Up to five civilians, including a fifteen-year-old boy and man over the age of 70, were reportedly killed in a US special forces ground operation in Al Khthala village, in the Al Jubah area of Marib governorate, beginning at around 1am on May 23rd 2017, though official US accounts of the raid claimed that there were “no credible indications of civilian casualties”. According to US Central Command, the raid instead resulted in the deaths of seven AQAP militants. US forces were also injured in the attack, the Pentagon later said.
Multiple sources, including The Intercept, Reprieve, and Al-Arabi, reported that, according to local sources, a total of five civilians were in fact killed in the raid. Reprieve and other sources named those civilians killed as Nasser Ali Mahdi Al-Adhal, Al-Ghader Saleh Salem Al-Adhal, Saleh Al-Taffaf, Yasser Al-Taffaf Al-Adhel, and fifteen-year-old Abdullah (nicknamed Shibraeen) Saeed Salem Al-Adhal.
However in March 2011, following an extensive ground investigation, Mwatana said that between two and three civilians had died in the attack, noting: ” According to information collected by Mwatana, two civilians, two men who appeared to be members of the US-aligned Yemeni army, and another man whose status Mwatana was unable to determine were killed during the raid. Another four people were injured, including two civilians and two Yemeni army soldiers.”
Dhabia Ahmed, the mother of Abdullah, told PBS Frontline that he was a conscript in the Yemeni army, and that he and other men were just trying to defend their families that night. When he died, Dhabia said, “He called out to me, “Mom!” “Make peace with God,” I said. His nickname was Shibraeen. I told him, “Shibraeen, my love, make peace with God. Patience, my love.””
According to The Intercept, Abdullah was reportedly shot as he ran from US forces. Murad Al-Adhal, the 22-year-old brother of Abdullah, who was also injured in the raid, told The Intercept that he was woken by gunfire at 1:30am. As helicopters fired on buildings, he said, “my little brother Abdullah ran for his life with the other women and children. They killed him as he was running”.
Mwatana offered a slightly different version of Abdullah’s death, noting: “When the raid began, they heard people speaking English and dogs barking. Abdullah’s mother hurried to grab him and his sister and ran with them towards the bathroom. They hid inside, but the helicopter started shooting at the bathroom from above, so they ran down the hill from the house and hid behind two bushes. Abdullah was behind one, and his mother and little sister were behind another. His mother watched, from about ten meters away, as the helicopter began shooting at the bush where Abdullah was hiding, killing him. “She saw fire falling from the sky and devouring the tree where Abdallah [had] sought shelter. She felt totally paralyzed watching her son die in front of her,” another local resident, who is a relative of the family, told Mwatana.”
Both Reprieve and The Intercept reported that Nasser Ali Mahdi Al-Adhal, aged at least 70 and partially blind, was killed by US SEALs while attempting to greet the troops, having allegedly mistaken them for guests. According to Reprieve, “four other villagers were killed when they started to argue with the US soldiers after the shooting of Nasser al-Adhal”.
Most reports suggested that six civilians were injured in the raid, including a 69-year-old “who was shot in the leg”, according to Reprieve. The Intercept, however, gave a figure of five wounded civilians, based on conversations with village residents. Local sources told Al-Arabi that seven civilians, all from the Al-Adhal family, were wounded, naming three of the victims as Murad Saeed Salem Al-Adhal, Othman Muhammad Salih Al-Adhal, and Mabkhoot Ali Ali Arfaj Al-Adhal. According to The Intercept, Murad was shot in the leg, and Othman was aged twelve.
PBS Frontline also reported that then-six-year-old Mujahid al-Adhal’s back and hearing were injured when a block of cement fell on him during the raid. His uncle, Al-Ghader Saleh Salem Al-Adhal, was one of those killed. Mwatana instead described Mr al-Ghader as a serving member of the Yemen armed forces, noting: “Al Ghader, a soldier in the Yemeni military, was sleeping in his room when the raid began. He was shot in the chest and kidney. His wife tried to close his mouth so that those attacking the village would not hear his moaning. He remained alive throughout the night, but when his family tried to send him to a nearby hospital in the morning he died along the road.”
