Five civilians and two off duty Yemen soldiers from two local families, all men, were reportedly killed by a US drone strike in or near Al Mushainaah village, in the Saeed district of Shabwa governorate, at around midnight between January 26th-27th 2018. At the time of the strike, the men were reportedly searching for a missing 14-year old boy who was reportedly visiting Al-Qaeda militants.
Mwatana for Human Rights named the men killed as Saleh Muhammad Bin Olaywah (49 years old), Ziyad Saleh Muhammad Bin Olaywah (20 years old), Khalid Faraj Muhammad Bin Olaywah (37 years old), Ali Faraj Muhammad Bin Olaywah (34 years old), Nabil Salem Ba’adlan (40 years old), Mubarak Muhammad Saleh Hudaij (41 years old), and Najeeb Muhammad Saleh Lasma’ (25 years old). Mwatana found “no credible indication” that any of those killed were associated with any armed groups.
According to reporting by Associated Press, Saleh Muhammad Bin Olaywah’s son, 14-year old Abdullah, had gone with a friend to an AQAP camp in the mountains near Al-Masna’ah, after being told that the group was giving away free motorcycles. Speaking later with PBS Frontline, Abdullah said that “AQAP were messaging me and messaging my friends… They said, ‘Don’t worry, nothing will happen to you.’ So we went, although I didn’t really want to.”
Saleh, a taxi driver, reportedly went with his eldest son, Ziyad, and his brother-in-law, Nabil, to search for his younger son in Ataq. They were later joined by two of Saleh’s nephews, Ali and Khalid. In the search, Saleh also enlisted the help of someone he knew from the al-Tolsi family, Mubarak, a beekeeper who knew the Al Mushainaah area. Mubarak’s nephew, Najeeb, a geology student, also joined the group.
The seven men were reportedly killed as they waited in a car at the foot of the mountains, in the Sar’ area, while a lookout took a message to the AQAP camp. Sources indicated that two missiles from a drone targeted the vehicle. Ahmad Ali Al Arib Al Tawsali, a relative, told Mwatana that “It was a direct hit, killing everyone that was in the car, and their bodies were turned into nothing more than burnt body parts”.
Abdullah’s uncle, Ali Saleh, told PBS Frontline that Ziyad and Nabil were both members of the Yemeni army. “They were fighting the Houthis with no relationship to any illegal or terrorist organizations”, Ali said. He also told PBS Frontline that he was now the sole provider for over thirty family members, and wanted the US to pay compensation for the strike.
A spokesperson for US Central Command later confirmed to Long War Journal that a strike had targeted AQAP in Shabwa on January 26th, but gave no further information on casualties or exact location. There were no other known reports of strikes in Shabwa on that day.
Other sources, including Xinhua and AFP, suggested that those killed were AQAP militants, according to anonymous Yemeni officials.
Protests took place in Ataq in Shabwa in response to the strike. Al Jazeera reported that Saleh al-Aishi al-Ateeqi, another relative, “blamed the Arab coalition at war with Yemen for the deaths, saying it was responsible for the country’s airspace and protecting civilian lives”.
Reprieve shared their findings on this strike with Airwars, similarly indicating that seven had died in the strike.
In its annual civilian casualty report to Congress issued in April 2019, the US Department of Defense stated that it had assessed “no credible reports of civilian casualties resulting from US military actions in Yemen during 2018″.
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 its major report Death from the Sky, Yemen human rights group Mwatana insisted none of those killed had links to either Al Qaeda or ISIS, based on multiple interviews with relatives and officials.
One man who lost two relatives in the attack noted: “I woke everyone in the house with the worst kind of news imaginable. We got in the car and went off to see what had happened. I cannot forget the moment when I saw the two cars carrying the bodies. I asked to see them and I wish I had not. Many of them were disfigured and torn to pieces. I hugged them and sobbed until people removed me from the car.”
Mwatana also noted in its report that “Five days after the air strike killed the seven men, the families called for a protest in front of Ataq police station. Interviewees said that more than 150 people joined the protest, calling on the local authorities, the government, Security Council member states and the US government to look into the strike, and calling on the US to acknowledge responsibility for the strike.”
The incident occured around midnight.
