Jaar on February 1, 2013. The woman suffered a stroke that left her paralyzed after an air strike hit a neighboring house last year that was targeting al Qaeda-linked militants. (Khaled Abdullah Ali Al Mahdi/Reuters)
  • Damage caused by alleged US, Saudi, or Yemeni airstrikes in Jaar on May 15, 2012 (Image posted by NPR)

US Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    US Forces
  • US Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Saudi-led Coalition Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Saudi-led Coalition
  • Saudi-led Coalition position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Yemeni Air Force Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Yemeni Air Force
  • Yemeni Air Force position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    13 – 26
  • (1 woman)
  • Civilians reported injured
    21
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
  • Suspected attackers
    US Forces, Saudi-led Coalition, Yemeni Air Force
  • Suspected target
    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
  • Belligerents reported killed
    3–25

Sources (59) [ collapse]

Incident Code

USYEMTr006-C

Incident date

January 29, 2017

Location

الغيل, al Ghayil, Yakla, Bayda, Yemen

Geolocation

14.592945, 45.038975 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Village level. Continue to map

Airwars assessment

At least 15 civilians, including at least 10 children and four women, were reportedly killed in a US Navy special forces operation in al-Ghayil village, Yakla region of Bayda province – though the reported civilian toll varied considerably. The US military has to date conceded 12 deaths.

A force of US Navy SEALs engaged in a firefight with alleged militants in the village at around 1:30am, before sustaining injuries and one death, and then calling in air support to facilitate their withdrawal.  Though the raid was publicly announced as a “site exploitation mission”, intended to recover sensitive information on AQAP militants, later reporting by NBC revealed that the mission had been to “kill-or-capture” AQAP leadership, possibly including AQAP leader Qassim al-Raymi.

Assessments of civilian casualties varied considerably.  While NBC News reported that Nasser al-Awlaki, the grandfather of Nawar al-Awlaki who was killed during the raid, alleged that some initial total fatality counts were as high as 59, local medics and tribal sources reported around 30 deaths including 10 women and children, according to Reuters.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism worked with a journalist who visited al-Ghayil five days after the raid and spoke with nine survivors, collecting the names of 25 civilians killed as reported by those who lived there.   According to the Bureau, these names were later corroborated in an investigation by Human Rights Watch.

Ten of those civilian names collected by the Bureau were under the age of 18, nine of whom were under the age of 13.  However, of the child casualties reported by the Bureau, Abdallah Ahmed Abad al-Zouba was also listed as an AQAP militant in a statement by the militant group, and is not therefore counted in Airwars’ minimum civilian child casualty figure.  Two further child casualties, not included in the Bureau’s list, were reported in international media.  Osama, the child of AQAP member Arwa al-Baghdadi, was killed during the raid, according to The Intercept and a statement by AQAP.  Multiple reports suggested that a newborn child, born 48 hours later by emergency caesarean section, subsequently died due to injuries sustained by the mother, Arwa al-Baghdadi’s sister-in-law, during the raid.

In its own list of casualties, as reported by Al Araby, AQAP stated that three unnamed children of Abu Abdelileh al-Hadrami were killed in the raid, though no other sources mentioned these children, and it was unclear whether they were the same as others already named by others.  The minimum number of civilian child casualties given by Airwars is therefore eleven, ten of whom are named.  The maximum is given as fifteen, including Abdallah Ahmed Abad al-Zouba and the three unnamed children of Abu Abdelileh al-Hadrami.  The Bureau also reported that five children were injured in the raid.

In the Bureau’s original report it was stated that, of the 25 reported civilian deaths, eight were women, including one who was heavily pregnant, and that two additional women were injured. In the Bureau’s list as published by Al Araby, however, only seven adult female casualties were named. In addition, one of the women listed, Arwa al Baghdadi, was reported to be an AQAP member by multiple sources; some AQAP propaganda channels indicated that she may have been directly involved in combat during the raid, though this was denied by local residents.

Some reports variously suggested that Arwa al-Baghdadi’s unnamed pregnant sister-in-law – the wife of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – either died of injuries sustained during the raid after giving birth, or survived.  It could not be confirmed whether she was among those casualties named by the Bureau or other sources.  AQAP additionally stated that the “wife of Abi Walid al-Hadrami” had been killed in the raid, but this was not confirmed by any other sources, and it was unclear whether she was among those casualties named by other sources.  Airwars’ minimum number of adult female civilian casualties is therefore presently set at six, all of whom are named, with a maximum of ten, including the eight mentioned by the Bureau and the wives of Al-Hadrami and al-Baghdadi.

Eight of the civilian names collected by the Bureau were adult men, of which five were also claimed by AQAP or other sources to be AQAP militants; Airwars’ minimum number of adult male civilian casualties is therefore set at three, all of whom are named.  Cumulatively, twenty minimum civilian fatalities of the raid are given by Airwars, of which nineteen are named.

On February 1st 2017, CENTCOM reported that civilian non-combatants were likely killed “in the midst of” the firefight, and that this “may include children”.  According to this report, “the known possible civilian casualties appear to have been potentially caught up in aerial gunfire that was called in to assist U.S. forces in contact against a determined enemy that included armed women firing from prepared fighting positions, and U.S. special operations members receiving fire from all sides to include houses and other buildings”.

On February 28th, a Pentagon official told NBC News that the Pentagon did not dispute the numbers reported by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. However, in March, General Votel told the Senate Armed Services Committee that US forces killed between four and twelve civilians casualties in the raid. A later investigation by NBC included US intelligence sources saying sixteen civilians in total died as a result of the operation, contradicting Votel’s March comments. NBC determined from official documents verified by US intelligence that ten children under 13 had been killed.   A later internal Joint Special Operations Command report, obtained by The Intercept in December 2018, described the raid as resulting in “minimal civilian casualties”.

Numbers of reported combatant casualties also exhibited considerable variance.  One US soldier, Navy SEAL William ‘Ryan’ Owens, was killed by fire from alleged militants, while at least three further US personnel were injured, some during the “hard landing” of an Osprey helicopter during the raid.

US Central Command initially reported that fourteen AQAP militants were killed during the raid, including “two longstanding AQAP operational planners and weapons experts”, Sultan al-Dhahab and Abd-al-Ra’uf al-Dhahab.  Some local sources, as well as an AQAP statement, further suggested that Saif al-Jawqfi, an 80 year-old killed during the raid, had connections to AQAP.  According to “local sources”, reported by Al Jazeera, an AQAP leader, Abu Abu Barzan, was also killed, though other sources did not mention his name, and he did not appear in casualty lists given by either AQAP or the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.  According to AFP, one local Yemeni source initially stated that as many as 41 total “presumed militants” had been killed.  The internal Pentagon report obtained by The Intercept in December 2018 gave an overall number of 35 enemy combatants killed.

Several reports indicated that at least three of those killed during the raid were AQAP members.  Multiple sources suggested that the son of a local tribesman, Mohammed al-Ameri, Arwa al-Baghdadi and her brother Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi were “low-level” AQAP militants; all three were killed during the raid. Arwa and Abu Bakr were being sheltered in Mohammed al-Ameri’s house at the time of the raid, and one source indicated that this house was also used by passing AQAP militants.

Further, some witnesses suggested that additional AQAP militants may have joined the firefight from the surrounding area during the raid.  To reflect these issues, Airwars’ minimum estimate of militants killed in the raid is set at three.  Correspondingly, the maximum number of civilian casualties is set at 56, reflecting the highest alleged death toll of 59, less the three minimum militant casualties recorded by Airwars.  The maximum number of combatant casualties is set at 42, to reflect the highest alleged number of militant casualties, in addition to the single US death.

However, local sources and on-the-ground reporting cast significant doubt upon the more substantial militant casualty figures given by the US military and some other sources.  Both local residents and Yemeni state sources, as well as an investigation by the Associated Press, disputed that Sultan al-Dhahab or Abd-al-Ra’uf al-Dhahab were AQAP militants.  Instead, multiple sources, including Yemeni government army moral guidance director Major General Mohsen Kosroof, claimed that Abd-al-Ra’uf al-Dhahab was instead a leader of US-backed pro-Hadi militia forces, and that he had returned to Yakla to distribute payment to fighters.  Both are listed as civilians in the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s report on the raid.

In an interview with PBS Frontline, Abdulilah al-Dhahab, brother of Sultan and Abd-al-Ra’uf, said that neither were AQAP militants, and also stated that Abd-al-Ra’uf was a leader in the US-backed anti-Houthi forces.  The Yemeni government confirmed to PBS Frontline that Abd-al-Ra’uf held this position.  Abdulilah al-Dhahab went into hiding in the aftermath of the raid, according to Frontline, and has since been the target of several reported US raids.

In an investigation for The Intercept, journalist Iona Craig suggested that many of the combatants encountered by US forces in the al-Ghayil were likely scared civilians acting in self-defence, rather than AQAP militants, having previously been attacked by Houthi forces. “If you want to hunt al-Qaida, you can find them in the surrounding mountains not in this small village… The Americans’ information was wrong,” said Aziz Mabkhout, the village chief, according to Associated Press.  PBS Frontline later published witness testimony, suggesting that the village had been attacked by Houthis hours before the raid, and that the villagers initially believed US forces to also be Houthis.

In an initial statement, AQAP indicated that the raid had killed “only women and children… with some tribal leaders who have no connections” to the group, while a statement by AQAP leader al-Raymi listed fourteen men as dead, but did not clearly state that they were AQAP members.  Eight of those names given were listed with a nom de guerre, indicating likely membership.  According to Iona Craig of The Intercept, eight names given by AQAP were not included in the list of the dead that villagers provided to her, and were not known to local residents.  They were also not given in the Bureau’s list of casualties.  Family members disputed that the remaining six men were AQAP militants.  These six names included Mohammed al-Ameri, Sultan al-Dhahab, Abd-al-Ra’uf al-Dhahab, Saif al-Jawqfi, and seventeen year-old Abdallah Ahmed Abad al-Zouba, as well as Abdallah Mabkhout al-Ameri.

