13.01.17 Drone War

Yemen: Reported US covert actions 2017

The timeline below contains information on all US drone and air strikes and other covert actions in Yemen recorded by the Bureau in 2017. Many of the strikes listed below have been confirmed by senior US or Yemeni officials. However some events are only speculatively attributed to the US, or are indicative of US involvement. We therefore class all strikes in Yemen as either “confirmed” or “possible”. The US has also launched strikes with other weapons systems, including conventional jet aircraft and cruise missiles. The Bureau records these operations as “additional US attacks”.

Please note that our data changes according to our current understanding of particular strikes. The information below represents our present best estimate.

The US conducted its first known drone strike outside of Afghanistan in Yemen in 2002. The second attack in the country did not take place for another seven years. Both the Pentagon and CIA have carried out strikes in Yemen from bases in Djibouti and Saudi Arabia. The military strikes are carried out under the command of the secretive Joint Special Operations Command.

The strikes have targeted al Qaeda fighters. The first strike, in 2002, targeted Abu Ali al Harithi - a member of al Qaeda since the 1990s and the leader of the group's presence in Yemen. In 2007 al Qaeda in Yemen and al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia united to form al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). This has been the focus of US operations in Yemen since. The strikes have also killed scores of civilians. 

Full data

The Bureau publishes a narrative timeline of US strikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen each year. The 2017 timeline for Yemen is below. Links for all other timelines can be found here.

We also publish spreadsheets detailing casualty numbers in each country. You can download the entire Yemen sheet here.

Covert US operations, Yemen 2017
Confirmed drone strikes Possible drone strikes Additional US attacks
Total reported strikes 4 0 40
Total reported killed 10-12 0 53-70
Civilians reported killed 0 0 27
Children reported killed 0 0 12
Total reported injured 0 0 7

Strikes

YEM263Ci link

14 March 2017

  • 2 reported killed

A security official said that two suspected members of Yemen's branch of al Qaeda had been killed in what appeared to be a US air strike in Hadramawt province. 

The official identified the men as Abu Jandal al Hadrami and Abu Hashim al Sharuri.

Hadramawt province was not one of the three provinces hit in the upsurge of strikes between March 2 and March 6. President Trump reportedly granted a Pentagon request to declares parts of these provinces as "areas of active hostilities", allowing the US to launch attacks with fewer constraints. To read more, see here.

YEM263C link

9 March 2017

  • 1 reported killed

A suspected AQAP member was killed in a drone strike near the town of Wadia in Abyan province, a security source told AFP.

The source named the deceased as Qassem Khalil.

The sourcing is too vague to record this as a confirmed US strike as yet.

  • Type of strike: Possible US strike
  • Location: Wadia, Abyan province
  • References: AFP

YEM263 link

6 March 2017

  • 11 reported killed
  • 2 children reported dead

A US air strike conducted overnight in Abyan province brought the total number of strikes carried out in the past five nights to 40, Pentagon Spokesperson Captain Jeff Davis said in a press briefing on March 6. 

Davis said the overnight strike killed seven al Qaeda fighters, according to the New York Times. 

This confirmed reports of strikes hitting Yemen in the days following March 2 and 3, when an unprecedented number of strikes hit targets across three Yemeni provinces. 

Reuters had reported residents and tribal sources saying a drone strike destroyed a car travelling in Wadi Yashbum on the afternoon of March 6, charring the two men inside, believed to be members of al Qaeda, beyond recognition. Residents reported another strike hitting the home of a suspected al Qaeda member in the village of Noufan in Bayda province, while another reportedly struck a mountainous area in al Saeed, Shabwa province, which was supposedly a training camp for the group.  

Residents said two boys under 15, named as brothers Ahmed and Mohammed al-Khobze, were killed by a drone strike while walking on a road reportedly used by al Qaeda fighters in Yakla, Bayda province, on March 6, according to Reuters. Yakla was the site of last month's botched US raid which killed nine children under the age of 13. 

On March 3, Captain Davis told reporters that approximately 25 strikes had been conducted on March 2 and "several" more had hit Yemen on March 3, putting the combined total of strikes at more than 30. A defence official in Washington reportedly told AFP that the US conducted "about 10" strikes on March 3.