The victims were named as:
Family members (5)
- Saleh Muhammad Bin Olaywah 49 years old male Abdullah's father killed
- Ziyad Saleh Muhammad Bin Olaywah 20 years old male Eldest son of Saleh. Serving soldier with Yemen army killed
- Khalid Faraj Muhammad Bin Olaywah 37 years old male Nephew of Saleh killed
- Ali Faraj Muhammad Bin Olaywah 34 years old male Nephew of Saleh killed
- Nabil Salem Ba’adlan 40 years old male Brother-in-law of Saleh. Serving soldier with Yemen army killed
Family members (2)
Sources (26) [ collapse]
Reports on the incident mention the village of Al Mushainaah ( المصينعه) for which the generic coordinates are: 14.351505, 46.762544. 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
C. U.S. military action in Yemen against al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS During 2018, U.S. forces deployed to Yemen continued to work towards disrupting and degrading the terrorist threat posed by AQAP and ISIS. U.S. forces conducted 36 airstrikes against AQAP and ISIS operatives and facilities in Yemen and supported United Arab Emirates and Yemen-led efforts to clear AQAP from Shabwah Governorate. DoD has no credible reports of civilian casualties resulting from U.S. military actions in Yemen during 2018.
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
In a major move toward transparency, US Central Command (CENTCOM) provided details to FDD’s Long War Journal on US air strikes against Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen. Since early 2017, the military previously provided little information on the Yemen air campaign, typically providing only an aggregate number and limited detail on high-value target strikes.
In an email to LWJ, CENTCOM’s Major Josh T. Jacques disclosed the dates and locations of the last five months of strikes in Yemen. The information revealed that since the beginning of 2018, the US campaign against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen has focused on three governorates: Hadramout (eight strikes), Al Bayda (17), and Shabwa (three), demonstrating the eastern reach of the terrorist group.
Last year’s publicized strikes were concentrated in the central governorates of Al Bayda and Marib.
Location of US air strikes against AQAP and the Islamic State in 2018:
– Jan. 2018: Ten total strikes. The US conducted 8 strikes against AQAP in Bayda on Jan. 1, 3, 9, 12, 13, 20, 25, and 29. An additional strike against AQAP in Shabwah occurred on Jan. 26. An additional strike against the Islamic State occurred on Jan. 12 in Bayda.
– Feb. 2018: Six total strikes, all in Al Bayda governorate. Strikes occurred on Feb. 7, 11, 12, 16, and 24 (two strikes were conducted on Feb. 24).
– Mar. 2018: Seven total strikes, six of which occurred in Hadramout. Strikes occurred on Mar. 4 (two strikes), 5, 7, 8, and 13. An additional strike in Bayda occurred on March 29. [AQAP’s apparent entrenchment in eastern Yemen is concerning. In addition to the concentration of strikes in Hadramout, CENTCOM previously disclosed that AQAP operated training camps in the governorate as recently as April 2018, when they were targeted by American strikes.]
– Apr. 2018: Four total strikes, one each in Shabwah (April 26) and Al Bayda (April 23), and two in Hadramout (both on April 11).
– May 2018: One strike, in Shabwah on May 14.
– Jun. 2018: No strikes to date.
The US military has stepped up its counterterrorism campaign against al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen as well as the Islamic State since President Trump took office in 2017. Last year, the US launched 131 strikes (125 against AQAP and six against the Islamic State), nearly tripling the previous yearly high of 44 strikes in 2016.
At the current pace, the US will fall far short of that mark; there have been 28 strikes reported by CENTCOM in Yemen in the first five months of 2018.
This counterterrorism campaign has targeted AQAP’s infrastructure, including its training camps and media operations, which serve as a hub for al Qaeda’s global communications. The US has killed several mid-level AQAP leaders and media officials in its air campaign.
Despite suffering setbacks after seizing large areas of southern and central Yemen between 2015-2016, AQAP remains a persistent threat to both the embattled Yemeni government and US interests worldwide. AQAP still controls remote rural areas in Yemen and operates training camps. The group’s master bomb maker, Ibrahim al Asiri, who has engineered several bombs which have evaded airport security, remains one of the most wanted jihadists on the planet.
Note: This article was updated to include the dates and locations of Jan. 2018 strikes.