Similarly, both local residents and commentators disputed the reports by US Central Command that female fighters had been involved in the firefight.  Pentagon spokesperson Jeff Davis stated that “female fighters ran to pre-established positions as though they had trained to be ready” to fight during the raid.  Some AQAP propaganda channels reported that women had been involved in combat during the raid.  However, all of those local residents spoken to by Iona Craig for The Intercept “strongly challenged this accusation, citing a culture that views the prospect of women fighting, as Nesma al Ameri put it, as ‘eib’ — shameful and dishonorable — and pointing out the practical implausibility of women clutching babies while also firing rifles”.  It is unclear what proportion of US-reported enemy casualties, if any, female fighters constituted.

According to both global media and local sources, the raid began in the early hours of the morning of January 29th.  Around thirty US SEALs and Emirati special forces entered the village, accompanied by military dogs. After taking wounded and one fatality – Navy SEAL William ‘Ryan’ Owens, US forces called in air support, including two Marine Corps CV-22 Osprey tilt rotor vertical take-off and landing aircraft, along with AV-8B Harrier jump jets and attack helicopters.  During attempts to evacuate the US-Emirati forces, one Osprey helicopter experienced a “hard landing”, and was then intentionally destroyed by US aircraft.  Multiple sources suggested that the overall firefight lasted for around an hour.

Local sources alleged that US forces began firing on the village and killing indiscriminately, causing civilians to take up arms in self-defence.  One anonymous local resident told Reuters that the “operation began at dawn when a drone bombed the home of Abdulraoof al-Dhahab and then helicopters flew up and unloaded paratroopers at his house and killed everyone inside”, and, subsequently, “the gunmen opened fire at the U.S. soldiers who left the area, and the helicopters bombed the gunmen and a number of homes and led to a large number of casualties”.

According to an investigation by Human Rights Watch, “men in al-Dahab’s house heard people approaching and called out. When they got no response, they began shooting”. Another witness said that “the men in [al-Dahab’s] house fired warning shots into the air and that the forces outside then opened fire on the home”.  Some sources reported that this advance was accompanied, or shortly preceded, by aerial strikes against the village. According to Alwaght, these targeted “a number of locations where al-Qaeda elements are believed to be entrenched in the area, including a school and an al-Qaeda prison”.  Others told Human Rights watch that “[Mohammed] al-Ameri’s house was destroyed by an aerial bomb soon after fighting began, killing at least nine people, including him, four women, and four children”.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported that eleven-year-old Ahmed al-Dhahab was one of the first killed in the raid.  His father, Abdelilah Ahmed al-Dhahab, told the Bureau that “when my son Ahmed saw them, he couldn’t tell that they were soldiers because it was dark… He asked them ‘Who are you?’ but the men shot him. He was the first killed. No one thought that marines would descend on our homes to kill us, kill our children and kill our women”.  Abdelilah al-Dhahab later told PBS Frontline that his son was shot through the heart by US forces when he saw them, prompting the family to return fire.

Abdullah al-Dhahab, whose son, Nasser, was killed in the raid told the Bureau “that his son had gone to visit family members in the Yakla area during the midterm school holiday… ‘Nasser was very smart, and he was special to me. He was my friend, despite being young, and I trusted his decisions. … The American raid killed my son, a student in the eighth grade. … There needs to be accountability for those who carried out this crime before American courts'”.

According to witness Sadiq al Jawfi, both Abd-al-Ra’uf al-Dhahab and Sultan al-Dhahab were shot as they exited their home, as well as 80-year-old Saif al Jawfi.  Witnesses, including Abdelilah al-Dhahab, told the Bureau that US forces fired indiscriminately on the home of 65-year-old Abdallah Mabkhout al-Ameri, attacking everyone who left their home.  Abdallah was a survivor of a previous US drone strike in the area, in 2013, which had hit his wedding.  Saleh Mohsen al-Ameri said that US forces “attacked the mosque, school, medical unit and a prison in the area…  Anybody leaving the house was hit and killed… people in here have nothing but Kalashnikovs” to defend themselves.  According to The Intercept, the firefight escalated as others from the area came to support the al-Ghayil villagers.  Some sources claimed that AQAP militants from the area joined the battle, but others mentioned only villagers.

Further reported civilian casualties came as the result of US close air support.  Aziz al-Ameri reported that “[attack helicopters] were shooting at anything moving, anything that moved they shot, human or animal, even donkeys”.  Several reports suggested that multiple houses and buildings were destroyed by air support.  Speaking with Iona Craig of The Intercept, Nesma al Ameri, “an elderly village matriarch who lost four family members in the raid, described how the attack helicopters began firing down on anything that moved”.  Various sources alleged that 30-year-old Fatim Saleh Mohsen al-Ameri was shot in the back of the head and killed while fleeing fire with her 18-month-old son and her other children.  Her son, Mohammed, survived, but was injured.   “We pulled him out from his mother’s lap. He was covered in her blood,” said 11-year-old Basil Ahmed Abad al­ Zouba.  Fahad Ali al-Ameri said that his three-month-old daughter was killed in her crib when a missile hit his home.  The Intercept reported that three children of Mohammed al-Ameri were killed when an airstrike hit his home.

Nawar al-Awlaki, an eight year-old girl visiting her uncle in the village, was reportedly killed while hiding in a house, after fire from a gunship hit her in her neck.  According to her uncle, Abdelilah al-Dahab, she bled to death over the course of two hours. Her grandfather, Nasser al-Awlaki, who was not present at the time of the raid, told NBC News that “when the attack came, they were sitting in the house, and a bullet struck her in her neck at 2:30 past midnight. Other children in the same house were killed.”  According to Nasser, US forces “entered another house and killed everybody in it, including all the women. They burned the house”.  Nawar al-Awlaki’s father, the American preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, was killed by a US drone strike in 2011.  Her sixteen-year-old American-born brother was also killed by a 2011 US drone strike.

Reporting by Human Rights Watch further suggested that those injured during the raid struggled to get medical care.  “Dr. Ameen Mabrook, director of the “26th September” hospital in al-Joubah district in Marib, a five-hour drive from the Yakla area and the nearest hospital that provides neonatal care, said that the hospital received three people wounded in the raid – a young man shot in the leg, a pregnant woman, and a small girl”.  The pregnant woman, the sister-in-law of Arwa al-Baghdadi, had been shot in the stomach, and gave birth to a child who later died on January 31st due to these injuries.

This picture of events strongly contradicts reports from US officials and US Central Command.  In a CENTCOM press release, it was stated that the US force came under attack from a “determined enemy that included armed women firing from prepared fighting positions, and U.S. special operations members receiving fire from all sides to include houses and other buildings”.  Speaking with Reuters, three US officials said that “the attacking SEAL team found itself dropping onto a reinforced al Qaeda base defended by landmines, snipers, and a larger than expected contingent of heavily armed Islamist extremists”.  “Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has a horrifying history of hiding women and children within militant operating areas and terrorist camps, and continuously shows a callous disregard for innocent lives”, said CENTCOM spokesperson Col. John J. Thomas.

In its May 2018 annual civilian casualty report, the US Department of Defense stated that “there were credible reports of civilian casualties caused by U.S. military actions in Yemen against AQAP and ISIS during 2017”, but did not specify which specific actions these credible reports referred to.  Overall, the Department of Defense assessed that there were credible reports of “approximately 499 civilians killed and approximately 169 civilians injured during 2017”, as a result of US military actions in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen.

In late 2020, following the publication of its report into Trump-era drone strikes in Yemen, Airwars had to remind CENTCOM of its previous confirmation to the Senate of up to 12 civilians killed at Yakla, after a press statement was issued asserting only that “there may have been civilian casualties”. CENTCOM’s official spokesman blamed the mistake on an “administrative error.”

A major report into Trump actions in Yemen, issued in March 2021 by the Yemeni human rights group Mwatana, lowered the minimum likely civilian toll at Yakla to at least fifteen killed – which it said was “likely a conservative estimate.” The study, Death Falling From The Sky, contained multiple eyewitness statements on the Yakla raid from survivors, many of whom had witnessed the killing of close relatives in the US attack.

Ten year old Barzan Mohammad Abdallah Mabkhout Al Amir, whose family lived in the village, for example recalled: “We were all asleep when we suddenly heard the shooting. Our mother gathered us in one room to protect us. My grandfather was immediately killed after he left the house. The house collapsed and my mother, father, and siblings were all killed.”

The report also noted that “Residents told Mwatana that US forces used helicopters to attack inhabited houses, and that US soldiers stormed the village and opened fire, including on villagers fleeing from their homes. Some of those interviewed by Mwatana said that some men in the village tried to fire back when they realized their village was under attack.”

More than three years after the US raid, residents described to Mwatana the extreme trauma they still experienced: “The strike left people in the village, particularly children, paralyzed with fear, residents said. Traumatized, people in the village told Mwatana in May 2020 that they were still struggling to carry out regular activities, such as farming. One man, whose daughter was killed in the raid, said his wife was traumatized and that her health had gravely deteriorated after the raid and their daughter’s death.”

The report concluded: “Mwatana found no credible information suggesting that these 20 civilians killed or wounded were directly participating in hostilities with AQAP or IS-Y. Of the 15 civilians killed, only one was an adult man, who residents said was old—about 65—who was unable to fight and had lost his hearing before the raid. All the rest were children—most very young—or women.”

Responding to the Mwatana report in April 2021, CENTCOM raised its estimate of civilians killed at Yakla to twelve. The following month, DoD’s annual civilian harm report to Congress noted that ” USCENTCOM assessed that between 4 and 12 civilians
were killed during this incident, however the assessment was not able to determine a more precise number. Twelve civilians killed is reported here.”

