In an email to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, US Central Command stated that a strike was conducted against AQAP in Abyan governorate on August 13th 2017, confirming multiple earlier reports that at least two alleged AQAP militants were killed in at least one afternoon US drone strike in Al Maroun, in the Khabr Maraqisha area of Abyan governorate.
However several sources, including Mwatana, insisted the victims were civilians.
While most sources reported at the time that two AQAP militants were killed in the strike, one (@demolinari) suggested that “some locals” had claimed that neither were members of AQAP, raising the possibility of civilian harm, but noted that “some pro-AQAP channels suggest otherwise”. The same source also tweeted a photo of the dead, naming one as Abu Aseed Al-Marqashi, who was however apparently pictured as an active AQAP militant in Mukalla during “the 2015-16 period”.
Several other sources named the two dead as Khidr Saeed Al-Dahl, possibly also known as Al-Zuhal, and Nasser Bin Jarada.
Some suggested that more than two alleged militants were killed in the strike. According to Xinhua, a Yemeni security source said that “about three wanted al-Qaida elements” were killed after two missiles were fired by a US drone. One local language Twitter source suggested that there were “reports of dozens” of militants killed in the Al-Maroun area. However this is not supported by any other source.
Sources differed on the exact circumstances of the strike. Some suggested that the attack killed two men while they stood next to a water well, while others reported that a vehicle, either a car or a motorcycle, was targeted in the area. One alleged photo of the scene showed a destroyed car. According to Mwatana, the victims “were sitting under a nearby tree when the strike occurred.” Sources reported that the strike took place between 3.30pm and 4pm.
Though most sources attributed the strike to the US, one source suggested that strikes were carried out by the UAE. Since the US Central Command later confirmed a strike in the area, Airwars has not assessed this strike as Contested.
Xinhua reported that, according to local sources, two other strikes targeted alleged AQAP militants in the same area and time period. According to these sources, “two other hideouts of the al-Qaida group in the area were bombed in an earlier attack that took place at about 2pm local time”. It was not clear whether these were alleged US strikes and no additional details were provided. No other known sources reported these additional strikes.
According to Aden al-Ghad, “dozens” of families were displaced following the attack “for fear of indiscriminate shelling”.
In an email to the Bureau, US Central Command said at the time that it was still assessing the results of the strike.
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.”
In March 2021, in its report death Falling From The Sky, the Yemeni human rights group Mwatana insisted those killed were civilian beekeepers, who looked after approximately 80 hives near the village of Mroun. The men were buried in Hosn Saiid Cemetery, about 7km from their homes. Mwatana insisted that it could find “no credible indication that either El Khodor or Ali were directly participating in hostilities with AQAP or IS-Y, or that they were associated with these groups.”
The area sheikh told the human rights group: ““I have been sheikh to this village for 17 years and I knew those boys who died in the incident. They were two of the finest youth of our village.”
The incident occured between 3:30 pm and 4:00 pm local time.