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 3 0 1
Total reported killed 8-10 0 39
Civilians reported killed 0 0 25
Children reported killed 0 0 10
Total reported injured 0 0 7

Strikes

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

28 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 and ages of all 25 civilians killed as reported by those who live there, see here. 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. 

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

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.”