Civilian Casualties

Civilian Casualties

Incident Code

USYEMTr233

Incident date

December 14, 2020

Location

البطحة, Al Batha area, Marib, Yemen

Airwars assessment

At least one person, believed to be affiliated with Al Qaeda, was reported killed in an alleged US drone strike on a motorcycle in the Al Batha area, Marib governorate, on December 14th, 2020, according to local sources.

Al Arabiya reported that according to a source within the local authority in Marib, “an unmanned drone, likely to be an American, launched a raid on an al-Qaeda operative in the Al Batha area, isolating the forts of Al Jalal in the Wadi Directorate, northeast of the city of Ma’rib.”

@Ywbmmd tweeted that “a drone, believed to be an American, targeted a motorcycle in which a person (believed to be affiliated with Al Qaeda) was travelling in the Al Batha area – the car market in the forts of Al Jalal.” According to @Abolbrahim2018, the victim was a senior leader of Al Qaeda.

Several sources, including Al Hadath Center, reported two killed Al Qaeda militants.  @mobass20 was the only source reporting that the motorcycle was carrying three Al Qaeda militants.

According to Yemen Post, the event took place in the “Al Batha area in the car market in the forts of Al Jalal of the Wadi Directorate.”

Sahaftak wrote that “local sources said that a drone bombed a motorcycle carrying two Al Qaeda operatives in the Al Jalal fortress area in the valley, killing two Al Qaeda operatives and burning the motorcycle.”

@saifbinrashid7 reported that “an Al Qaeda operative was killed in Marib by bombing of an American drone.”

According to Al Sharae News, the identity of the target was unknown. The source added that the killed man’s “body parts were littered with his motorcycle”.

Al Hadath Center reported that “the airstrike resulted in the killing of the target and the burning of his bicycle, without identifying him.”

All sources blamed the United States for the strike.

The incident occured in the evening.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Suspected attacker
    United States Armed Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
  • Belligerents reported killed
    1–3

Sources (34) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (2) [ collapse]

  • Translation: “A drone, believed to be an American, targeted a motorcycle in which a person (believed to be affiliated with Al-Qaeda) was traveling in the Al-Batha area - the car market in the forts of Al Jalal” (via @aden_news24).
  • Aftermath of an alleged US drone strike on motorcycle reportedly carrying an Al Qaeda operative near Al Batha area, Marib governorate, on December 14th, 2020 (via @aden_news24).

United States Armed Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    United States Armed Forces
  • United States Armed Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Suspected attacker
    United States Armed Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
  • Belligerents reported killed
    1–3

Sources (34) [ collapse]

Incident Code

USYEMTr232

Incident date

November 14, 2020

Location

استراحة النخيل ـ محطة بن معيلي, Al-Nakhil Resthouse - Bin Maeili Station, Marib, Yemen

Airwars assessment

Local sources reported the injury of up to three members of Al-Qaeda after a drone attack that targeted them near a farm close to Bin Maeili Station in Wadi Abeeda, Ma’reb on November 14th, 2020.

@abdalrzeg8713 tweeted that one of the three members was injured by a US drone attack. However, 7adramout.net said that three members were injured.

@AAAATW2 attributed the responsibility to a ‘third party’ saying that it could be Emarati, Saudi, transitional or Afashi.

The incident occured in the morning.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Suspected attacker
    United States Armed Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
  • Belligerents reported injured
    1–3

Sources (8) [ collapse]

United States Armed Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    United States Armed Forces
  • United States Armed Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Suspected attacker
    United States Armed Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
  • Belligerents reported injured
    1–3

Sources (8) [ collapse]

Published

October 28, 2020

Written by

Airwars Staff

Despite at least 84 likely civilian deaths from US actions in Yemen under Donald Trump, public accountability peaked just 12 days into his presidency.

A new Airwars investigation into the ongoing US counterterrorism campaign in Yemen has identified at least 86 civilians likely killed by US actions during Donald Trump’s presidency – though the US military has admitted to no more than a dozen deaths.

Eroding Transparency, researched and written by Mohammed al-Jumaily and Edward Ray, examines US air and ground actions against both Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and Islamic State in Yemen, since 2017. More than 230 declared and alleged US military and CIA actions are identified – among them 41 reported strikes in which Yemenis have alleged civilian casualties.