The Bureau recorded between 30-35 strikes on March 2 and 3 as a result of the above information. The latest remarks from Captain Davis means there were at least five additional strikes in the days following, up until the press briefing on March 6. We had only recorded one confirmed strike and have now included the extra strikes in our database to bring the total since March 2 to 40. 

YEM262 link

4 March 2017

  • 2 reported killed

Local sources told Anadolu Agency that two suspected al Qaeda militants were killed when a drone struck their motorbike in eastern Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan province. 

Al Jazeera however reported that the drone strike hit Ahwar, located in the same province, based on information from a security official, and that it killed two suspected fighters on a motorbike. AFP also reported a security official providing the same details. 

Reuters reported two strikes based on information provided by tribal sources and residents, one of which hit a "vehicle" travelling on the outskirts of Ahwar. 

Over the previous two days, three provinces in Yemen, including Abyan, witnessed an extremely high number of strikes.

A second strike hit a crowd of suspected al Qaeda fighters in Al Saeed in Shabwah province, according to  tribal sources and residents reported in Al Jazeera and Reuters, but casualty figures were not given. The sourcing was too vague to record it as a confirmed strike. 

On March 6, Pentagon Spokesperson Captain Jeff Davis said that a total of 40 strikes had been carried out over the past five nights, which would include the confirmed strike above and may include the possible second strike. 

YEM261 link

3 March 2017

  • 1-8 reported killed
  • Possible reported civilian casualties

The US hit Yemen with a high number of strikes for a second consecutive day. 

Pentagon Spokesperson Captain Jeff Davis told reporters that US warplanes conducted approximately 25 strikes on March 2 and "several" more on March 3, putting the combined total of strikes at more than 30. Meanwhile, a defence official in Washington reportedly told AFP that the US conducted "about 10" strikes on March 3.

Captain Davis said the US was engaged in a sustained campaign in areas where AQAP is most active, but said that no US ground troops had been involved in the firefights since the January raid.

AFP reported tribal sources saying that US strikes hit three houses in the Yashbam Valley before dawn on March 3, one of which belonged to Saad Atef, al Qaeda's Shabwa province commander. Security officials reported that eight fighters were killed, and tribal sources said that women and children were wounded. 

Middle East Eye reported Wadi Yashbum village being targeted, but reported residents saying they were hit with 10-15 strikes. Three hours later, according to MEE, residents of Jabal Mugan in Abyan province were hit by stikes. Residents also cited ground battles involving US troops and al-Qaeda fighters, although Captain Davis has said that ground troops were not been involved.

AP reported an al Bayda tribal leader saying houses were bombed in Yakla, the site of the botched January raid, but it was not clear on what day this might have happened. 

On March 6, the Pentagon announced Harithah al Waqri had been killed in the March 3 strikes, describing him as an AQAP fighter and communications intermediary for Usayd al Adani, who they also announced the death of. More information on Adani can be found in the entry below. 

YEM260 link

2 March 2017

  • 2-12 reported killed

In an unprecedented intensification of America’s counter-terrorism operations in Yemen, the US confirmed it carried out 20 strikes across three provinces. 

This figure was upped on March 3, when Pentagon Spokesman Captain Jeff Davis told reporters that approximately 25 strikes had been conducted on March 2. 

The strikes, which were carried out in the early morning of March 2, targeted fighters from the regional arm of al Qaeda, known as AQAP, their equipment and infrastructure, in the Yemeni provinces of Abyan, al Bayda and Shabwah, according to a press release from the US Department of Defense published on the same day. 

Captain Davis said in the statement that the strikes were conducted in partnership with the Government of Yemen, and were coordinated with the President Hadi.

Early on, AFP reported two suspected US drone strikes in Yemen. The New York Times reported strikes in the three provinces in Yemen, based on information from a senior American military official and a Yemeni military official. AFP later amended their original report to say that four separate drone strikes had hit the country. 

A provincial security official told AFP that one strike hit the home of an al Qaeda fighter in Yashbum Valley, Shabwah province, killing four alleged fighters as they stood outside. Local residents were reported in the New York Times saying the strike destroyed a house used by al Qaeda operatives in the Saeid region of the province. Local media in Yemen also reported that at least three suspected Qaeda members has been killed in Shabwah, according to NYT. 

