Yemen: Reported US covert actions 2020

The timeline below contains information on all US drone and air strikes and other covert actions in Yemen recorded by the Bureau in 2020. 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 Bureau ceased recording strikes in February 2020.

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 2019 timeline for Yemen can be found here. 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.

Confirmed US air and drone strikes Possible US air and drone strikes
Total reported strikes 2
Total reported killed 0-2
Children reported killed
Total reported injured


YEM326 link

2 January 2020

  • 0-2 reported killed

The US reportedly carried out an airstrike against the leader of Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen after months of tracking him by using aerial surveillance, three current or former American officials told the New York Times.

The officials reportedly expressed confidence that Qassim al-Rimi was killed in a January airstrike, but said that they were waiting for confirmation before making a public announcment.

President Trump appeared to confirm the media reports by retweeting numerous tweets about the death of al Rimi in a US airstrike.

There appears to be confusion around the date of the strike. The New York Times and CNN reported that the strike happened around the same time as the unsuccessful drone strike on Iran's Shahla'i in Yemen, which was also the same night as the assassination by US drone of Iran's Qassim Soleimani. AP, however, reported that the strike that took out the top al Qaeda leader was on January 25.

Tribal leaders said Saturday a suspected US drone strike destroyed a building housing al Qaeda militants last week in eastern Yemen, AP reported.

The tribal leaders said the drone strike took place in the Wadi Ubaidah area in the eastern province of Marib.

"They said at least three explosions rocked the area, and that the building was set ablaze.

It was not immediately clear how many militants were in the building at the time or their identities. The tribal leaders said a handful of al Qaeda militants arrived at the area directly after the strike and cordoned off the area."

The CIA and the National Security Council declined to comment.

"The CIA learned of Mr. al-Rimi’s location from an informer in Yemen in November, according to a United States official who was briefed on the strike. That information allowed the government to begin tracking him through surveillance drones," New York Times reported.

Local Yemeni news site, al Ghadye, reported that a drone strike in January killed two militant suspects in the area of Wadi Abedah in Central Yemen. They did not identify those killed.

"While we are aware of the reports alleging the death of AQAP leader Qassim al-Rimi, the Department of Defense has nothing to offer on this matter," a US Defense Official told CNN.

YEM325 link

2 January 2020

  • 0 reported killed

On the same day that the US assassinated Iranian General Qassim Soleimani in Baghdad, the US are also reported to have carried out an unsuccessful strike on another high-ranking Iranian military commander in Yemen.

The night time strike targeted Abdul Reza Shahla'i, a key Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force commander, at his compound in Yemen, ABC reported.

A counterterrorism official and another US official told them that Abdul Reza Shahla'i was running Iran's military support for the Houthi's from there.

The strike on the compound was carried out by a drone, the counterterrorism official told ABC, adding that by the next morning the US learned the strike was unsuccessful.

Another senior official said that the two strikes were authorised around the same time and that the United States did not disclose the Shahla'i mission because it did not go according to plan, the Washington Post reported.

"The official said Shahlai may be targeted in the future, though both countries have signaled an interest in ­de-escalating the crisis surrounding the killing of Soleimani."

A Pentagon spokesperson, Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, said the Defense Department does not discuss “alleged operations” in the Middle East. “We have seen the report of a January 2 airstrike in Yemen, which is long-understood as a safe space for terrorists and other adversaries to the United States,” she said in a statement.

A former counterterrorism official told ABC that Shahla'i was in charge of the flow of missiles and drones to Iranian-backed Houthi rebels who have used those weapons to attack Saudi Arabia.

The State Department had just month ago put a $15 million reward for information on Shahla'i and the possible the disruption of IRGC financial mechanisms.