The incident occured at approximately 1:30 am local time.

The victims were named as:

Family members (16)

3 months years old female killed
4 years years old female killed
5 years years old female killed
5 years years old male killed
6 years years old male killed
7 years years old female killed
38 years years old female killed
25 years old female killed
24 or 30 years old female killed
40 years old female killed
Adult female killed
Adult female killed
37 years old male killed
38 years old male Alleged by multiple sources to be an AQAP militant killed
65 years old male Alleged by multiple sources to be an AQAP militant killed
2 years old male injured

Family members (4)

11 years old male killed
12 years old male killed
32 years old male Alleged by multiple sources to be an AQAP militant killed
37 years old male Alleged by multiple sources to either have been an AQAP militant or a pro-government militant killed

Family members (2)

35 years old male killed
55 years old male killed

Family members (3)

Adult female Alleged by multiple sources to be an AQAP militant killed
Age unknown female pregnant Alleged in some sources to have been killed killed

Family members (4)

Adult female Reported only in AQAP statement killed
Child Reported only in AQAP statement killed
Child Reported only in AQAP statement killed
Child Reported only in AQAP statement killed

The victims were named as:

8 years years old female killed
17 years old male Alleged to have been an AQAP militant in a statement by the group killed
80 years old male Alleged by multiple sources to be an AQAP militant killed

Geolocation notes (1) [ collapse]

Reports of the incident mention a firefight and several strikes in the village of Al Ghayil (الغيل‎), for which the coordinates are: 14.592945, 45.038975. Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further.

  • Tagged satellite imagery of the event from The Intercept.

    Imagery:
    The Intercept, 2017

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Counter-Terrorism Action (Ground)
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    15 – 56
  • (10–15 children4–10 women1–8 men)
  • Civilians reported injured
    5–7
  • Causes of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions, Small arms and light weapons
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Confirmed
    A specific belligerent has accepted responsibility for civilian harm.
  • Known attacker
    US Forces
  • Known target
    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
  • Belligerents reported killed
    4–42
  • Belligerents reported injured
    3–6

Sources (92) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (52) [ collapse]

  • The Pentagon said that an Osprey helicopter had experienced a "hard landing" during the raid, allegedly shown here (Al Jazeera, January 29th 2017)
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    Eight-year-old Nawar al-Awlaki was reportedly fatally wounded after US forces fired upon the house she was hiding in during the raid. Photos of her body, shown here, circulated online after the raid. (Alshahed News, January 29th 2017)
  • Interior view of a building allegedly destroyed during the raid (Alahd, January 29th 2017)
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    An alleged child casualty of the January 29th 2017 raid (@amerAlhamiqaniu, January 29th 2017)
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    Abd al-Raoud al-Dahab was reportedly killed during the January 29th 2017 raid. The US claimed that he was an AQAP militant, but other sources disputed this, instead suggesting that he was pro-Hadi government fighter (@shahd201062, January 29th 2017)
  • Abd al-Raoud al-Dahab was reportedly killed during the January 29th 2017 raid. The US claimed that he was an AQAP militant, but other sources disputed this, instead suggesting that he was pro-Hadi government fighter (@shahd201062, January 29th 2017)
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    A compilation of alleged child victims of the raid (@ahmadnaser4444, January 29th 2017)
  • A car allegedly destroyed during the January 29th 2017 raid (@almisbarr, January 29th 2017)
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    An alleged child casualty of the January 29th 2017 raid (@m_alsallaly, January 29th 2017)
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    An alleged child casualty of the January 29th 2017 raid (@mazenyemen, January 29th 2017)
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    An alleged child casualty of the January 29th 2017 raid (@mazenyemen, January 29th 2017)
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    An alleged child casualty of the January 29th 2017 raid (@abu_japheth, January 29th 2017)
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    An alleged child casualty of the January 29th 2017 raid (@abu_japheth, January 29th 2017)
  • Alleged remnants of US medical supplies from the site of the raid (Elyamnelaraby, January 29th 2017)
  • Alleged remnants of US medical supplies from the site of the raid (Elyamnelaraby, January 29th 2017)
  • Abd al-Raoud al-Dahab was reportedly killed during the January 29th 2017 raid. The US claimed that he was an AQAP militant, but other sources disputed this, instead suggesting that he was pro-Hadi government fighter (Tehama Press, January 29th 2017)
  • "William Owens holds a photo of his son, Navy SEAL William "Ryan" Owens, in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Florida." (NBC, October 1st 2017) William "Ryan" Owens was killed during the raid.
  • "William Owens stands with his son, William "Ryan" Owens, in front of a helicopter in a family photo." (NBC, February 27th 2017) US Navy SEAL William "Ryan" Owens was killed during the raid.
  • Eight-year-old Nawar al-Awlaki was reportedly fatally wounded after US forces fired upon the house she was hiding in during the raid. (@nationalyemen, February 3rd 2017)
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    A newborn child allegedly died, 48 hours after the raid, due to wounds sustained by the mother during the raid. Some sources alleged that the mother was the nine-months pregnant sister-in-law of Arwa al-Baghdadi, and had been shot in the stomach. (@karot2525, January 31st 2017)
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    Pro-AQAP media channels used images from the raid in propaganda efforts (@ludowizze, January 30th 2017)
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    An alleged casualty of the January 29th 2017 raid (@doamuslims, January 29th 2017)
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    An alleged child casualty of the January 29th 2017 raid (@doamuslims, January 29th 2017)
  • The Pentagon said that an Osprey helicopter had experienced a "hard landing" during the raid, allegedly shown here (@defence_blog, January 29th 2017)
  • The Pentagon said that an Osprey helicopter, of the type shown here, had experienced a "hard landing" during the raid (@defence_blog, January 29th 2017)
  • "Ryan Owens, left, with his father Bill Owens." (NBC, October 1st 2017)
  • "CPO Ryan Owens, a Navy SEAL who died in a raid on al Qaeda in Yemen in January 2017" (NBC, October 1st 2017)
  • A map of Yemen, produced by NBC News, showing the location of Yakla, where the January 29th raid took place (NBC, October 1st 2017)
  • The interior of a building damaged during the January 29th 2017 raid (NBC, October 1st 2017)
  • A building damaged during the January 29th 2017 raid (NBC, October 1st 2017)
  • "Relatives of those who died, including the seven children of Fatim Saleh Mohsen al-Ameri" (Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Febuary 9th 2017)
  • Abdallah Mabkhout al-Ameri was killed during the raid. He had survived a previous US strike on his wedding in 2013. (Bureau of Investigative Journalism, February 9th 2017)
  • Eight-year-old Nawar al-Awlaki was reportedly fatally wounded after US forces fired upon the house she was hiding in during the raid. (Bureau of Investigative Journalism, February 9th 2017)
  • Interior view of a building allegedly destroyed during the raid (Alahd, January 29th)
  • A map of al-Ghayil, published by The Intercept (March 9th 2017), detailing the locations of the raid
  • A girl in the remains of a building, reportedly destroyed during the January 29th 2017 raid (The Intercept, March 9th 2017)
  • Children in the ruins of a house, destroyed during the January 29th 2017 raid (The Intercept, March 9th 2017)
  • The village of al-Ghayil, in which the raid took place (The Intercept, March 9th 2017)
  • "Mabkhout Ali al Ameri stands with his 18-month-old son, Mohammed, in the village of al Ghayil in Yemen’s al Bayda province. Mabkhout’s wife, Fatim Saleh Mohsen, was shot in the back of the head by helicopter gunship fire as she fled with Mohammed in her arms during a U.S. raid on January 29, 2017. The vehicle in the background was also destroyed during the assault." (The Intercept, March 9th 2017)
  • Buildings damaged during the raid (Reprieve, February 2nd 2017)
  • The interior of a building damaged during the raid (@doamuslims, January 29th 2017)
  • Eight-year-old Nawar al-Awlaki was reportedly fatally wounded after US forces fired upon the house she was hiding in during the raid. (Yemenpress, January 29th 2017)
  • Eight-year-old Nawar al-Awlaki was reportedly fatally wounded by US fire during the raid (CNN, January 31st 2017)
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    Video footage of a child allegedly killed during the raid
  • Alleged video footage of al-Ghayil village, showing damage caused in the raid.
  • PBS Frontline visited the site of the Yakla raid, recording interviews with eyewitnesses of the raid
  • Barzan Mohammed Abdullah Mabkhout Al Ameri, 10, the sole surviving member of his family after the January 29, 2017 raid in Al Bayda governorate, Yemen. Photo taken by a Mwatana researcher.
  • The place where Mursil Abedraboh Masad Al Ameri, 6 years old, was shot and killed during the raid. Photo taken by a Mwatana researcher.
  • Location where witnesses reported US forces landed during the January 2017 raid. Photo taken by a Mwatana researcher.
  • Damage to the reception room of a Yakla home from the January 2017 raid. Photo taken by a Mwatana researcher.
  • A home in Yakla that was attacked and significantly damaged during the January 2017 raid. Photo taken by a Mwatana researcher.
  • Text of CENTCOM letter to Mwatana, April 2021, confirming 12 civilian deaths at Yakla.