A second strike, according to a security source reported in AFP, hit an Al-Qaeda position east of the Abyan province town of Shaqra, but there was no immediate casualty figures. A Yemeni military official said airstrikes hit the Abyan mountains around 3.30 am local time.

An updated AFP report said that two strikes hit al Bayda province. They reported a local official and a tribal chief saying that a strike on Al Qayfa in Bayda killed three suspected al Qaeda members. The local official said that another strike hit Sawmaa district of the province, but there were no immediate casualty figures. 

Yemeni officials reportedly said at least 12 suspected fighters were killed in the strikes. 

The Pentagon announced on March 6 that one of strikes had killed former Guantanamo detainee, Yasir al Silmi. In a statement, the Pentagon said he was repatriated from Guantanamo to Yemen in 2009, after having been held in the detention centre since 2002. He was killed alongside Usayd al Adani in Abyan, described by Davis as a longtime AQAP explosives expert and facilitator who served as the organisation’s emir. 

All 25 strikes have been added to the database and included in the strike tally. 

YEM259 link

30 January 2017

  • 2 reported killed

A US drone strike killed two al Qaeda operatives driving through the southern province of Shabwa early on January 30.

The attack came shortly after a US special forces raid targeting an al Qaeda-linked house in the Baihan area of Bayda province left scores dead, including a US serviceman and at least two children.

A US military spokesperson told the Bureau: “I can confirm that Centcom did not conduct a strike in that area.” The CIA has yet to respond to an email inviting them to confirm or deny responsibility for the attack.

YEM258 link

29 January 2017

  • 39 reported killed
  • 25 civilians reported killed, of whom 10 were reported children
  • 7 reported injured

The US Navy special forces conducted a raid in the Yakla region of Bayda province with the intent to gather information on AQAP. A US Central Command press release said a US serviceman and approximately 14 terrorists had been killed in the operation. Yemeni officials reported multiple civilian casualties following the raid.

US soldiers were flown to the location from the USS Makin Island, an amphibious assault ship, off the Yemeni coast. They approached the compound with Emirati troops but were met with withering fire. The “site exploitation mission” target was described by CENTCOM in a February 3 press release as an AQAP “staging area, propaganda center, and logistics hub”. Three US soldiers were wounded and Chief Special Warfare Operator William “Ryan” Owens, a Navy SEAL, was killed, according to CENTCOM

According to the US, a military aircraft assisting the operation experienced a “hard landing at a nearby location,” resulting in three more American injuries. It was unable to fly afterwards and was intentionally destroyed. US sources said it was a MV-22 Osprey, a helicopter-fixed wing hybrid used by the US marines.

US Central Command issued a later press release which said that an investigating team “concluded regrettably that civilian non-combatants were likely killed”, which “may” include children. It said that the civilian casualties appeared to have been potentially caught up in aerial gunfire called in to assist US forces in “contact against a determined enemy”, which included “armed women firing from prepared fighting positions”. The ongoing assessment is probing whether there are still un-detected civilian casualties.

The Bureau worked with a journalist who visited the targeted village of al Yakla five days after the raid and talked to nine of the survivors. We collected the names of 25 civilians killed as reported by those who live there, see here. Human Rights Watch said the names matched the ones it collected, referencing the Bureau's work. Nine of those killed were under 13, including a baby of three months. Eight women were killed, including one who was heavily pregnant. Seven more women and children were injured. A Pentagon official told NBC News on February 28 that the Pentagon did not dispute these numbers. 

List of child victims under 13 years of age as given by villagers
Name Age
1. Asma Fahad Ali al Ameri 3 months
2. Aisha Mohammed Abdallah al Ameri 4 years
3. Halima Hussein al Aifa al Ameri 5 years
4. Hussein Mohammed Abdallah Mabkhout al Ameri 5 years
5. Mursil Abedraboh Masad al Ameri 6 years
6. Khadija Abdallah Mabkhout al Ameri 7 years
7. Nawar Anwar al Awlaqi 8 years
8. Ahmed Abdelilah Ahmed al Dahab 11 years
9. Nasser Abdallah Ahmed al Dahab 12 years

Abubakr Al-Shamahi on Twitter

Nawar Al-Awlaki, 8 years old, was killed in the US raid in Yemen yesterday. They haven't admitted it, but it happened. An 8 year old girl.