An accompanying public database details every alleged US action in Yemen since 2017 under President Trump. Employing its highly-effective all source monitoring approach, Airwars has significantly reoriented research towards Yemeni voices and experiences. There are some 4,400 unique sources in the new public database, sixty per cent of these in Arabic. More than 140 alleged or confirmed US actions have also been geolocated by Airwars to village-level accuracy.

Read our full report, Eroding Transparency: Trump in Yemen

Eroding Transparency shows that US operations in Yemen – already on the rise during the last two years of the Obama administration – significantly escalated under Trump, with dire consequences for civilian harm. US operations too often lacked both the transparency and accountability standards of other recent US military interventions, and the report identifies a worrying emphasis under Trump of both clandestine and covert activity in Yemen, obscured from public scrutiny.

Initial spike under Donald Trump

Airwars’ new research tracks a precipitous increase in alleged and confirmed US counterterrorism actions in Yemen during 2017. Indeed, the first year of the Trump presidency saw the highest reported US counterterrorism actions in Yemen since 2002.

This escalation was accompanied by a significant loosening of restrictions on how the US military could operate in Yemen: “It seems what happened was that the Trump administration was keen to take the gloves off, as it were, to be what they perceived was tougher on terrorism, and this was one of the first ready-made concepts of operation available,” says Luke Hartig, previously Senior Director for Counterterrorism at the National Security Council during the Obama administration.

When compared with available data on US actions during Barack Obama’s presidency (2009 – 2017), it is clear this initial spike under Trump in 2017 represented a distinct departure from the previous administration. That one year saw a record 133 officially declared US airstrikes and ground actions in Yemen. To put this in context, the total number of publicly declared actions in Yemen during the full presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, over a 14 year period, amounted to 150 events.

More recently however, Airwars research shows that US counterterrorism activity in Yemen has declined to its lowest reported levels since 2012.

Poor US response to civilian casualty concerns 

The expansion of US activity during the early Trump presidency resulted in a corresponding increase in likely civilian harm, Eroding Transparency reveals. Of the 86 minimum likely civilian deaths tracked by Airwars, some 93 per cent (80 deaths) arose from reported US actions in Yemen between January 2017 and April 2018. Reported civilian deaths tracked by Airwars in 2017 significantly outstripped alleged deaths in any year during the Obama presidency, as previously tracked by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

The estimated minimum civilian deaths from Trump strikes in Yemen include at least 28 children and 13 women, resulting from some 25 declared and likely US actions. At least 63 likely civilian deaths resulted from twenty actions that US Central Command has itself publicly declared. Eroding Transparency emphasises in particular the considerable risks of US ground actions to civilians; alleged or confirmed US ground actions, though accounting only less than three per cent of likely US actions, were responsible for at least 40 per cent of the minimum confirmed or fair civilian harm tracked by Airwars.

Airwars’ new analysis further highlights the extent to which small Yemeni communities have borne the brunt of US counterterror actions. One area of Bayda governorate, roughly 25km in radius, has been the site of almost a fifth of the total likely and declared US actions tracked by Airwars in the past four years – reportedly killing at least 38 civilians.

Yet these likely deaths have gone largely unrecognised by the US military. The US Department of Defense has conceded just four to twelve deaths from a single action – the disastrous US special forces raid in Yakla, Bayda governorate, on January 29th 2017. Just twelve days into the Trump presidency, the admission of civilian harm in that raid constituted the high watermark of accountability for the administration. Yet even this concession was a considerable underestimate, In that same ground raid, Airwars and others assess that at least 20 civilians were in fact killed.

Though President Trump removed civilian harm reporting requirements for the CIA, the Department of Defense is still obliged to report civilian harm from its own actions annually to Congress. Yet apart from the Yakla concession, the Pentagon has admitted to no further civilian deaths or injuries arising from US military actions in Yemen under Donald Trump. In its 2018 and 2019 annual civilian casualty reports to Congress, the DoD instead asserted that it had found “no credible reports of civilian casualties resulting from US military actions in Yemen” for the years in question.

During those same years, Airwars assesses, at least 30 civilian deaths were likely incurred by US actions, including events reported by local advocacy NGOs such as Mwatana for Human Rights.