US Forces Assessment:

  • Known belligerent
    US Forces
  • US Forces position on incident
    Credible / Substantiated
    The investigation assessed that although all feasible precautions were taken and the decision to strike complied with the law of armed conflict, unintended civilian casualties regrettably occurred.
  • Given reason for civilian harm
    Killed by strike blast, Unseen at time of engagement, Inside target building, Killed in adjacent structure
    Airwars’ assessment of belligerent’s civilian casualty statement
  • Initial Airwars grading
    Confirmed
  • Civilian deaths conceded
    12
  • Civilian injuries conceded
    None

Civilian casualty statements

US Forces
  • May 28, 2021
  • Apr 20, 2021
  • Mar 9, 2017
  • Feb 1, 2017
  • A team designated by the operational task force commander has concluded regrettably that civilian non-combatants were likely killed in the midst of a firefight during a raid in Yemen Jan. 29. Casualties may include children. The ongoing credibility assessment seeks to determine if there were any still-undetected civilian casualties in the ferocious firefight that also claimed the life of Navy Seal Team Chief Special Warfare Operator William “Ryan” Owens and wounded three other U.S. service members. The known possible civilian casualties appear to have been potentially caught up in aerial gunfire that was called in to assist U.S. forces in contact against a determined enemy that included armed women firing from prepared fighting positions, and U.S. special operations members receiving fire from all sides to include houses and other buildings. This complex situation included small arms fire, hand grenades and close air support fire. Analysts are carefully assessing whether additional non-combatant civilians that were not visible to the assault force at the time were mixed in with combatants. The raid resulted in the seizure of materials and information that is yielding valuable intelligence to help partner nations deter and prevent future terror attacks in Yemen and across the world. “Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula has a horrifying history of hiding women and children within militant operating areas and terrorist camps, and continuously shows a callous disregard for innocent lives,” said Col. John J. Thomas, U.S. Central Command spokesman. “That’s what makes cases like these so especially tragic.”

  • Senator Kaine: If I might, one last question with respect to Yemen. We have had hearings in this committee about the ground operation in Yemen, which to my knowledge was the first ground operation by DOD forces in Yemen. There were a number of questions raised by that. I do not want to go into the classified briefing we had, but questions about was the mission compromised in some way in the advance. What intel was gained? There was some after the-fact justification of the mission using video that actually had been taken in another mission. Is the DOD conducting an ongoing investigation of that mission to determine all lessons learned, what worked, what did not, and what we can do better? General Votel: Senator, thank you, and let me answer this a little more comprehensively. First and foremost, I am responsible for this mission. I am the CENTCOM Commander and I am responsible for what is done in my region and what is not done in my region. So I accept the responsibility for this. We lost a lot on this operation. We lost a valued operator. We had people wounded. We caused civilian casualties. We lost an expensive aircraft. We did gain some valuable information that will be helpful for us. Our intention here was to improve our knowledge against this threat, a threat that poses a direct threat to us here in the homeland. And that was what we were focused on. There have been a number of investigations that have been initiated. Most of these are regulatory or statutory in terms of things that we normally do. When we lose an aircraft, there is both a safety investigation to ensure that we disseminate lessons learned for the broader fleet, and there is also a collateral investigation that tries to determine the specific reason why that happened and establishes accountability over that. We have done an investigation into the civilian casualties. That has been completed. The helicopter investigations are ongoing. The civilian casualty aspect has been completed, and we have made a determination based on our best information available that we did cause casualties, somewhere between 4 and 12 casualties that we accept -- I accept responsibility for. We have done a line of duty investigation, again a statutory investigation, on the death of Senior Chief Owens that determined that he was in the line of investigation. The key mechanism that I have, Senator, is the after action review, and this is something we do with every operation we do. And the intention here is to review the operation in great detail to understand exactly what happened. And it is done with the chain of command in place. And we have done that and I have presided over that. Based on my experience, nearly 37 years of service, I have certainly appointed a lot of investigations and I have been through a lot of these after-action reviews. When I go through these things, there are some specific things that I am looking for. I am looking for information gaps where we cannot explain what happened in a particular situation or we have conflicting information between members of the organization. I am looking for indicators of incompetence or poor decision-making or bad judgment throughout all of this. So what I can tell you is that we did an exhaustive after-action review on this. I presided over that. It went down to a level that included people who were on the specific objective. As a result of that, I was satisfied that none of those indicators that I identified to you were present. I think we had a good understanding of exactly what happened on this objective, and we have been able to pull lessons learned out of that that we will apply in future operations. And as a result, I made the determination that there was no need for an additional investigation into this particular operation. Senator Kaine: So the only investigation that continues is the investigation -- or the loss of the helicopters is still not complete. General Votel: That is correct, Senator. Senator Kaine: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chair. Chairman McCain: Just to follow up, General, there has been a lot of conversation about this particular mission and the point that some of us are trying to make that the heroism and sacrifice of those who served has nothing to do with the mission itself. In other words, we honor their sacrifice no matter what happened in the mission. And when you have women and children killed, as you pointed out, the loss of a $70 million aircraft, you did not capture anyone as was part of the mission, that mission is not a success. But that happens in war. There is a thing called the fog of war. They did the best they could under very difficult circumstances. And I hope in the process of your investigation, when heavy fire was encountered why the decision was made to continue the mission -- I still do not think this committee has an answer to that question. But it does not question the loyalty and sacrifice and bravery when we question the mission. And unless we tell the American people the truth, the absolute truth, then we are going to revisit another war a long time ago where we did tell the American people the truth and we paid a very heavy price for it. There are 55,000 names engraved in black granite not far from here, and the American people were not told the truth about whether we were succeeding or failing in that war. And then because of that, it all collapsed. So I hope that we will not forget that lesson, and in no way does it detract from the heroism and professionalism and sacrifice of the brave men and women who serve under your command.

  • CENTCOM letter to Mwatana (see image above)

  • The following table contains additional details about the one instance during 2017 assessed to have resulted in civilian casualties. USCENTCOM assessed that between 4 and 12 civilians were killed during this incident, however the assessment was not able to determine a more precise number. Twelve civilians killed is reported here.

Original strike reports

US Forces

An estimated 14 al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula terrorists were killed yesterday during a raid by U.S. forces in Yemen, according to a U.S. Central Command news release issued today.
One U.S. service member died of wounds suffered in the raid, and three others were wounded, the release said.
The names of the deceased and wounded service members are being withheld pending notification of next-of-kin, the release said.
“In a successful raid against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula headquarters, brave U.S. forces were instrumental in killing an estimated 14 AQAP members and capturing important intelligence that will assist the U.S. in preventing terrorism against its citizens and people around the world,” President Donald J. Trump said in a statement issued today.
Trump added, “Americans are saddened this morning with news that a life of a heroic service member has been taken in our fight against the evil of radical Islamic terrorism. The sacrifices made by the men and women of our armed forces, and the families they leave behind, are the backbone of the liberty we hold so dear as Americans, united in our pursuit of a safer nation and a freer world. My deepest thoughts and humblest prayers are with the family of this fallen service member. I also pray for a quick and complete recovery for the brave service members who sustained injuries.”
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of one of our elite service members,” Army Gen. Joseph L. Votel, Centcom’s commander, said in the Centcom release. “The sacrifices are very profound in our fight against terrorists who threaten innocent peoples across the globe.”
A U.S. military aircraft assisting in the operation experienced a hard landing at a nearby location, resulting in an additional U.S. injury, according to the Centcom release. That aircraft was unable to fly after the landing. The aircraft was then intentionally destroyed in place.
The raid is one in a series of aggressive moves against terrorist planners in Yemen and worldwide, according to the Centcom release. Similar operations have produced intelligence on al-Qaida logistics, recruiting and financing efforts.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Counter-Terrorism Action (Ground)
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    15 – 56
  • (10–15 children4–10 women1–8 men)
  • Civilians reported injured
    5–7
  • Causes of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions, Small arms and light weapons
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Confirmed
    A specific belligerent has accepted responsibility for civilian harm.
  • Known attacker
    US Forces
  • Known target
    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
  • Belligerents reported killed
    4–42
  • Belligerents reported injured
    3–6

Sources (92) [ collapse]

Incident Code

USYEM124-C

Incident date

September 2, 2012

Location

صرار قيفة, Sarar Qifah, Bayda', Yemen

Geolocation

14.5370040, 44.7177870 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Village level. Continue to map

Airwars assessment

Confirmed US drones or jets killed between 11 and 14 civilians, including up to three women (one pregnant woman) and three children, in a botched attack on an alleged senior militant in the village of Al Saboul in Bayda province at 4pm on September 2, 2012. Up to 11 other civilians were wounded.

Al Masdar Online published the names of those killed: Abdullah Muhammad Ali al-Daqari (23-25 years old), Mubarak Muqbel al-Daqari (13 years old), Nasir Salah (50-60 years old), Rassila Ali (41-55 years old) (Nasir Salah’s wife), Dawlat Nasir (10 years) (Daughter of Nasir Salah), Abdullah Ahmad Abd Rabbo Rabeesh (28 years), Saddam Hussein Muhammad Musaad (18-28 years, student), Ismael Mabkhout Muhammad (25-30 years, farmer), Abd al-Ghani Muhammad Mabkhout (12-17 years, student), Masoud Ali Ahmed Muqbel (45 years old, farmer), Jamal Muhammad Abbad (30 years old).

The injured were listed as the driver Nasser Mabkhout, 45 and Sultan Ahmed Mohammed Sarhan, 27. Mohammed Abdo Jarallah died of his wounds three weeks later after he was transferred to Egypt for treatment. Alkarama, in an October 2013 report, said 11 pedestrians were injured in the strike.

Locals said that a 10-year-old girl, her mother, and her father (Nasir Salah, Rassila Ali and Dawlat Nasir) were killed while returning from a doctor’s visit. Both were corroborated by a report compiled by three human rights groups, submitted to a US Senate subcommittee hearing in April 2013. “The bodies were charred like coal. I could not recognize the faces,” said Ahmed al Sabooli, the dead girl’s 22-year-old brother. “Then I recognized my mother because she was still holding my sister in her lap.That is when I cried” reported Foreign Policy. Mwatana added that Rassila was pregnant at the time she was killed.