AQAP say 14 “of its men” were killed in the clash, including six villagers. The youngest was 17, the oldest 80.

Pentagon spokesperson Captain Jeff Davis confirmed women were killed in the operation but said they were combatants. “The [female fighters] ran to pre-established positions as if they’d trained to be ready and trained to be combatants and engage with us. So, some of the enemy killed in combat are in fact female,” he said.

A CENTCOM press release on February 3 said officials believe Sultan al Dhahab and Abd-al-Ra’uf al-Dhahab, described as “longstanding AQAP operational planners and weapons experts”, had been killed in the operation. The al Dhahab family is an AQAP ally based in Bayda province. Its members have been attacked by the US in Yemen before.

Initial news reports differed on casualty figures. Reprieve found that 23 civilians were killed, including a newborn baby boy and ten children. According to them, local reports said a heavily pregnant mother was shot in the stomach during the raid and gave birth to an injured baby boy who died on January 31. Reprieve said that an 80-year-old man and a man who narrowly escaped death in a 2013 drone strike on his wedding were also killed. According to Washington Post, a Yemeni official said 35 to 40 people in the village had been killed, but it was unclear if they were all considered to be militants. According to the provincial official, 16 civilians were killed in the attack, including eight women and eight children. Medics at the scene told Reuters that around 30 people, including 10 women and children, were killed.

The operation had been planned for months but had been authorised by President Trump, according to the Washington Post. In a statement, Trump called the raid “successful” and credited it with capturing intelligence that would assist the US in “preventing terrorism against its citizens and people around the world”. CENTCOM shared clips from a series of lessons on bomb-making obtained from a computer seized in the raid, however it transpired that the videos appeared to be ten years old and had already been available on the internet. 

An unnamed US official painted a grim picture of the assault, telling NBC News: “Almost everything went wrong.” US military officials told Reuters that Trump approved the operation without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup operations. As a result, the SEAL team found “itself dropping onto a reinforced al Qaeda base defended by landmines, snipers, and a larger than expected contingent of heavily armed Islamist extremists”, three officials told Reuters.

In response, CENTCOM spokesman Colonel John Thomas said: “CENTCOM asks for operations we believe have a good chance for success and when we ask for authorization we certainly believe there is a chance of successful operations based on our planning.” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer detailed the process of approving the mission in a press briefing, stressing the steps taken prior to Trump taking office, although some members of Obama’s national security team disputed this version.

YEM257 link

20 January 2017

  • 5-7 people killed

Reports surfaced of at least two suspected US drone strikes hitting Bayda province and killing members of Yemen’s branch of al Qaeda, but the reporting differed on some key details.

A security source told AFP that a drone strike on 20 January killed a “local military instructor” for al Qaeda and second strike on 21 January hit a vehicle in Sawmaa of Bayda province killing three “armed members” of al Qaeda. A third strike on the same day killed three suspected “jihadists” riding a motorcycle.

AP reported security and tribal officials saying that three al Qaeda operatives were killed in two strikes on January 21, including Abu Anis al Abi, an “area field commander”. Local officials told Reuters that three suspected al Qaeda members were killed in two separate US drone strikes hitting two vehicles, both occurring on January 22.  

The US Central Command confirmed the strikes in Bayda province to the Bureau on January 23. A spokesperson said that a strike hit the province on January 20 killing one AQAP operative, a second strike on January 21 killed three AQAP operatives and the third strike hit on January 22 killing another alleged AQAP operative .

Although these strikes seem to be the first US strikes outside areas of active hostilities since the new administration moved in, the Washington Post reported Pentagon spokesperson Navy Captain Jeff Davis saying that they did not require approval by recently appointed Defense Secretary James Mattis or President Donald Trump.

YEM256 link

8 January 2017

  • 1 reported killed

A US military press release announced a strike in Bayda province had killed one AQAP operative. The press release was published four days after the strike occurred.

Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said in a statement on January 13 that the strike had killed Abd al Ghani al Rasas, described as an AQAP “terrorist leader”. Cook said: “This strike removes an AQAP senior leader and facilitator in the area and will disrupt AQAP’s terrorism operations in Yemen and the region.”