At least two men were reportedly killed by a US drone strike in Wadi Khora, Merkhat area of Shabwa governorate, overnight from May 14th-15th 2018. Though most sources suggested that those killed were AQAP militants, a brother of one of the dead denied to Associated Press that either were members of AQAP or ISIS.
A confirmed US strike took place in Shabwa on that date, a US Central Command spokesperson later told the Long War Journal. Since there were no other known reported strikes in Shabwa on May 14th, this event is treated as declared.
Associated Press and Twitter user @3nadoalaqi named the dead as Hussein Bakhash Al-Dayani Al-Awlaki and Abdullah Ruwais Al-Karbi Al-Ahmadi Al-Awlaki. Hussein’s brother, Khaled, told AP that neither were militants, but that his brother was a member of a militia fighting Houthi forces. “We are against those people,” Khaled said, regarding AQAP. It was unclear whether Abdullah was also a militia member.
A May 15th tweet from Al-Masdar Online suggested that two civilians were killed in a Shabwa drone strike, though the original linked article could not be found by Airwars. Another article from Al-Masdar from the same time indicated only that two people had been killed in the strike, whom local residents “suggested” to be AQAP members passing through the area.
Reprieve shared their findings on this strike with Airwars; a trusted source indicated to Reprieve that the strike had killed two.
Several sources, such as Yemen Shabab, Khabar Agency, and SMA News, reported that the strike had instead killed alleged or suspected AQAP militants, according to tribal and local sources. While some, including Yafa News and the Al-Masdar Online article mentioned above, indicated that two militants had been killed, most suggested that three militants had died. A security official told Xinhua that “at least four” militants had died.
The strike reportedly targeted a car with two consecutive missiles in front of the Al-Ghadeenah Dam, according to Al-Masdar Online, killing all of those inside. While most suggested that a single car was targeted, a security official and local residents told Xinhua that two vehicles were in fact destroyed. Apparent images of the strike location, however, appeared to show only one destroyed vehicle. Multiple sources, including Yemen Shabab and @egl3000, indicated that the vehicle was transporting ammunition and explosives, leading to continued explosions after the initial reported strikes.
Since AP reported that at least one of those killed was an active (if ‘friendly’) combatant, and since the circumstances of the strike appeared to indicate that he was on-duty at the time of the strike, Airwars has assessed that a minimum of one, and a maximum of two, civilians were reportedly killed. Similarly, accounting for the possibility that two were killed, neither affiliated with AQAP, but at least one a militia-member, a minimum of one combatant is assessed as being reportedly killed, with a maximum of four.
Most sources suggested that the strike took place late on March 14th, though some instead indicated early on March 15th. One local news outlet, @AlRayan_News, specified 11:05pm local time – posting its first tweet on the attack just eleven minutes later.
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 11:05 pm local time.
Sources (50) [ collapse]
Geolocation notes (1) [ collapse]
Reports of the incident mention the Wadi Khora (وادي الخورة) area within the Merkhat (مرخة) districts of Shabwa (شبوة) governorate. It is unclear whether this refers to an area or a settlement, however we have located the Wadi within the district with undefined boundaries. Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further. The generic coordinates for Wadi Khora are: 14.61063, 46.21792.
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
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.