Alkarama quoted the father of Mubarak Muqbel al-Daqari, who described him as “Mubarak left school when he was in the sixth grade to work on a farm and help us financially. Everyone loved Mubarak, but his grandfather loved him most of all, and to this day we have not been able to tell him of his death.”

A report by Mwatana pointed out that many of the victim’s families lost their breadwinners in the strike: Mohammed Abdo Jarallah, who was killed in the attack, supported a family of 25. Masoud Ali Muqbel, who was also killed in the strike, had four sons and five daughters, all of whom were forced to leave school and go to work in their father’s farm after his death. Umm Moosa, the wife of Masoud Ali, said: “All my kids are still children. The eldest is 12 years old. For a whole week, my child kept asking, ‘Where is my father?’ and we told him that his father had gone to God. Moreover, my mother-in-law has been sick since her son’s death.”

Mareb Press reported that the dead were from the village of Saboul, and that a number of them were heading to Radaa to sell khat. A provincial police official, tribal officials and local residents said that a minibus was hit by mistake, killing the civilians.

Reports about the number of casualties from the strike were varied, with @AlainOnline tweeting that thirteen civilians were killed in an apparent drone attack, while @7aryaneh tweeted that eleven civilians were killed, but specifically included the details of three women. Kuwaite News @NewsKuwaite later reported that thirteen individuals were killed including a “prominent” al-Qaeda leader. @Akhbar tweeted shortly after that fourteen civilians were “mistakenly” killed in an airstrike.

The airstrike was initially said to have intended to strike a car carrying alleged militant Abdulraouf al Dahab at 4pm local time, with some sources stating that he survived the strike. Abdulraouf’s half-brothers Qayid and Nabil al Dhahab survived a US drone strike in May that year. They reportedly became local Al Qaeda leaders in Radaa after Yemeni intelligence services killed their brother Sheikh Tariq al Dahab in February 2012. Initial reporting from local and international media, including Reuters and Ahram News, reported that as many as 10 members of Al Qaeda were killed in the attack. However, these sources also note that the claims of killing Al Qaeda leaders were being contradicted by other sources.

At first military officials said Yemen Air Force jets killed them as they returned to their village because of faulty intelligence. However the Yemen Air Force lacks the technical capability to carry out a precision strike on a moving target, and the Yemen Post reported that the attack was the work of US drones.

Eyewitnesses also reported that a drone carried out the strike. In December 2012, US officials acknowledged responsibility for the attack. They told the Washington Post a “Defense Department aircraft, either a drone or a fixed-wing warplane” carried out the strike. Witnesses told the paper they saw three aircraft over the strike, two of them Yemeni. “I heard a very loud noise, like thunder,” said Sami al-Ezzi, a farmer who was working in his fields in Sabool, a farming village six miles from Radda. “I looked up and saw two warplanes. One was firing missiles.”

Witnesses also told Human Rights Watch researcher Letta Tayler that drones and jets were over the area on the day of the strike. Their testimony and the shrapnel they recovered from the site pointed to US involvement but could not determine if the drones or strike fighters launched the attack.

Recounting the aftermath of the strike, a local sheikh Nawaf Massoud Awadh told Tayler: “About four people were without heads. Many lost their hands and legs…These were our relatives and friends.”

“Their bodies were burning,” recalled Sultan Ahmed Mohammed, 27, who was riding on the hood of the truck and flew headfirst into a sandy expanse. “How could this happen? None of us were al-Qaeda” reported the Washington Post. “If we are ignored and neglected, I would try to take my revenge. I would even hijack an army pickup, drive it back to my village and hold the soldiers in it hostages,” said Nasser Mabkhoot Mohammed al-Sabooly, the truck’s driver, 45, who suffered burns and bruises. “I would fight along al-Qaeda’s side against whoever was behind this attack.”

The uncle of Mohammed Abdo Jarrallah, who was killed by the attack, told Mwatana: “We were all shocked by the incident. A group of qat vendors and farmers, including a woman and child, who had nothing to do with any [militant] group were killed. Everyone in the area knew them, and so did everyone in Rada’a market. They were coming home carrying home necessities and food for their families. Why did America kill them? What was their crime? Was it their fault that they were poor and they were from a poor and remote village? What is the crime of the victims’ children so that they lose their breadwinner in this horrible way?”

In their submission to a Senate subcommittee hearing, NGOs  HOOD, Alkarama and CCR interviewed survivors. One said: “We saw two planes coming close to us. One of them got very close and fired a missile and we flew from the car. Some were still alive, and wanted to flee, but the plane fired another missile to kill those who were not yet dead from the first.”

One of the survivors said: “The plane came very close to us, which enabled them with all certainty to see us and confirm to them that we were civilians and that we had children and women with us.”

The victims’ families, joined in protests by hundreds of others, “vowed to retaliate”. As CNN reported: “Families of the victims closed main roads and vowed to retaliate. Hundreds of angry armed gunmen joined them and gave the government a 48-hour deadline to explain the killings, which took place on Sunday. Eyewitnesses said that families attempted to carry the victims’ corpses to the capital, Sanaa, to lay them in front of the residence of newly elected President Abdurabu Hadi, but were sent back by local security forces.”

Yemen’s government later established a commission of inquiry into the deaths, the worst civilian tally since May. However, three months after the strike, locals complained that “the government is trying to kill the case” and that “the government wants to protect its relations with the US.”

Xinhua reported that a number of MPs “summoned Interior Minister Mohammed Qahtan to an emergency meeting to clarify over the civilian casualties of the U.S. drone strike” and that Minister of Human Rights Houria Mash’hour “condemned the ‘U.S. meddling’ in Yemeni internal affairs, saying that most casualties of the U.S. drones were civilians and calling for an immediate end to the U.S. interference and drone strikes.”

US chief counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan also spoke with President Hadi on September 4, though it is not known if the Radaa strike was discussed.

A BBC report on drone strikes in Yemen later reported that the Yemeni government paid $75,000 (£48,000) in blood money to the families of the victims while Mwatana reported that “in August 2014—nearly two years after the incident—the victims’ families received 7 million riyals (approximately US $32,578) for each family member killed, and 3 million riyals (approximately US $13,962) for each family member injured.”

Due to the nature of both CIA and US military involvement in Yemen, and the lack of official acknowledgement by the CIA for their involvement, Airwars grades this event as “declared” due to the comments made by US government sources to media, in lieu of public reporting on CIA actions.

The incident occured at 16:00:00 local time.

The victims were named as:

Family members (2)

13 years old male killed
25 years old male killed

Family members (3)

60 years old male killed
55 years old female pregnant killed
10 years old female killed

The victims were named as:

28 years old male killed
28 years old male killed
30 years old male killed
12 years old killed
45 years old male killed
30 years old male killed
Age unknown male killed
Nasser Mabkhout
Age unknown male injured
Sultan Ahmed Mohammed Sarhan
Age unknown male injured

Geolocation notes (1) [ collapse]

The video published by Alkarama mentions the village of Al Saboul (الصبول), for which the coordinates are: 14.5370040, 44.7177870. Other locations mentioned are the town of Rada’a (رداع), Sarar Qifah (صرار قيفة) and the road between the villages of Hama (الحمة) and Manaseh (المناسح). The coordinates for Sarar Qifah (صرار قيفة) are: 14.517317, 44.776728. The coordinates for Rada’a (رداع) are: 14.415088, 44.840937. The coordinates for Manaseh (المناسح) are: 14.579762, 44.750219. There are several villages by the name Hama. On Openstreetmaps Sarar Qifah is referred to as Hammat Sarar.

  • Al Saboul (الصبول) and Sarar Qifah ( صرار قيفة) between Manaseh (المناسح) and Rada’a (رداع)

    Imagery:
    Google Earth

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    11 – 14
  • (3 children3 women8 men)
  • Civilians reported injured
    4–11
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Known attacker
    US Forces

Sources (78) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (5) [ collapse]

  • Ahmed al Sabool holds photos of his mother, father and sister, who were killed in the strike on Sept 2 2012. (via Letta Tayler/Human Rights Watch).
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    The aftermath of the alleged US strike on Al-Bayda, Spet 2nd 2012. This video contains images some people might find distressing (via Alkarama/YouTube).
  • Ahmed Saleh Ahmed al-Duqari lost two of his cousins in the Sept. 2 U.S. airstrike that killed 12 civilians near the town of Radda, Yemen. (Sudarsan Raghavan/The Washington Post)
  • Ahmed al-Sabooly describes the drone strike that killed three members of his family in Radda. (Image posted by BBC)
  • The immediate aftermath of a US airstrike in Sarar on September 2, 2012, that killed 12 civilians returning home from a market. © 2012 Private (Image from Human Rights Watch)

US Forces Assessment:

  • Known belligerent
    US Forces
  • US Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Original strike reports

US Forces

In a Washington Post article published on December 25th, 2012, US officials acknowledged responsibility for the attack:

"...In response to questions, U.S. officials in Washington, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said it was a Defense Department aircraft, either a drone or a fixed-wing warplane, that fired on the truck. The Pentagon declined to comment on the incident, as did senior U.S. officials in Yemen and senior counterterrorism officials in Washington."

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    11 – 14
  • (3 children3 women8 men)
  • Civilians reported injured
    4–11
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Known attacker
    US Forces

Sources (78) [ collapse]

Incident Code

USYEM047-C

Incident date

March 9, 2012

Location

المخنق, Al Makhnaq, Al Zahir district, Bayda, Yemen

Geolocation

14.0141440, 45.367645 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Village level. Continue to map

Airwars assessment

Ten to 43 suspected militants were reported killed in a drone strike at 9:15pm on al Bayda, Yemen, March 9th, 2012. Yet in interviews, human rights activists and victims’ relatives said “many” of the dead were civilians, not fighters, with at least two named civilian victims and a report of a child killed. As many as 55 people were also wounded. United States officials took responsibility for the strike on April 1st, 2012.

