Civilian Casualties

Civilian Casualties

Incident Code

USYEMTr026-C

Incident date

March 2–3, 2017

Location

يكلا, Yakla, Bayda', Yemen

Geolocation

14.594167, 45.067500 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Village level. Continue to map

Geolocation accuracy

Village

Airwars assessment

Multiple sources suggested that US airstrikes targeted alleged AQAP militants in al-Ghail village and in the broader Yakla area of Qaifa, Bayda governorate, overnight from March 2nd to March 3rd, killing at least three alleged militants. Some sources reported that there was an unspecified number of civilian casualties.

Local sources reported that the overnight strikes targeted the home of Sheikh Abdelilah Ahmed Nasser al-Dhahab, which had previously been reportedly targeted in a US strike early on March 2nd (USYEMTr018).  According to these sources, three of al-Dhahab’s “guards” were killed in the evening strike, named as Salah Salah al-Ayashi, Yaqoub al-Shahri, and Yahya al-Shahri. The Intercept reported that the three casualties were members of al-Dhahab’s extended family, from al Manasa village. According to multiple sources, al-Dhahab himself was not present in Yakla at the time of the strike, having been fighting in Marib since mid-February.

One local language source indicated that there were “civilian martyrs” in Yakla, while another mentioned “the killing of women and children”, though it was unclear whether this referred to casualties from this strike specifically. Airwars’ minimum civilian casualty assessment has therefore been set at four, including at least two women and two children, though this assessment has been graded as “weak” to reflect the lack of claims. Sources variously reported that “more than thirty” and “over fifty” strikes were conducted in Yakla overnight by US helicopters and drones. These reported strikes allegedly took place in conjunction with other reported US strikes across the Qaifa region.

Al-Ghail was previously the target of a US (and allegedly, Emirati) ground raid on January 29th 2017 which had resulted in the deaths of at least twenty civilians, including eleven children. Reportedly amongst the dead were several relatives of Abdul Ilah al-Dhahab, including his son Nasser; his niece Nawar al-Awlaki; and two of his brothers, alleged AQAP militants Sultan and Abd-al-Ra’uf al-Dhahab. Multiple sources, however, disputed that the latter two were affiliated with AQAP, instead suggesting that they were instead involved with pro-Hadi militia forces.

This reported action took place amid a dramatic intensification of US operations against AQAP. On March 3rd, Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davies announced that more than thirty strikes had been conducted since March 2nd in Yemen. On the same day, Associated Press reported that Yemeni officials and residents said that 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 beginning March 2nd were “part of ‘new directives’ to aggressively pursue the Dhahab and Qayfa clans”.

In their 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 during the night.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    4
  • (2 children2 women)
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Weak
    Single source claim, though sometimes featuring significant information.
  • Suspected attacker
    United States Armed Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
  • Belligerents reported killed
    3

Sources (28) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (2) [ collapse]

Geolocation notes

Reports of the incident mention the village of Yakla (يكلا), for which the coordinates are: 14.594167, 45.067500. Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further.

United States Armed Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    United States Armed Forces
  • United States Armed 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

United States Armed 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.

Original strike reports

United States Armed Forces

The U.S. military conducted precision strikes today in Yemen against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula to target the dangerous terrorist group that is intent on attacking the West, a Pentagon spokesman said.

With today's actions, the United States has carried out more than 30 strikes in Yemen since yesterday against the terrorist group, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters.

"These counterterrorism strikes were conducted in partnership with the government of Yemen," Davis said, adding, "U.S. forces will continue to target [al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula] militants and facilities in order to disrupt the terrorist organization's plots and ultimately to protect American lives."

The results of the strikes are still being assessed, Davis said.

Aimed At Degrading Terrorist Capabilities

The aim of the strikes is to keep the pressure on the terrorists and deny them access and freedom of movement within traditional safe havens, Davis said. "They've taken advantage of ungoverned spaces in Yemen to plot, direct and inspire terrorist attacks against the United States," he added. "We'll continue to work with the government of Yemen and our partners on the ground to defeat [the organization] and deny it the ability to operate."

The actions since have targeted militants, equipment and infrastructure in the governorates of Abyan, Al Bayda and Shabwah and will degrade the terrorist group's ability to coordinate external terror attacks and limit its ability to use territory seized from Yemen’s legitimate government as a safe space for terror plotting, the captain said.

U.S. forces have not been involved in or near any firefights in Yemen since late January, Davis said. In that January operation, Navy Chief Petty Officer William "Ryan" Owens was killed and three other U.S. service members were wounded.

Extremely Dangerous al-Qaida Affiliate

Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula remains an extremely dangerous al-Qaida affiliate, and is taking advantage of the chaos in the country from the civil war there, Davis said, noting that the organization “has more American blood on its hands" than the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria does.

Davis said al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is a "deadly terrorist organization that has proven itself to be very effective in targeting and killing Americans, and they have intent and aspirations to continue doing so."

The organization is integral to al-Qaida and remains intent on attacking Western targets, specifically the United States, a defense official said, speaking on background.

Total group strength in Yemen is in the "low thousands," the official said, adding that it remains a local and regional threat and directly contributes to the instability inside Yemen.

"This is a dangerous group locally, regionally and transnationally, to include against the United States, the West and our allies," the official said.

The terrorists have "skillfully exploited the disorder in Yemen to build its strength and reinvigorate its membership and training," the official said, noting that because members of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula tend to be from Yemen, they can blend in with the tribes there.

There have been notable successes against the group, the official said, including killing some of its key leaders.

Iraq Update

In other news, Davis updated reporters on progress in Iraq in liberating western Mosul from ISIS. Iraqi forces have cut across Highway 1, effectively isolating Mosul from the Syrian city of Raqqa, he said. Some areas in the north are still ISIS-controlled, he said, so Mosul is not completely severed from Raqqa.

"But in terms of having a road, that road is now cut," he said.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    4
  • (2 children2 women)
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Weak
    Single source claim, though sometimes featuring significant information.
  • Suspected attacker
    United States Armed Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
  • Belligerents reported killed
    3

Sources (28) [ collapse]