US Central Command did not respond substantively to Airwars’ comprehensive submission, nine weeks prior to the publication of Eroding Transparency, of more than 1,000 pages of archived source materials, in both English and Arabic, relating to all 41 declared and alleged US actions which had led to local claims of civilian harm in Yemen under President Trump.

Precise location by the Airwars team of houses reportedly damaged as a result of an April 11th 2020 alleged drone strike (via Google Earth)

An effective counterterrorism approach?

Throughout the US’s lengthy counterterrorism campaign in Yemen, the key focus has been an almost exclusively militarised approach to degrading the Jihadist presence and influence in the country. This began in earnest in 2009, with the US taking the lead in containing AQAP as a result of what it saw as the Yemeni government’s inability to effectively counter terrorism in the country.

Since the inauguration of President Trump, Airwars has tracked a minimum total of 460 militant deaths from alleged and confirmed US actions in Yemen – the overwhelming majority belonging to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). A small cluster of strikes are also known or suspected to have targeted so-called Islamic State in Yemen, in October and November 2017. Approximately 60% of the total minimum militant deaths tracked by Airwars, amounting to 242 AQAP or ISIS fighters, were killed in 2017.

Airwars research suggests a subtle focus by both CENTCOM and the CIA on targeting “high-value” targets, with the possible exception of the October 2017 attacks on ISIS-Y training camps, which appear to have been aimed at significantly degrading the group.

According to Yemen expert Dr Elisabeth Kendall, the US’s primary focus on high-value targets has “put al-Qaeda under pressure because they end up being concerned about holding meetings to discuss strategy and iron out disputes… this means that the seeds of doubt and suspicion, both naturally occurring and sown by spies… and are left to fester and you end up with defections and splintering”. Additionally, while previously the group would have had programmes including “educational training, military training, management training,” the recent US campaign had made it almost impossible to run these programmes, says Dr Kendall.

However, the US’s militarised approach may also have thwarted local efforts to control and contain militant groups in Yemen. Given the often porous relationship between AQAP and tribes, the sometimes indiscriminate nature ofsUS strikes has actively undermined efforts by tribal elders to convince their members who have joined AQAP to leave the group in exchange for immunity.

Additionally, deadly US ground raids in 2017, in which dozens of civilians and tribal members were killed, have reportedly alienated local communities and further entrenched distrust and hostility towards US involvement in the country. Eroding Transparency highlights several cases where US actions may have had such unintended consequences.

IS-Y fighters training at the Abu Muhammad al Adnani training camp, which was targeted in October 2017 by a US action (ISIS propaganda image)

The future of US actions in Yemen

Though reported US actions have declined in frequency in the latter years of Donald Trump’s presidency, there has also been a marked shift towards covert or clandestine US actions, shielded from public accountability. As Eroding Transparency shows, while CENTCOM itself asserts that it has not conducted any airstrike in Yemen since June 24th 2019, during that same period Airwars tracked 30 allegations of US strikes in Yemen.

Of these 30 incidents, 15 have been assessed by Airwars as likely US strikes based on local reporting. And in three events, all during 2020, admission of responsibility for actions by US officials has in turn indicated those attacks were conducted either by the CIA, or were clandestine US military actions.

At this juncture, the future of US counter-terrorism in Yemen remains unclear. Though Airwars has monitored a clear decline in the apparent frequency of US actions since 2018, Eroding Transparency also highlights a corresponding weakening of public accountability for those actions.

Read our full report, Eroding Transparency: Trump in Yemen

▲ Mabkhout Ali al Ameri with his 18-month old son Mohammed, shortly after a botched US raid on al Ghayil in January 2017 had killed at least 20 villagers, including Mohammed's mother Fatim Saleh Mohsen. © Iona Craig

Militant deaths per year in Yemen

During the Trump presidency, the United States primarily targeted alleged fighters from two main terror networks operating in Yemen: Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and Islamic State in Yemen. While declared US actions are often accompanied by an official estimate of militants killed, local reporting may indicate differing claims, resulting in a fatality range.

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Declared and alleged US actions in Yemen

US actions in Yemen are carried out both by US Central Command (CENTCOM) and by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). While CENTCOM publicly declares some of its actions, others remain secret. CIA strikes are officially neither confirmed nor denied. In addition, there are some actions in Yemen where the belligerent is presently contested (eg possibly by the UAE), or unknown.