Two alleged civilians were named in a Washington Post report as the brothers of Salim al Barakani.

A late evening airstrike on Bayda by US drones struck a gathering of alleged militants. As many as 34 ‘AQAP militants died including ‘four senior leaders‘ – one named as Hadaar al Homaiqani, a local AQAP leader. Almasdar Online added additional names of those killed: Hadaar al Homaiqani (two cousins ​​with the same name), Abdul-Aziz Al-Barq, Mohsen Mirza, and Ahmed Sharaf, and two belonging to the Al-Qirbi family, and a person called Abdul-Malik (from Sana’a) and another called Samarkand (from Sanaa) and two belonging to the Al-Barakani family, in addition to two from Shabwa governorate and another from Mudiyah, Abyan. Albayan added the names Ali Ahmad al-Barakani, Husayn Ahmad al-Barakani, Ali Taha al-Qirbi, Saleh Taha al-Qirbi, and Muhammad Taha al-Qirbi.

Bayda’s governor claimed “two Pakistanis, two Saudi nationals, and one Syrian and one Iraqi” were among the dead.

A source in the city told Reuters that “Flames and smoke could be seen rising from the area,” while a military official reported that ‘the attack targeted a gathering of Al Qaeda elements and a number of them were killed.’

An AQAP spokesman told Xinhua: “More than two US drones are still striking several posts of al Qaida in three villages outside al Bayda’s central city.” AQAP also released a statement that only 17 of its fighters were killed in al Bayda and no one was injured.

On March 11th, 2012 Al-Bayan stated that eyewitnesses reported that the strikes killed 27 and wounded 55. A tweet from @ElMokhalesTV reported that 43 people were killed. Neither source specified whether the killed or wounded were civilians or belligerents.

On March 11th at 10:31am local time, journalist @ionacraig tweeted that a 13 year-old boy was killed in a “recent US drone strike.” However, it is unclear if he is referencing this strike or the one on March 10th.

On April 1st, 2012 a US official confirmed the attack, with the Los Angeles Times reporting: ‘American missiles soon rained down. The Al Qaeda commander was killed, along with 22 other suspected militants, most of them believed to be young recruits receiving military training, US officials said.’ The strike was reportedly carried out by a JSOC drone.

In May 2012, the Washington Post reported that ‘many civilians’ had died in the attack, according to interviews with victims’ relatives and human rights activists. Two brothers of local businessman Salim al Barakani – one a teacher, the other a cellphone repairman, were among the civilians killed.

Almotamar quoted Brigadier General Ali Aziz Al-Hujaili, commander of the Al-Bayda governorate axis, commander of the 26th Republican Guard Brigade, who said that an air strike, which he described as successful, was launched against the headquarters of terrorist groups of Al Qaeda in the Al-Mukhanq area and in the people of Madbi in Al-Bayda Governorate.

Al Barakani told The Post that after the attack: “Villagers were too afraid to go to the area. Al Qaeda militants took advantage and offered to bury the villagers’ relatives. That made people even more grateful and appreciative of Al Qaeda. Afterwards, Al Qaeda told the people, ‘We will take revenge on your behalf.’ ”

Due to the nature of both CIA and US military involvement in Yemen, and the lack of official acknowledgement by the CIA for their involvement, Airwars grades this event as “declared” due to the comments made by US government sources to media, in lieu of public reporting on CIA actions.

The incident occured at 21:15:00 local time.

The victims were named as:

Family members (2)

Adult male killed
Adult male killed

Geolocation notes

Reports of the incident mention that three villages west of Bayda town were targeted, named Al Makhnaq (or Al Makhzan), Al Dooqi (or Al Dogi or Dhabiah) and Al Mahmdud (or Al Mahmdood). The ‘Jabra area’ in Al Zahir district is also mentioned to have been targeted. The village Al Makhnaq (المخنق) in Al Zahir district in the Bayda governorate is located at these coordinates: 14.0141440, 45.3676450. Airwars was unable to verify the location of the other two villages mentioned, or the ‘Jabra area’.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    2 – 10
  • (0–1 children2 men)
  • Civilians reported injured
    0–55
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Known attacker
    US Forces
  • Known target
    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
  • Belligerents reported killed
    10–43
  • Belligerents reported injured
    0–55

Sources (48) [ collapse]

US Forces Assessment:

  • Known belligerent
    US Forces
  • US Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Original strike reports

US Forces

On April 1st, a US official confirmed the attack, with the Los Angeles Times reporting: ‘American missiles soon rained down. The al Qaeda commander was killed, along with 22 other suspected militants, most of them believed to be young recruits receiving military training, US officials said.’

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    2 – 10
  • (0–1 children2 men)
  • Civilians reported injured
    0–55
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Known attacker
    US Forces
  • Known target
    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
  • Belligerents reported killed
    10–43
  • Belligerents reported injured
    0–55

Sources (48) [ collapse]

Incident Code

USYEMTr141-C

Incident date

January 26–27, 2018

Location

المصينعه, Al Mushainaah, Shabwa, Yemen

Geolocation

14.351505, 46.762544 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Village level. Continue to map

Airwars assessment

Five civilians and two off duty Yemen soldiers from two local families, all men, were reportedly killed by a US drone strike in or near Al Mushainaah village, in the Saeed district of Shabwa governorate, at around midnight between January 26th-27th 2018. At the time of the strike, the men were reportedly searching for a missing 14-year old boy who was reportedly visiting Al-Qaeda militants.

Mwatana for Human Rights named the men killed as Saleh Muhammad Bin Olaywah (49 years old), Ziyad Saleh Muhammad Bin Olaywah (20 years old), Khalid Faraj Muhammad Bin Olaywah (37 years old), Ali Faraj Muhammad Bin Olaywah (34 years old), Nabil Salem Ba’adlan (40 years old), Mubarak Muhammad Saleh Hudaij (41 years old), and Najeeb Muhammad Saleh Lasma’ (25 years old). Mwatana found “no credible indication” that any of those killed were associated with any armed groups.

According to reporting by Associated Press, Saleh Muhammad Bin Olaywah’s son, 14-year old Abdullah, had gone with a friend to an AQAP camp in the mountains near Al-Masna’ah, after being told that the group was giving away free motorcycles. Speaking later with PBS Frontline, Abdullah said that “AQAP were messaging me and messaging my friends… They said, ‘Don’t worry, nothing will happen to you.’ So we went, although I didn’t really want to.”

Saleh, a taxi driver, reportedly went with his eldest son, Ziyad, and his brother-in-law, Nabil, to search for his younger son in Ataq.  They were later joined by two of Saleh’s nephews, Ali and Khalid. In the search, Saleh also enlisted the help of someone he knew from the al-Tolsi family, Mubarak, a beekeeper who knew the Al Mushainaah area. Mubarak’s nephew, Najeeb, a geology student, also joined the group.

The seven men were reportedly killed as they waited in a car at the foot of the mountains, in the Sar’ area, while a lookout took a message to the AQAP camp.  Sources indicated that two missiles from a drone targeted the vehicle. Ahmad Ali Al Arib Al Tawsali, a relative, told Mwatana that “It was a direct hit, killing everyone that was in the car, and their bodies were turned into nothing more than burnt body parts”.

Abdullah’s uncle, Ali Saleh, told PBS Frontline that Ziyad and Nabil were both members of the Yemeni army. “They were fighting the Houthis with no relationship to any illegal or terrorist organizations”, Ali said.  He also told PBS Frontline that he was now the sole provider for over thirty family members, and wanted the US to pay compensation for the strike.

A spokesperson for US Central Command later confirmed to Long War Journal that a strike had targeted AQAP in Shabwa on January 26th, but gave no further information on casualties or exact location.  There were no other known reports of strikes in Shabwa on that day.

Other sources, including Xinhua and AFP, suggested that those killed were AQAP militants, according to anonymous Yemeni officials.

Protests took place in Ataq in Shabwa in response to the strike. Al Jazeera reported that Saleh al-Aishi al-Ateeqi, another relative, “blamed the Arab coalition at war with Yemen for the deaths, saying it was responsible for the country’s airspace and protecting civilian lives”.

Reprieve shared their findings on this strike with Airwars, similarly indicating that seven had died in the strike.

In its annual civilian casualty report to Congress issued in April 2019, the US Department of Defense stated that it had assessed “no credible reports of civilian casualties resulting from US military actions in Yemen during 2018″.

Responding to Airwars’ publication of its Yemen dataset and accompanying report in October 2020, CENTCOM dismissed all but two civilian harm claims under President Trump, asserting that “USCENTCOM conducted a thorough review of the information AirWars provided regarding allegations of potential civilian harm caused by USCENTCOM strikes in Yemen from 2017-2020… The bulk of the information asserted by AirWars, however, did not correspond with dates and locations of U.S. military strikes or raids in Yemen.   Other AirWars allegations either did not allege civilian harm or were not assessed as credible upon our review.”

In its major report Death from the Sky, Yemen human rights group Mwatana insisted none of those killed had links to either Al Qaeda or ISIS, based on multiple interviews with relatives and officials.

One man who lost two relatives in the attack noted: “I woke everyone in the house with the worst kind of news imaginable. We got in the car and went off to see what had happened. I cannot forget the moment when I saw the two cars carrying the bodies. I asked to see them and I wish I had not. Many of them were disfigured and torn to pieces. I hugged them and sobbed until people removed me from the car.”

Mwatana also noted in its report that “Five days after the air strike killed the seven men, the families called for a protest in front of Ataq police station. Interviewees said that more than 150 people joined the protest, calling on the local authorities, the government, Security Council member states and the US government to look into the strike, and calling on the US to acknowledge responsibility for the strike.”

The incident occured around midnight.

