Several sources reported that US airstrikes targeted AQAP militants in Wadi Yashbum, Shabwa province, at dawn on March 2nd 2017. Some local language Twitter sources reported that three areas of the Yashbum Valley had been targeted by US strikes simultaneously. There were some allegations of civilian harm from the wider US campaign in the area, likely including this strike alongside a reported raid later on March 2nd (USYEMTr025-C).
A Yemeni security official told the Associated French Press that a dawn strike on Thursday March 2nd had targeted “the home of a known Al-Qaeda member in the Yashbum Valley”, killing four suspected AQAP who were standing outside. One local language Twitter source mentioned “four martyrs” in the area that morning.
According to the New York Times, Yemeni local media had reported that “at least three suspected Qaeda members were killed in the country’s southeastern province of Shabwa”, destroying “a house used by al-Qaeda operatives”. This strike reportedly took place in the al-Shu’bah area of the valley. Multiple sources alleged that the area was home to Saad Atef al-Ateeqi al-Awlaki, a senior AQAP leader, and the gathering place of AQAP militants. According to Akhbar al-Youm, Saad Atef survived this strike; it was unclear whether he was killed in US operations later that night.
On March 3rd, a Twitter source named four Awlaki men killed in Shabwa by US strikes a day earlier as Abu Haydara al-Awlaki, Abu Ali al-Awlaki, Abu Sina’ al-Awlaki, and Audh Barasin al-Awlaki, seemingly referring to alleged militant casualties. Given the shared provincial location, familial names, and casualty numbers of sources, it is likely that these names refer to the four alleged militants reportedly killed in this strike.
One local language Twitter source, posting before the onset of evening strikes, also referred to “four youth of the family of the Ma’bad, three of the Parasin, and one of the Atef family”, possibly referring to civilian or combatant casualties of the morning strike. To account for the possibility that this was a report of civilian harm, minimum civilian deaths have been set at eight, though the overall assessment of civilian harm is “weak”. To account for the possibility that this claim referred to militant casualties, a maximum of eight militant deaths has been set.
The Yashbam area was also reportedly the target of strikes and a US ground operation later on the night of March 2nd-3rd. On March 3rd, al-Jazeera reported that “twenty” strikes in the al-Shu’bah area of Yashbam Valley resulted in “deaths and injuries and the destruction of three houses, a gas station, a weapons store and a factory”, likely referring to the overall March 2nd-3rd US campaign in Yashbam Valley. Al-Jazeera also reported that, according to Yemeni security sources, seven “suspected” AQAP members had been killed in the course of the strikes, and that women and children had been injured, according to tribal sources.
Some local language sources posted on Facebook overnight from March 2nd-3rd that a factory for the “block industry”, a “station for Hajj”, and the “mountains of Saeed” had been targeted. These posts indicated that “several people were martyred in Beit Belaid al-Salmi” along with “women and children”, while three houses of “Hilal Atef” and one in Aydat Shams had been destroyed. Though it is possible that these sources refer to damage and casualties inflicted by the earlier March 2nd strikes, most sources indicate that they took place during the evening strikes. These reports are therefore accounted for in event USYEMTr025-C.
This strike reportedly took place amid a dramatic intensification of US operations against AQAP. On March 2nd, Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davies announced “more than 20 strikes targeted AQAP militants, equipment and infrastructure in the Yemeni governorates of Abyan, Al Bayda and Shabwah” early that morning. On March 3rd, the Associated Press reported that Yemeni officials and residents had said the US had conducted “dozens of airstrikes on al-Qaida targets in Yemen overnight and in the past 48 hours in one of the lengthiest, sustained operations inside this conflict-torn Arab country”.
A US military intelligence source told NBC News that the strikes were “part of ‘new directives’ to aggressively pursue the Dhahab and Qayfa clans”. Estimates of the total death toll on March 2nd varied. On March 3rd, Reuters reported that Thursday’s strikes left “at least nine” dead, while officials speaking with the Associated Press said that seven alleged militants had been killed. Oman Daily reported that 12 “suspected al-Qaeda members in Yemen” had been killed on March 2nd.
In it 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.
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 around dawn.