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Incident Code

USYEMTr231

Incident date

October 27, 2020

Location

عرق آل شبوان, Irq Al Shabwan, Ma'rib, Yemen

Geolocation

15.51479, 45.37014 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Village level. Continue to map

Geolocation accuracy

Village

Airwars assessment

A US drone strike reportedly targeted alleged AQAP militants’ Vitara vehicle in the ‘Irq Al Shabwan area of Al Wadi district in Marib governorate on 27 October 2020 killing between two and three militants and wounding one, according to local sources. Almawqaea Post noted that a local source had named the militants as being members of the Al Suwari family. There were no known associated reports of civilian harm.

Many sources reported that the drone strike totally burned the car, killing two people inside, and critically wounding a third one. However, Aden news agency said that the two killed people belong to the Islah Party “the de facto ruler of the city and its surroundings since late 2015.” Also 7adramout.net said the identity of those killed is unknown.

Multiple news sources reported that the strike was believed to have been carried out by the US, given previous strikes in the area. Most reports referred to two militants being killed, although two sources including Yemen Now News reported that all three were killed.  No reports referred to whether the third may have died from his wounds.

The incident likely occurred in the afternoon, given the time media reports started to publish. One of the first news reports, by Adengad.net, stated that a “drone believed to be an American targeted an Al-Qaeda vehicle in the Ma’rib governorate”, citing local sources as saying that the car was carrying Al-Qaeda operatives. Only one source, AlAyyam, said the incident happened in the evening.

 

The incident occured in the afternoon.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    2 – 3
  • Civilians reported injured
    1
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
  • Suspected attacker
    United States Armed Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
  • Belligerents reported killed
    2–3
  • Belligerents reported injured
    1

Sources (29) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (3) [ collapse]

  • Caption translation:A drone (believed to be American) targeted a car believed to be carrying two members of Al-Qaeda organization in Yemen in the Irq Al Shabwan region in Marib governorate this afternoon.
  • Map shows area of drone strike in early this year as well (pins on right) ... @CarvajalF 27th October 2020

Geolocation notes

Reports of the incident mention a vehicle being struck in Irq Al Shabwan (عرق آل شبوان), west of the Ma’rib (مأرب) city, for which the generic coordinates are: 15.51479, 45.37014. This location is confirmed in a tweet by @CarvajalF. However, due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further.

United States Armed Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    United States Armed Forces
  • United States Armed Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    2 – 3
  • Civilians reported injured
    1
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
  • Suspected attacker
    United States Armed Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
  • Belligerents reported killed
    2–3
  • Belligerents reported injured
    1

Sources (29) [ collapse]

Published

September 22, 2020

Written by

Airwars Staff

Airwars adds voice to partners calling on the US government to end its targeting of the ICC

The United States Government recently applied sanctions to senior officers of the International Criminal Court – a court of last resort established by treaty, and endorsed by a majority of countries including most of the US’s closest allies. In partnership with a number of organisations working on the protection of civilians in conflict, Airwars is calling upon the US Government to end its targeting of ICC officials. The public statement also calls on both Presidential campaigns to publicly commit to rescinding an Executive Order passed by President Trump in June, which formed the basis of the ICC sanctions.

We the undersigned, representing human rights and humanitarian non-governmental organizations working on the protection of civilians in conflict, write in opposition to United States sanctions against named senior personnel within the International Criminal Court (ICC).

We call on President Trump to revoke these harmful sanctions immediately and to rescind Executive Order 13928 on “Blocking Property of Certain Persons Associated with the International Criminal Court.” We also call on the Presidential campaigns of both major parties to publicly commit to reversing this harmful Executive Order. The United States should support the rule of law rather than punish those seeking to provide redress to victims of harm.

The ICC exists as a court of last resort to hold government officials and other powerful actors accountable when domestic courts are unable or unwilling to prosecute the most serious international crimes. The Court has secured successful prosecutions for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The primary beneficiaries are the many civilian victims who can secure no justice elsewhere and the communities subject to cycles of violence fuelled by impunity. They include many victims and survivors of violence for whom the United States has been a strong, vocal advocate for justice and accountability.