The victims were named as:

Family members (5)

49 years old male Abdullah's father killed
20 years old male Eldest son of Saleh. Serving soldier with Yemen army killed
37 years old male Nephew of Saleh killed
34 years old male Nephew of Saleh killed
40 years old male Brother-in-law of Saleh. Serving soldier with Yemen army killed

Family members (2)

41 years old male Beekeeper, of Al-Tolsi family killed
25 years old male Nephew of Mubarak killed

Geolocation notes

Reports on the incident mention the village of Al Mushainaah ( المصينعه) for which the generic coordinates are: 14.351505, 46.762544.  Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    5 – 7
  • (7 men)
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Known attacker
    US Forces
  • Known target
    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
  • Belligerents reported killed
    7

Sources (26) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (27) [ collapse]

  • Ziyad Olaywah, the eldest son of Saleh, was reportedly one of those killed in the strike. According to some sources, he was a member of the Yemeni army. (AP, November 14th 2018)
  • Najeeb Lasma', a geology student, was reportedly one of those killed in the strike (AP, November 14th 2018)
  • The family of those killed keep fragments of the missiles which allegedly killed seven civilians on January 26th 2018, which appears to show that they were of US manufacture (AP, November 14th 2018)
  • Abdullah Saleh Olwayah (right) with his father, Saleh Olwayah, in Mukalla. Saleh was reportedly killed while out searching for his son. (AP, November 14th 2018)
  • Relatives told AP that they had gathered these letters from Yemeni city council chiefs to prove that those killed were not AQAP members (AP, November 14th 2018)
  • Abdullah Saleh Olaywah reportedly left his village when AQAP militants promised free motorcycles (AP, November 14th 2018)
  • The daughters of Khaled Olaywah, one of those reportedly killed in the strike (AP, November 14th 2018)
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    Relatives provided AP with this image of the interior of the car after the strike (AP, November 14th 2018)
  • Ali Olaywah, the nephew of Saleh, was reportedly one of those killed in the strike (AP, November 14th 2018)
  • The strike reportedly killed all seven men as they waited in a car at the foot of the mountains near Al-Mosna'a (AP, November 14th 2018)
  • Khaled Olaywah, the nephew of Saleh, was reportedly one of those killed in the strike (AP, November 14th 2018)
  • Mubarek Hudaij, a beekeeper, was reportedly one of those killed in the strike. He and his nephew, Najeeb, joined the search for Abdullah when Saleh called on them to help. (AP, November 14th 2018)
  • Saleh Olaywah, a taxi driver, was reportedly killed when he went searching for his son, Abdullah (AP, November 14th 2018)
  • Nabil Ba’adlan, the brother-in-law of Saleh, was one of those reportedly killed in the strike. According to some sources, he was a member of the Yemeni army. (AP, November 14th 2018)
  • A map, produced by AP, shows the location of Al-Shaaba, the family's home village, and Al Masna’ah, the location of the strike. The map shows the relative locations of Saleh and Abdullah when the latter texted the former that he was with AQAP militants. (AP, November 14th 2018)
  • Weapon remnants found after the attack, which a weapon expert identified as being from an AGM-114 Hellfire missile. Photo received from a relative. (via Mwatana)
  • The car destroyed in the January 2018 air strike in Shabwah governorate, Yemen. Photo received from a relative. (Via Mwatana)
  • Letter from Taxi Drivers’ Syndicate stating that Saleh Mohammad bin Alawiya was working for them until he died in January 2018. Photo taken by a Mwatana researcher.
  • Letter from 30th November School stating Khaled Faraj Mohammad bin Alawiya was working for them until he died in January 2018. Photo taken by a Mwatana researcher.
  • Letter from Ministry of Oil and Minerals stating Ali Faraj Mohammad bin Alawiya worked with them and asking the Shabwah Police Department to release his salary. Via Mwatana
  • Letter from Shabwah Ministry of Local Administration stating the professions of the seven men killed in the strike, and noting that they had no affiliation with extremist groups. Photo taken by a Mwatana researcher
  • Letter from 21 Mechanized Brigade Commander stating Ziad Saleh Mohammad bin Alawiya and Nabil Salem Baadalan were both members of the brigade and were not affiliated with extremist groups. Photo taken by a Mwatana researcher.
  • Letter from Aden University Faculty of Oil and Minerals confirming that Najib Mohammad Saleh Lasmeh was a student. Photo taken by a Mwatana researcher.

US Forces Assessment:

  • Known belligerent
    US Forces
  • US Forces position on incident
    Non credible / Unsubstantiated
    Insufficient information to assess that, more likely than not, a Coalition strike resulted in civilian casualties.
  • Reason for non-credible assessment
    No reason given
  • Civilian deaths conceded
    None
  • Civilian injuries conceded
    None

Civilian casualty statements

US Forces
  • Nov 5, 2020
  • Apr 29, 2019
  • C. U.S. military action in Yemen against al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS During 2018, U.S. forces deployed to Yemen continued to work towards disrupting and degrading the terrorist threat posed by AQAP and ISIS. U.S. forces conducted 36 airstrikes against AQAP and ISIS operatives and facilities in Yemen and supported United Arab Emirates and Yemen-led efforts to clear AQAP from Shabwah Governorate. DoD has no credible reports of civilian casualties resulting from U.S. military actions in Yemen during 2018.

  • Via email: U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) continues to focus on ways to minimize civilian casualties during its military operations. We assess or review all reports of civilian casualties because such assessments or reviews help us identify ways to improve our operations and counter misinformation and propaganda. We routinely share the results of every one of our assessments in Department of Defense (DoD) reports to Congress, including annual reports, many of which are publicly available. We also share the results of our assessments or reviews with the public via the USCENTCOM website and our statements to the media. Individuals wishing to understand U.S. military operations in Yemen more fully should consult these official sources of information. USCENTCOM conducted a thorough review of the information AirWars provided regarding allegations of potential civilian harm caused by USCENTCOM strikes in Yemen from 2017-2020. Of the information AirWars provided, one strike on September 14, 2017, was assessed to have caused injuries to two civilians. Also, as previously released by USCENTCOM to the public in February 2017, USCENTCOM acknowledged there may have been civilian casualties during a raid on January 29, 2017. The bulk of the information asserted by AirWars, however, did not correspond with dates and locations of U.S. military strikes or raids in Yemen. Other AirWars allegations either did not allege civilian harm or were not assessed as credible upon our review. Consistent with our mission, our authorities, and our obligations under the law of war, USCENTCOM will continue to conduct military actions in Yemen when required to protect the Nation and our allies and partners from al Qa’ida and ISIS terror cells that are committed to inflicting terror. In every strike and raid, we take careful measures to minimize civilian harm and take responsibility for our actions. When our military operations result in reports of civilian harm, we will continue to assess the credibility of such reports to help us identify ways to improve our operations and respond as appropriate.

Original strike reports

US Forces

In a major move toward transparency, US Central Command (CENTCOM) provided details to FDD’s Long War Journal on US air strikes against Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen. Since early 2017, the military previously provided little information on the Yemen air campaign, typically providing only an aggregate number and limited detail on high-value target strikes.

In an email to LWJ, CENTCOM’s Major Josh T. Jacques disclosed the dates and locations of the last five months of strikes in Yemen. The information revealed that since the beginning of 2018, the US campaign against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen has focused on three governorates: Hadramout (eight strikes), Al Bayda (17), and Shabwa (three), demonstrating the eastern reach of the terrorist group.

Last year’s publicized strikes were concentrated in the central governorates of Al Bayda and Marib.

Location of US air strikes against AQAP and the Islamic State in 2018:

– Jan. 2018: Ten total strikes. The US conducted 8 strikes against AQAP in Bayda on Jan. 1, 3, 9, 12, 13, 20, 25, and 29. An additional strike against AQAP in Shabwah occurred on Jan. 26. An additional strike against the Islamic State occurred on Jan. 12 in Bayda.

– Feb. 2018: Six total strikes, all in Al Bayda governorate. Strikes occurred on Feb. 7, 11, 12, 16, and 24 (two strikes were conducted on Feb. 24).

– Mar. 2018: Seven total strikes, six of which occurred in Hadramout. Strikes occurred on Mar. 4 (two strikes), 5, 7, 8, and 13. An additional strike in Bayda occurred on March 29. [AQAP’s apparent entrenchment in eastern Yemen is concerning. In addition to the concentration of strikes in Hadramout, CENTCOM previously disclosed that AQAP operated training camps in the governorate as recently as April 2018, when they were targeted by American strikes.]

– Apr. 2018: Four total strikes, one each in Shabwah (April 26) and Al Bayda (April 23), and two in Hadramout (both on April 11).

– May 2018: One strike, in Shabwah on May 14.

– Jun. 2018: No strikes to date.

The US military has stepped up its counterterrorism campaign against al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen as well as the Islamic State since President Trump took office in 2017. Last year, the US launched 131 strikes (125 against AQAP and six against the Islamic State), nearly tripling the previous yearly high of 44 strikes in 2016.

At the current pace, the US will fall far short of that mark; there have been 28 strikes reported by CENTCOM in Yemen in the first five months of 2018.

This counterterrorism campaign has targeted AQAP’s infrastructure, including its training camps and media operations, which serve as a hub for al Qaeda’s global communications. The US has killed several mid-level AQAP leaders and media officials in its air campaign.

Despite suffering setbacks after seizing large areas of southern and central Yemen between 2015-2016, AQAP remains a persistent threat to both the embattled Yemeni government and US interests worldwide. AQAP still controls remote rural areas in Yemen and operates training camps. The group’s master bomb maker, Ibrahim al Asiri, who has engineered several bombs which have evaded airport security, remains one of the most wanted jihadists on the planet.