Statements by US Central Command and from Pentagon spokesperson Captain Jeff Davis indicated that seven AQAP militants were killed in the raid against an AQAP “compound”, through a combination of “small arms fire and precision airstrikes”. According to Davis, the raid targeted “a headquarters, a place to meet and plan for external operations and to lead [AQAP]”, and aimed at gathering intelligence on AQAP, including laptops and cellphones.
However, reports that civilians were killed in the raid cast doubt upon this figure, particularly given that, according to a US Department of Defense statement, “no civilian casualties were reported, and based on observations on the ground and in the sky, there are no credible indications of such casualties”.
According to Reprieve, “at least two” AQAP militants were in fact killed in the raid, having joined the firefight after US troops landed. The Intercept reported that, according to a senior figure in the village, seven men who were guests in one house were killed, possibly accounting for the seven militants reported killed by the US. The report did not identify the seven, nor were they described as either civilians or militants. Anatolia Agency reported that six “tribal gunmen” from the Al-Adhal family were killed and eight wounded, though stated that it was unknown whether they were noncombatant civilians or militants.
Long War Journal reported that “no senior al Qaeda leaders or operatives” were killed in the raid. According to one Twitter source, locals claimed that seven reported deaths were all members of the “Saudi-paid anti-Houthi resistance”, though it was unclear if this was incompatible with also being an AQAP member. Reporter Iona Craig tweeted that one of the village’s dead was a “serving soldier” with the Saudi-led Coalition, likely referring to fifteen-year-old Abdullah, though there were no indications that he was on military duty at the time of the raid.
According to Al-Arabim, Abdul Rahman Al-Adhal, leader of the Salafi Rashad party in Marib, denied any AQAP presence in the village, saying that one person, seemingly describing an AQAP member, was “advised and moderated”.
A local tribesman told Nadwa Dawsari, for her report Foe Not Friend, that three members of the al-Adhal clan, part of the Murad tribe, had been previously recruited by AQAP. After one was killed by a US strike in April 2017 (USYEMTr081-C), Dawsari wrote, “tribal leaders asked the clan to take strict action against the two surviving men, giving them the option to leave AQAP or to leave the area. The leaders stated that if the men chose to remain with AQAP, their tribe would disown them. The two men reportedly decided to leave AQAP but feared that the group would target them, since it kills those who leave it after swearing allegiance. ‘If we stayed with the tribe, al-Qaeda will kill us. If we stay with al-Qaeda, the Americans will kill us,’ one reportedly said”. Both were reportedly killed in the course of this raid.
A maximum of twelve civilian deaths are recorded for this event, inclusive of the possibility that the seven “guests” reportedly killed were civilian casualties additional to the five minimum civilian dead widely agreed upon. A minimum of two militant deaths have been recorded, based on the Reprieve report and the possibility that the US claim of seven AQAP deaths included the minimum five reported civilian deaths. The maximum has been set at seven, reflecting US claims.
The minimum number of reported civilian injuries has been set at five, drawing on the reporting of The Intercept. The maximum has been set at ten, including the eight potential civilian “gunmen” wounded according to the Anatolia Agency, along with two children. The minimum number of reported militant injuries has been set at zero, given that no sources explicitly mentioned injured militants, with a maximum of eight, accounting for the possibility that all of the eight injured “gunmen” referred to by Al-Arabi were in fact civilian combatants.
A local source told Al-Arabi that US forces sustained “deaths and injuries”. Pentagon spokesperson Captain Jeff Davis told the press, including the Military Times, that US SEALs sustained “ambulatory” wounds during the raid, but that there were no known US deaths. To reflect these claims, both alleged military deaths and injuries have been set at two.
Pentagon: US Special Ops troops were wounded in latest Yemen raid, not seriously. It is the deepest US troops have gone into Yemen
— cbsMcCormick (@cbsMcCormick) May 23, 2017
A few social media sources also claimed, in the immediate aftermath of the raid, that an “American statement” had announced that two US soldiers were killed, which one source named as Robert Akashi, aged 29, and George Bell, aged 24. The source, @greeb32165, also claimed that a second lieutenant, Randy Kilonne, was wounded. However, no statement or any other sources could be found that mentioned these names, and this specific claim may have been fabricated. A single Twitter source, @MasadryNet, indicated that, according to an “agency”, seven American soldiers had been killed; this likely reflects a misquote of the US claim that seven AQAP militants had been killed.