We understand that the United States takes issue with some of the ICC’s jurisprudence and assertions of jurisdiction. However, we believe that concerted diplomatic efforts and engagement with the ICC will enhance its effectiveness more than punishing individuals who have dedicated their careers to delivering justice to victims of egregious crimes.

As condemnatory statements from close U.S. allies make clear, the United States has lost significant international standing through these sanctions, which have undermined the international rule of law and provided succour to war criminals seeking to evade justice. 

The United States should recommit to an independent and credible domestic process of investigating and holding to account U.S. citizens for alleged abuses, free from executive interference and consistent with U.S. and international law. That is the best way to ensure that U.S. service members are afforded due process of law in a domestic forum for any alleged wrongdoing and that the U.S. is recognized as a leader in the pursuit of global justice and accountability.

Signed,

Action on Armed Violence

Airwars

Amnesty International USA

Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC)

Human Rights First

Oxfam America

Oxford Research Group

Saferworld

▲ A recent appeal hearing at the International Criminal Court (Image via ICC)

Incident Code

USYEMTr230

Incident date

September 4, 2020

Location

شقرة, Shakra, Abyan, Yemen

Geolocation

13.35663, 45.699426 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Town level. Continue to map

Geolocation accuracy

Town

Airwars assessment

Some local-language social media sources suggested that a US drone strike targeted alleged militants in Shaqra, Khanfar district of Abyan governorate, early on September 4th 2020. Most reports, however, instead indicated that strikes had been carried out by a drone of the UAE or UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council just after midnight, targeting forces associated with the Saudi-backed government of President Hadi. There were no known reports of civilian harm.

Two of the sources that alleged US responsibility for the strike indicated that AQAP or ISIS militants had been the target. One local-language Twitter user, @marib__dam, reported that a US drone had bombed a “car carrying al-Qaeda operatives, including Abu al-Bara al-Qifi and his companions in Shaqra”, while @hsin_sad reported that a US drone had “burned ISIS and al-Qaeda groups” in Shaqra.

A third Twitter source, @Mukhtar03296421, indicated that a US drone had instead targeted a car next to “militias affiliated with the Yemeni government”, killing “dozens” of militants.

News sources, however, instead assigned responsibility to the UAE or UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council, with some suggesting that the strike reflected the first use of drones in the conflict by these parties.

The Yemen Press Agency reported that, according to “sources”, a drone “likely belonging to the UAE carried out two raids after midnight on Thursday, which bombed Hadi and Islah militias groups in Shakra district”, killing and wounding “several”. Likewise, Debriefer indicated that strikes “believed to be carried out by the forces of the UAE-backed southern transitional council” had injured “at least 12 government troops, including a senior officer”.

According to Right Now Times, a Yemeni military source told Sputnik that “two unidentified drones” had conducted two strikes in the area, injuring four soldiers and damaging a vehicle. According to the report, the targeted forces responded with anti-aircraft fire. The reported original Sputnik article could not be found by Airwars researchers.

Given competing ascriptions of responsibility for the alleged strike, this event has been assessed by Airwars as “contested”. At least four belligerents were reportedly injured, with a maximum of twelve. Accounting for the allegation of “several” killed and wounded, minimum reported belligerent deaths has been set at two, with a maximum of twenty-four, accounting for the report of “dozens” killed.

The incident occured around midnight.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Suspected attackers
    United States Armed Forces, United Arab Emirates Armed Forces
  • Suspected targets
    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), ISIS - Yemen, Other
  • Belligerents reported killed
    2–24
  • Belligerents reported injured
    4–12

Sources (9) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (4) [ collapse]

Geolocation notes

Reports of the incident mention strikes in the town of Shakra (شقرة), for which the generic coordinates are: 13.35663, 45.699426. Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further.

United States Armed Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    United States Armed Forces
  • United States Armed Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

United Arab Emirates Armed Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    United Arab Emirates Armed Forces
  • United Arab Emirates Armed Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Suspected attackers
    United States Armed Forces, United Arab Emirates Armed Forces
  • Suspected targets
    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), ISIS - Yemen, Other
  • Belligerents reported killed
    2–24
  • Belligerents reported injured
    4–12

Sources (9) [ collapse]