Note: This article was updated to include the dates and locations of Jan. 2018 strikes.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    5 – 7
  • (7 men)
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Known attacker
    US Forces
  • Known target
    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
  • Belligerents reported killed
    7

Sources (26) [ collapse]

Incident Code

USYEMTr123-C

Incident date

November 30, 2017

Location

صرار الجشم, Sirar Jusham, Al Bayda, Yemen

Geolocation

14.552681, 44.820786 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Neighbourhood/area level. Continue to map

Airwars assessment

Up to eight civilians and three militants, variously alleged to be ISIS or AQAP, were reportedly killed by a series of US drone strikes in or near to Sirar Jusham, Qayfa area of Al Bayda governorate, on the afternoon of November 30th 2017.

A Yemeni government source told Anatolia Agency that three of four overall strikes – “likely American” – had targeted civilian areas “which are known to have nothing to do with terrorist organisations”, killing seven civilians. According to this source, a fourth strike targeted an ISIS vehicle, killing three alleged militants.

Two sources, @Yembreaking and Al-Masdar Online, instead suggested that eight civilians and three ISIS militants had died. A local source told Al-Masdar Online that the eight civilians were from the area, and had no ties to either AQAP or ISIS. According to Al-Arabi, there were dead and wounded among both militants and civilians, including women and children. Khabar Agency further indicated that “injuries” were reported among AQAP militants.

Other sources stated that a total of six strikes had targeted the area. Journalist Mareb Alward (@mareb_alward) tweeted that four strikes were conducted against AQAP sites and vehicles in Hama Sirar village, while two had targeted civilians, resulting in “casualties”.

Given these reports, Airwars has assessed that between seven and eight civilians were likely killed, including at least one woman and at least one child. At least two civilians were also injured, also including at least one woman a child. Three militant deaths were additionally reported by sources, as well as at least two militant injuries.

Some local sources, including @belqeesTV, suggested that the strikes were launched by as many as three US drones. Locals told Al-Arabi that the drones bombed a number of homes and farms in the area. Others also indicated that attacks took place against vehicles and militant in gathering places, though sources disagreed as to whether the strikes targeted AQAP or ISIS. Both terror groups had previously been targeted in the Qayfa area. A local source told Al-Masdar Online that one strike targeted a vehicle carrying explosives, leading to continuing explosions after the initial strike.

In addition, Nashwan News and Twitter user @amerAlhamiqaniu suggested that at least one strike may have destroyed an ambulance.

In its May 2018 annual civilian casualty report, the US Department of Defense stated that “there were credible reports of civilian casualties caused by U.S. military actions in Yemen against AQAP and ISIS during 2017”, but did not specify which specific actions these reports referred to.  Overall, the Department of Defense assessed that there were credible reports of “approximately 499 civilians killed and approximately 169 civilians injured during 2017”, as a result of US military actions in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen.

Responding to Airwars’ publication of its Yemen dataset and accompanying report in October 2020, CENTCOM dismissed all but two civilian harm claims under President Trump, asserting that “USCENTCOM conducted a thorough review of the information AirWars provided regarding allegations of potential civilian harm caused by USCENTCOM strikes in Yemen from 2017-2020… The bulk of the information asserted by AirWars, however, did not correspond with dates and locations of U.S. military strikes or raids in Yemen.   Other AirWars allegations either did not allege civilian harm or were not assessed as credible upon our review.”

The incident occured in the afternoon.

Geolocation notes

Reports of the incident mention a strike on a garage in or on the outskirts of Sirar Jusham (صرار الجشم) village. Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further. The generic coordinates for Sirar Jusham are: 14.552681, 44.820786.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    7 – 8
  • (1 child1 woman)
  • Civilians reported injured
    2
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    US Forces
  • Suspected targets
    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), ISIS - Yemen
  • Belligerents reported killed
    3
  • Belligerents reported injured
    2

Sources (26) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (4) [ collapse]

  • Sources suggested that between four and six strikes targeted farms and vehicles in the Sirar al-Jushm area, reportedly killing at least three alleged militants and as many as eight civilians (@mareb_alward, November 30th 2017).
  • Sources variously indicated that the strikes targeted AQAP or ISIS militants. Both groups had previously been the alleged target of strikes in the area (@mareb_alward, November 30th 2017).

US Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    US Forces
  • US Forces position on incident
    Non credible / Unsubstantiated
    Insufficient information to assess that, more likely than not, a Coalition strike resulted in civilian casualties.
  • Civilian deaths conceded
    None
  • Civilian injuries conceded
    None

Civilian casualty statements

US Forces
  • Nov 5, 2020
  • Via email: U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) continues to focus on ways to minimize civilian casualties during its military operations. We assess or review all reports of civilian casualties because such assessments or reviews help us identify ways to improve our operations and counter misinformation and propaganda. We routinely share the results of every one of our assessments in Department of Defense (DoD) reports to Congress, including annual reports, many of which are publicly available. We also share the results of our assessments or reviews with the public via the USCENTCOM website and our statements to the media. Individuals wishing to understand U.S. military operations in Yemen more fully should consult these official sources of information. USCENTCOM conducted a thorough review of the information AirWars provided regarding allegations of potential civilian harm caused by USCENTCOM strikes in Yemen from 2017-2020. Of the information AirWars provided, one strike on September 14, 2017, was assessed to have caused injuries to two civilians. Also, as previously released by USCENTCOM to the public in February 2017, USCENTCOM acknowledged there may have been civilian casualties during a raid on January 29, 2017. The bulk of the information asserted by AirWars, however, did not correspond with dates and locations of U.S. military strikes or raids in Yemen. Other AirWars allegations either did not allege civilian harm or were not assessed as credible upon our review. Consistent with our mission, our authorities, and our obligations under the law of war, USCENTCOM will continue to conduct military actions in Yemen when required to protect the Nation and our allies and partners from al Qa’ida and ISIS terror cells that are committed to inflicting terror. In every strike and raid, we take careful measures to minimize civilian harm and take responsibility for our actions. When our military operations result in reports of civilian harm, we will continue to assess the credibility of such reports to help us identify ways to improve our operations and respond as appropriate.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    7 – 8
  • (1 child1 woman)
  • Civilians reported injured
    2
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    US Forces
  • Suspected targets
    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), ISIS - Yemen
  • Belligerents reported killed
    3
  • Belligerents reported injured
    2

Sources (26) [ collapse]

Incident Code

USYEMTr100

Incident date

September 9, 2017

Location

على مقربة من هوائي بين قريضة والرباط, In the vicinity of an Antenna, between Quraidah and Al Rabat, Al Bayda, Yemen

Geolocation

14.176536, 45.808595 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Nearby landmark level. Continue to map

Airwars assessment

A US drone strike reportedly killed at least two alleged AQAP militants in the village of Qareidha, Sama’a area of Bayda governorate, on the afternoon of September 9th 2017.

In a later email to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a US Central Command spokesperson confirmed that three strikes were conducted in Bayda governorate on September 9th, killing “several” AQAP members. The two other strikes are thought to comprise a single event at Al Saru.

According to Khabar Agency, a security source said that two were killed and another “seriously wounded” in the US attack at Qareidha. Al-Arabi also reported that two militants were killed in “a Toyota car next to a house in the village”.

Two sources suggested that three people were killed in the strike. Bloomberg referenced a report by Al-Masdar News, though Al-Masdar’s own report on the strike did not appear to offer a casualty number. The other, Khabar Agency, suggested that two were killed and one injured.

This strike came alongside two other reported strikes in the same area (USYEMTr098-C), which reportedly killed at least two alleged AQAP militants in the village of Qareidha. Several sources gave varying estimates of the overall death toll from the three strikes. Most suggested that seven militants were killed or “killed and wounded”.  At the lower end, one source, @Yemenat, suggested that five AQAP members were killed and one wounded. Another Twitter source suggested that ten militants were “killed and injured”.  These overall figures fit into the casualty ranges assessed by Airwars for USYEMTr098-C and USYEMTr100.

While many sources specifically located the strikes in or near Qareidha, a few, including Reuters, indicated that the strikes took place in the area of two villages, named by some as Qareidha and al-Thubayb.

According to Al-Arabi, local sources said that “Al-Qaeda militants arrived in the al-Sama’a district last August, and their appearances indicate that they are not from the area”.  One local language Twitter source suggested that two of those killed were AQAP leaders, though no other sources reported this, and it was unclear to which specific strike the source was referring.

The incident occured in the afternoon.

Geolocation notes (2) [ collapse]

Reports of the incident mention a vehicle being struck in the vicinity of Quraidah (قريظة) and Al Rabat (الرباط). Visual material shows an antenna in the distance, identifying the general area of the strike as east or south east of its location. Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further. The generic coordinates for the antenna are: 14.176536, 45.808595.

  • Reports of the incident mention a vehicle being struck in the vicinity of Quraidah (قريظة) and Al Rabat (الرباط). Visual material shows an antenna in the distance, identifying the general area of the strike as east or south east of its location.

    Imagery:
    Google Earth

  • Antenna visible in the distance between Quraidah (قريظة) and Al Rabat (الرباط).

    Imagery:
    @Dr_E_Kendall

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    No
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Known attacker
    US Forces
  • Known target
    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
  • Belligerents reported killed
    2–3
  • Belligerents reported injured
    1

Sources (58) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (2) [ collapse]

US Forces Assessment:

  • Known belligerent
    US Forces
  • US Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Original strike reports

US Forces

U.S. forces conducted three strikes against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Al Bayda Governorate, Yemen, killing several Al Qaeda terrorists on Sep. 9.

In coordination with the government of Yemen, U.S. forces are conducting a series of sustained counterterrorism operations in Yemen against AQAP to degrade the group's ability to hold territory and coordinate external terror attacks.

Additionally, this year, the U.S. has conducted more than 100 strikes against AQAP militants, infrastructure, fighting positions and equipment.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    No
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Known attacker
    US Forces
  • Known target
    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
  • Belligerents reported killed
    2–3
  • Belligerents reported injured
    1

Sources (58) [ collapse]