Civilian Casualties

Civilian Casualties

Incident Code

USYEM003-B

Incident date

December 17, 2009

Location

أرحب, Arhab, Sanaa, Yemen

Geolocation

15.804408, 44.289094 Note: The accuracy of this location is to District level. Continue to map

Airwars assessment

US forces reportedly carried out an attack in Arhab, Yemen on December 17th upon a home believed to be the living quarters of Qasim al Raimi (also called al Raymi), resulting in the death of four militants.

The strike was initially reported to have included the use of Yemeni ground forces and air strikes with what were believed to be United States’ made bombs. This assertion was later discounted by leaked American diplomatic cables that show that the Yemeni government was directed to take credit for the bombing carried out by the US.

There were no reports of any civilian injuries or deaths from this incident. However, four days after the attack, a cable was leaked that included a U.S. admission of civilian deaths along with the official responses to be given when questioned about the possible deaths of civilians in the other attack on the same day (USYEM002-C). The reportedly deceased civilians were referred to as “collateral damage” by US Ambassador to Yemen Stephen Seche.

The attack reportedly killed four members of Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), but al Raimi is believed to have survived. An American diplomatic cable quoted the Yemeni Ministry of Defense offering the following summary of the event: “Operations against AQAP militants were targeted to foil suicide bombers planning attacks against Yemeni and foreign installations, that the raids resulted in killing four suicide bombers and arresting four others.”

The United States believed an attack by AQAP insurgents was likely upon the US Embassy in Yemen. Following the operation, Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh received a call from President Barack Obama to congratulate Saleh on the success of the raid. A United States diplomatic cable allegedly included both the appreciation of President Saleh for America’s involvement along with a plea for the United States to continue in their assistance of Yemeni fighters against terrorism; a “disease” according to Saleh. The cable also included a proposed answer to questions concerning the discovery of American munitions at the site of the fighting, with the cable explaining the Yemeni government could explain this point away by stating that American weapons were purchased by Yemen and only used by Yemeni soldiers.

A United States diplomatic cable warned the Yemeni government to be cautious in its “public posture” concerning the strikes, making certain to not overtly mention the United States but to also be prepared to address questions of counter-terrorism legitimacy if evidence is found directly linking American soldiers to the strike.

A Reuters article published on 3rd December 2010, nearly a year later, reported that the President Saleh admitted lying to the Yemeni public about the cruise missile strikes on Al Qaeda in December 2009 saying they were the work of Yemeni forces, with support from US intelligence. This article draws on a diplomatic cable dated 4 January 2010, which refers to a meeting between CENTCOM Commander General Petraeus and President Saleh on 2 January 2010 during which it reports that Petraeus congratulated Saleh on recent operations against Al Qaeda and told him of an increase in security assistance to Yemen. The cable also says that President Saleh praised the 17th and 24th December strikes, but that “mistakes were made” in the killing of civilians in the Abyan strike, which occurred on 17th. The cable further says that “Saleh lamented the use of cruise missiles that are ‘not very accurate’ and welcomed the use of aircraft-deployed precision-guided bombs instead. ‘We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours,’ Saleh said, prompting Deputy Prime Minister Alimi to joke that he had just ‘lied’ by telling Parliament that the bombs in Arhab, Abyan, and Shebwa were American-made but deployed by the ROYG.

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” following the revelations of US role contained in the released US diplomatic cables, in lieu of public reporting on CIA actions.

The local time of the incident is unknown.

Geolocation notes

Reports of the incident mention Arhab (أرحب) district, for which the generic coordinates are: 15.804408, 44.289094. Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further.

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Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike and/or Artillery, Counter-Terrorism Action (Ground)
  • Civilian harm reported
    No
  • Civilians reported killed
    0
  • 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
    4

Sources (33) [ collapse]

US Forces Assessment:

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

Original strike reports

US Forces

1. (S/NF) SUMMARY. The ROYG views the December 17 CT operations as a success and a benefit to Yemeni national interests, and appears not overly concerned about unauthorized leaks regarding the U.S. role and negative media attention to civilian deaths. ROYG officials continue to publicly maintain that the operation was conducted entirely by its forces, acknowledging U.S. support strictly in terms of intelligence sharing. Deputy Prime Minister Rashad al-Alimi told the Ambassador on December 20 that any evidence of greater U.S. involvement ) such as fragments of U.S. munitions found at the sites - could be explained away as equipment purchased from the U.S. While the ROYG has touted the operation as a victory in terms of the number of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) members killed or captured, it hasn't yet decided how, or even if, it should begin to modify its public messaging to address criticism over collateral damage, or the likelihood that the extent of U.S. involvement may become impossible to deny. END SUMMARY.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike and/or Artillery, Counter-Terrorism Action (Ground)
  • Civilian harm reported
    No
  • Civilians reported killed
    0
  • 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
    4

Sources (33) [ collapse]