Sources reported that the raid, which most suggested lasted for around an hour, began at around 1am on May 23rd. According to the Associated Press, helicopters landed troops on the outskirts of Juba, before becoming engaged in a firefight. Local sources reported to The Intercept that between 40 and 60 troops attacked the village, alongside “eight or nine attack helicopters and other aircraft”.
A villager, Abu Mujahid, told PBS Frontline that “[Americans] came on foot when people were sleeping. Some came from the valley. Others from this side. Everywhere. The top of the hill was full of them”. Dhabia Ahmed said that “missiles fell at the front and back of the house. We woke up covered in broken glass and bullet shells. My children and I tried to run away so they wouldn’t capture us. They even had dogs”.
PBS Frontline also reported that, amongst US-issue equipment left in the village after the raid, a medical backpack was found that contained a list of twenty-two names and two dogs. PBS Frontline confirmed that the names listed were of Navy SEALs.
According to a tweet from Dr Elizabeth Kendall, an AQAP statement claimed that the raid targeted the home of “M. Sa’id al-A’dhal al-Muradi”, allegedly killed in a US drone strike in the area one month earlier (USYEMTr081-C), and that US SEALs fired indiscriminately when they couldn’t enter a house, killing five people including a man aged around 80.
The World Socialist Website reported that, according to local media, 30 troops were involved in the raid, mostly American but “including some from the Saudi-led force”. The Intercept also reported that, according to local sources, Emirati special forces were involved in the raid.
Sources reported that the raid was preceded by air strikes, carried out by drones and helicopters. According to Al-Arabi, seven strikes took place before or during the arrival of troops. Air support continued throughout the operation; CENTCOM stated that strikes were carried out by an AC-130 gunship in support of the raid. According to Al-Arabi, 60 missiles were reportedly fired at the village during the clashes. The Intercept reported that airstrikes resulted in the deaths of many livestock in the area.
Locals told Al-Masdar News that the raid focused on four houses, including that of Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al-Athal, the leader of the Salafi Rashad Party in Marib. Four homes were reportedly destroyed in the operation, possibly “burned”, alongside further damage to other buildings in the area. According to Al-Arabi, a number of families were displaced as a result of the raid.
According to Al-Masdar News, Sputnik Arabic had claimed that the operation targeted twelve AQAP members, principally Saudis, who had arrived from Shabwa some hours before the raid. This report suggested that US forces, landing in “the areas of Jaw Al Melah and Najd Maqad”, captured twelve militants, and became engaged in a firefight with local tribesmen who were sheltering AQAP members. The reported Sputnik Arabic article could not be found. One other source mentioned “unconfirmed reports” that between six and nine Saudi AQAP militants were captured, though no other known sources reported this.
The Al-Adhal family reportedly belongs to the Murad tribe, the largest tribe of Marib governorate, with around 60,000 members. According to The Intercept, the village was in the midst of a long-running “confrontation” over the issue of locals sheltering AQAP militants, with a “senior figure” telling the outlet that “I just needed more time to save my own people from this. There was a collective effort to kick out Al Qaeda”. On May 26th, Adhal tribesmen reportedly staged a protest, using the Arabic hashtag “Al-Adhal are not Al-Qaeda”.
The Al-Jubah area was, one month earlier, the target of a previous reported US airstrike, on April 30th (USYEMTr081-C), which allegedly killed at least two civilians. On May 26th, locals protested the latest US attack and the killing of civilians.
— Elisabeth Kendall (@Dr_E_Kendall) May 26, 2017
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 a comprehensive report into Trump-era actions in Yemen, the human rights organisation Mwatana said that two civilians had died along with a possible third – with two civilians additionally injured. It noted that it had “conducted in-depth interviews with six people, including with two wounded survivors and four relatives of those killed and wounded. In some cases, Mwatana conducted follow-up interviews by phone to gather further information. Mwatana also took or collected about three dozen photos, including photos of the wounded child, the invitation to the village-organized protest after the raid, medical reports and identification cards of those killed and wounded, military IDs, death certificates, and of bullets and other physical remnants found at the site after the raid.”
