Four related civilians were reportedly killed, and at least one wounded, by a US drone strike against a vehicle in Al Mandhari village, in the Sama’a district of Bayda governorate, at around 2pm on March 29th 2018. According to Mwatana, the combatant status of the fifth man was unclear.
A US Defense spokesperson initially stated that four “terrorists” were killed in the strike, and that “no civilians were present and therefore none were injured or killed as a result of the strike.” A later statement, however, indicated that a credibility assessment of civilian harm allegations was underway.
According to several sources, Salem Muhammad Al-Mandhari, Muhammad Saleh Al-Mandhari, and Abdullah Saleh Al-Mandhari were killed instantly by the strike. Initial reports, from outlets including Anatolia Agency and Almawqea Post, also indicated that two additional persons, Nasser Ahmad Al-Mandhari and Adel Muhammad Al-Mandhari, had been injured in the strike. However, later reports and statements given by family members to Reprieve and the Daily Beast suggested that Nasser died of his wounds in hospital.
Adel Muhammad Al-Mandhari survived the strike, but reportedly suffered full-body burns and lost his legs and arms, according to a report by Associated Press. Some sources, such as Yemeni Press and journalist Saad Abedine (@SaadAbedine), initially suggested that a further unnamed individual was also injured.
Some initial reports had suggested that those killed were AQAP militants. A Yemeni government official told Xinhua that the targets were “practicing terrorist activities including encouraging local people to refuse the presence of government forces in the province”. One source, Al-Mashad Al-Araby, suggested that an AQAP judge and two “unaffiliated” people on the way to stand trial were killed, along with another another unidentified person.
Multiple local sources, witnesses, and family members, denied however that the dead had any affiliation with AQAP. “All people here, near and far, know that the targeted individuals have no relationship with al-Qaeda or any other group. This crime requires the strongest condemnation and is considered a dangerous precedent in targeting civilians and horrifying them which itself is terrorism,” read a local Tribal Affairs Council statement, signed by a dozen community leaders, according to the Daily Beast.
The Daily Beast report further stated that a witness of the strike, Omar Ahmed Al-Bakiri, had filed a statement with the family lawyer, indicating that he knew that the targeted individuals were civilians “because their activity and their daily routine was known to the sons of the area and they know for certain that they haven’t been involved with any armed group”. Academic Dr Elisabeth Kendall (@Dr_E_Kendall) tweeted that pro-AQAP feeds had not indicated that those killed were militants, only “Muslims”.
In a video seen by the Daily Beast, Al Haj Saleh Mohammed Saleh Al-Mandhari, the father of Muhammad and the brother of Salem, said that the former was “just a simple person”, a retired soldier who made his living working as a gas station security guard. Abdullah Saleh Al-Mandhari was reportedly a mechanic who frequently worked in Saudi Arabia; the Daily Beast saw photographs, provided by Reprieve, of Saudi stamps in his passport. Multiple local sources, speaking with outlets including Anatolia Agency, described Salem as the former head of a local transportation union.
On May 30th 2018, Reprieve published an account by Al Haj Saleh Mohammed Saleh Al-Mandhari: “On March 29, my son and several others were driving towards the city of Al Samw’ah, in Al Bayda Governorate in Yemen, to pick up an elder to act as a witness in a land sale in a nearby village. At approximately 2 p.m., a U.S. drone opened fire on their vehicle. Three people were killed, including my son. Two others were injured. One of them later succumbed to his injuries. The U.S. military claimed responsibility for the attack. It alleged that the strike killed four terrorists. This is untrue. My son was not a member of Al Qaeda. He was a simple person, a family man. After serving in the Yemeni military, he became a night guard for a local gas station. He was a law-abiding citizen who never thought ill of the United States. In fact, he rarely thought of the U.S. at all.
“In killing [Muhammad], America has robbed three children — 1-year old Maha, 3-year old Faiz and 6-year old Ahmed — of their father. He was the only breadwinner in his family… Who will support them now?”, he said. Adel, injured in the strike, has since attempted to get compensation and an apology from the US. “I lost hope,” he told Associated Press. “Nothing is going to happen.”
In a later statement dated May 16th, CENTCOM noted: “U.S. Central Command is aware of reports of alleged civilian casualties following the March 29 air strike against AQAP in al Bayda governorate. A credibility assessment is being conducted.”
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 report Death from the Sky, published in March 2021, the Yemeni human rights group Mwatana said that four civilians died in the attack with a fifth person injured. While the deaths of the four named men was confirmed by Mwatana, it noted the following about the injured man: “The only survivor of the attack was the driver, whose status Mwatana could not determine based on the facts available. He was wounded in the strike, and owned the four-wheel-drive vehicle which the strike destroyed. He had used it as a taxi to drive people to and from the village for a fee.”
“A mother of one of the civilian men who was killed told Mwatana: ‘My son left the house quickly after lunch to go to the As Sawma’ah area…Half an hour after he left the house, I received a call that he had been targeted by a drone. I couldn’t believe it. Is it possible that the United States killed my son? What crime did he commit to be killed in this manner? I still can’t believe that one of my sons will not return… His image never leaves my mind and sorrow engulfs me. I don’t know who will make up the loss of my son for me.'”
The local time of the incident is unknown.
The victims were named as:
Family members (5)
- Salem Muhammad Al-Mandhari 43 years old male head of a transport syndicate of drivers in Aden killed
- Muhammad Saleh Al-Mandhari 51 years old male Retired Yemen army soldier killed
- Abdullah Saleh Al-Mandhari 43 years old male Painter and decorator killed
- Nasser Ahmad Al-Mandhari 35 years old male Sheikh. Later died of injuries in hospital. killed
- Adel Muhammad Al-Mandhari Adult male injured
Sources (56) [ collapse]
Reports of the incident mention a vehicle being struck in the vicinity of Al Uqlah (العقلة) for which the generic coordinates are 14.040833, 45.713056. 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 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
TAMPA, Fla. – In the past three months, U.S. forces have targeted and disrupted the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula terrorist network in Yemen through 17 counter-terrorism airstrikes in four separate governorates. These include six air strikes against AQAP terrorists in February, seven air strikes against AQAP terrorists in March and four airstrikes against AQAP terrorists in April.
The April airstrikes included an AQAP training camp in western Hadramawt governorate April 11 and an AQAP checkpoint for asserting regional control and raising illegal revenue in al Bayda governorate April 23.
Other air strikes took place in al Bayda, Hadramawt, Zamakh and Shabwah governorates.
U.S. Central Command is aware of reports of alleged civilian casualties following the March 29 air strike against AQAP in al Bayda governorate. A credibility assessment is being conducted.
Intelligence and defense communities have assessed AQAP as one of the terrorist groups most committed to and capable of conducting attacks in the United States. AQAP has taken advantage of ungoverned spaces in Yemen to plot, direct and inspire terror attacks against the United States, its citizens and its allies around the world.
In early 2018, senior AQAP figure Khalid Batarfi called on the group’s supporters to “rise and attack” Americans “everywhere.” Last month, Osama Bin Laden’s son Hamza, an influential al-Qaeda figure, called on aspiring terrorists to join and support AQAP’s terrorist efforts in Yemen.
The United States is committed to finding and striking AQAP’s terrorist network in Yemen.
“In coordination with the government of Yemen, U.S. forces are conducting a series of counter-terrorism operations against AQAP and ISIS-Yemen,” said Lt. Col. Earl Brown, a U.S. Central Command spokesman. “We will continue to disrupt and degrade the ability of AQAP to plan attacks, confronting threats before they reach our borders.”