Six civilians, including a teenage boy, were reportedly killed by a US drone strike while driving in the border region between Al-Jawf and Hadramout governorates, at around 3pm on March 8th 2018. The Yemeni Minister of Human Rights, Mohamed Askar, condemned the attack as “extrajudicial killings”.
A US Central Command spokesperson later told the Long War Journal that a strike had taken place in Hadramout on March 8th 2018. Since there were no other known reports of a US strike on that day, this event is treated as a declared strike.
Mwatana for Human Rights named the dead as Muhsin bin Ali Hadi Al Wahair (52 years old); Hizam Abdullah Saeed Al Wahair (40 years old); Shaji’ Abdullah Saeed Al Wahair (32 years old); Muhammad Abdullah Saeed Al Wahair (37 years old); Mahdi Saeed Abdullah Al Wahair (15 years old); and Abdullah bin Hasan Hamad Hiraidan (22 years old). All were reported to be from the Al-Wuhair family, a part of the Al-Mahashima tribe. The targeted members of the Al-Mahashima tribe were reportedly internally-displaced persons fleeing fighting in Al-Jawf, with tribespeople allegedly targeted by at least two other US strikes in early March 2018.
Local sources told both The Intercept and the Associated Press that the six casualties were civilians. No known sources suggested that those killed were militants. Mwatana similarly found that, though those killed carried weapons, there was “no credible indication” that any were associated with any extremist militant groups.
Relatives told Mwatana that Muhammad and Muhsin were truck drivers; that Hizam and Shaji’ were resident in Saudi Arabia; and that Abdullah and Mahdi were enlisted border guards in the Yemeni government army’s First Brigade. The Intercept reported that four of those killed had previously been fighting alongside the pro-Hadi military. Mohamed Askar, writing in The Guardian, said that a government committee had collected evidence that the dead were civilians: “The Yemeni National Committee, the official body tasked with documenting abuses, employed a team of investigators to establish the facts of the missile strikes on 5 and 8 March. They interviewed locals and collected signed statements, categorically stating that none of the men killed had any ties to al-Qaida.”
Saleh Al-Wuhair, the brother of one of those killed, told Associated Press that “I saw it before my eyes… Bodies were ripped apart”. Abdullah bin Saeed Al-Wuhair, the sheikh of the tribe, told Mwatana that three of the dead were his sons, and two were his grandsons. “[W]e got none of the security that we were looking for… All of them were killed in a horrible manner… They were good people and supported large families”, he said.
Reprieve shared their findings on this strike with Airwars. An on-the-ground investigator reported that the strike had killed six, including two brothers aged forty and thirty-three, as well as a fifty-five-year-old, a thirty-year-old, a twenty-year-old, and an eighteen-year-old.
While most indicated that six people had died, some, including Al-Masdar Online and Salmashhad, suggested that eight tribesmen had died in the strike on March 8th, naming two additional individuals: Amer Ali Muhammad al-Saqra Haridan Al-Mahashima, and Saleh Ali Al-Wuhair Al-Mahashima. However, these reports appear to have included the named alleged victims of two prior strikes in the same area (USYEMTr152-C, USYEMTr154-C) in the death toll of this event. These reports are therefore not accounted for in this event. One Twitter source, @MohammedSailan1, suggested that five tribesmen had died, including one “young man”.
A few sources, including Yemeni journalist @mareb_alward and government minister Mohamed Askar, indicated that one of the six reportedly killed in the strike was aged thirteen or younger; it is possible that this also reflects reporting of a previous alleged child casualty on March 5th (USYEMTr152-C). An image of a child, posted by these sources, was also indicated by another source to be Amer Huraidan, reportedly killed in the earlier strike (USYEMTr152-C). Associated Press reported that a fourteen-year-old and an eighteen-year-old died in the strike, but did not name them.
A local activist told The Intercept that some members of the Al-Mahashima tribe, to which the alleged strike victims belonged, were members of AQAP. A Yemeni intelligence official, however, indicated that those members of the tribe had been killed a considerable time ago.
Sources all appeared to indicate that the strike took place in the border region between the Al Jawf and Hadramout governorates, though disagreed about the specific location. Most sources indicated that a car was targeted in the Al-Abr desert area, Hadramout, though eyewitnesses told Mwatana that the attack took place in Al Khab Wal Sha’f, Al-Jawf, as those targeted travelled to Al-Abr. Though most, including Mwatana, suggested that the strike took place on March 8th, both The Intercept and Associated Press instead indicated March 9th.
A US Central Command spokesperson later told the Long War Journal that a strike had taken place in Hadramout on March 8th 2018. Since there were no other known reports of a US strike on that day, this event is treated as a declared strike. CENTCOM also told the Bureau of Investigative Journalism that allegations of civilian harm in this strike were non-credible, due to a lack of available evidence.
“Our lives and the lives of our children and women have become in constant danger because of these repeated attacks that have killed innocents without any justification. If we keep quiet about this, these drone strikes will only continue in this manner because the Yemeni government’s abandonment of us”, Sinan Abdullah Al-Wuhair told Mwatana.
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.”
The incident occured at approximately 3:00 pm local time.
The victims were named as:
Family members (6)
- Muhsin bin Ali Hadi Al Wahair 52 years old male killed
- Hizam Abdullah Saeed Al Wahair 40 years old male killed
- Shaji’ Abdullah Saeed Al Wahair 32 years old male killed
- Muhammad Abdullah Saeed Al Wahair 37 years old male killed
- Mahdi Saeed Abdullah Al Wahair 15 years old male killed
- Abdullah bin Hasan Hamad Hiraidan 22 years old male killed
Sources (21) [ collapse]
Geolocation notes (1) [ collapse]
Reports of the incident mention a vehicle being struck at the border between Khab wa Ash Sha’f (مديرية خب و الشعف) the and the Al Abr district (مديرية العبر).Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further. The generic coordinates for this area are: 16.180272, 46.832936.
US Forces Assessment:
Civilian casualty statements
A spokesperson told the Bureau of Investigative Journalism: "After a thorough review of the facts and circumstances of each civilian casualty report you provided, all four were assessed to be non-credible."
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 to Airwars: 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.