The incident occured at 1:00 am local time.
The victims were named as:
Family members (11)
- Nasser Ali Mahdi Al-Adhal over 70 years old male Shepherd killed
- Al-Ghader Saleh Salem Al-Adhal 45 years old male According to Mwatana he was a serving soldier in the Yemen military killed
- Saleh Al-Taffaf Adult male killed
- Yasser Al-Taffaf Al-Adhel 20 years old male According to Mwatana a member of Yemen's armed forces killed
- Shebreen Saeed Salem Al-Adhal Adult killed
- Abdullah Saeed Salem al-Adhal 14 years old male Aged 19 according to Mwatana killed
- Othman Mohammed Saleh al Adhal 12 years old injured
- Murad al-Adhal 22 years old male injured
- Mabkhoot Ali Ali Arfaj Al-Adhal 20 years old male Student injured
- Mujahid al-Adhal 6 years old male injured
- Basheer Ali Ahmed Al Athal 30 years old male Described as a Yemen soldier by Mwatana. Not listed by other sources injured
Sources (72) [ collapse]
Reports of the incident mention the area occupied by the Al Adhlan (العذلان) tribe in the vicinity of Al Khathla (الخثلة) village. A possible location for this area is Al Nijad Al Adhlan (النجاد العذلان), for which the coordinates are: 15.18779, 45.16637. Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further.
United States Armed Forces Assessment:
Civilian casualty statements
Nov 5, 2020
May 23, 2017
May 23, 2017
"No civilian casualties were reported, and based on observations on the ground and in the sky, there are no credible indications of such casualties, Davis said."
"Reprieve, a London-based human rights organization, said five civilians had been killed in the raid, including a 70-year-old, partly blind man who was shot when he tried to greet the Navy SEALs, mistaking them for guests arriving in the village. But Captain Davis said, “We don’t have reason to believe that’s the case.”"
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
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is a formidable terror group that remains intent on attacking Americans and the U.S. homeland, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, director of Pentagon press operations, told reporters today.
Air commandos from the 4th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron fulfill their duties at Hurlburt Field, Fla., July 7, 2016, by working on a AC-130U Spooky gunship. The AC-130's main mission is to provide close air support, air interdiction and armed reconnaissance and was used in the May 22, 2017, counterterrorism raid against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula operatives in the Marib governorate of Yemen.
Davis addressed yesterday’s U.S. Special Operations counterterrorism raid that killed seven al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula operatives in Yemen’s Marib governorate, located about 150 miles north of Aden, the country’s capital.
Special Forces raided an al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula compound comprising a few buildings, he said, adding, “[al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula was] using this as a headquarters, a place to meet and plan for external operations and to lead the group.”
First Raid Deep In Yemen
The raid marked the first time the United States conducted an operation into Marib governorate, and the location was the deepest the military has gone into Yemen to fight al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, Davis said.
“The intent of the raid was to disrupt AQAP operations,” he said, noting that “at least” seven al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula militants were killed with small-arms fire and precision airstrikes from an AC-130 gunship.
No civilian casualties were reported, and based on observations on the ground and in the sky, there are no credible indications of such casualties, Davis said.
“AQAP has significant amounts of American blood on its hands,” he said. “It is an organization that has used the ungoverned spaces in Yemen to plot, direct and inspire terrorist attacks against America, our citizens and our allies around the world.”
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula attacked the U.S. embassy in Sanaa, Yemen, in 2008; attempted to down Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day in 2009; and conspired to send explosive-laden parcels to Chicago in 2010, he said.
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula's English-language magazine, Inspire, also has been used to encourage attacks against the West, Davis said, citing multiple attacks that include the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, the Fort Hood mass shooting in 2009 and other lone-wolf attacks in the United States and Europe.
Yemen Authorized Operation
Yesterday’s raid was conducted under the same U.S. authorities as those granted in advance of the earlier, Jan. 28 raid, which included authorities for airstrikes and follow-on action, he said.
The operation had the support and cooperation of the Yemen government, and was done in conjunction with U.S. partners, the spokesman said.
“We will continue to support Yemen in bringing stability to the region by fighting known terrorist organizations like AQAP,” Davis said.