The United States military has accepted responsibility for two civilian casualties in Yemen. The acceptance follows a scathing report from Airwars.org which claimed that there the U.S. conducted dozens of airstrikes which resulted in civilian casualties.
Airwars is a Britain-based watchdog organization that uses local news, social media, and civil society reports to investigate and confirm claims of civilian casualties. By bringing attention to the Yemeni war it has illuminated a conflict that has been largely on the back burner of American media coverage. Airwars said that the vast majority of airstrikes took place in 2017, during Trump’s first year in office.
In a statement to Business Insider, Maj. John J. Risbee, a military spokesman for U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), said the military had reviewed the report and determined that a 2017 airstrike had indeed “caused injuries to two civilians.”
The airstrike, which had occurred on September 14, was at the time reported as a drone strike that killed three suspected al-Qaeda militants who were riding a motorcycle. While no civilian casualties had been reported at that time, a watchdog organization focusing on the war in Yemen had posted on social media that a passing vehicle was also damaged in the strike.
According to the Airwars report, which has since been quoted in several mainstream U.S. media reports, the U.S. has conducted at least 181 declared operations in Yemen since President Trump took office. These operations were undertaken by either CENTCOM or the CIA. However, the report claims that many other CIA actions and airstrikes have gone unreported or unacknowledged. In 2020 alone, there have been as many alleged operations as confirmed ones. Yet, many of these operations could have been conducted by the U.A.E.
Airwars claims that 41 of these operations resulted in between 86 and 154 civilian casualties, including a number of children.
Right after President Trump was inaugurated, U.S. Special Operations and Emirati troops conducted a raid in Yemen in which a Navy SEAL was killed. There were also alleged civilian casualties in the raid, including an eight-year-old American-Yemeni citizen. Her father and half-brother had been killed in airstrikes conducted by the Obama administration according to the Intercept.
However, the U.S. military estimates it has killed only between four and 12 Yemeni civilians since 2017; it has dismissed other claims as being unverified.
President Trump has likely overseen more U.S. airstrikes than all of his predecessors combined.
Yemen has been beset by violence since Iranian-backed Houthi rebels ousted the government in 2015. Over 100,000 people have been killed in the fighting and millions have been displaced. The United Nations says that the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Yemen is the worst in the world.
The Yemeni government is receiving direct support from Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. The U.S. has supported the Saudi coalition in the conflict by providing air refueling and airstrikes against al-Qaeda and Islamic State militants. There are no U.S. ground combat troops involved in the fight.
Neither CENTCOM nor the CIA has commented on the Airwars piece. They reported zero civilian casualties incidents in Yemen for both 2018 and 2019 in their annual reports to Congress. CENTCOM reported that its last airstrike in Yemen took place in June 2019. Airwars claims that several smaller strikes appear to be the work of CIA or clandestine military operations. One such alleged attack targeted a senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps official named Abdulreza Shahlai. The Iranian was not injured in the operation according to a Washington Post report.