A report from Airwars released on Wednesday reveals the extent to which the Trump administration escalated US military operations against al-Qaeda in Yemen. The report found more than 230 declared and alleged US military and CIA operations in Yemen since January 2017. Of those 230 operations, 181 were officially declared by the US.
Most of the actions were carried out in 2017, where Yemen saw a record 133 officially declared US airstrikes and raids, compared to the 150 official operations during the entire presidency’s of George W. Bush and Barack Obama combined. The monitoring group says at least 86 civilians were killed by direct US airstrikes and raids in Yemen between 2017 and 2020.
The report, titled “Ending Transparency,” raises issues with the lack of accountability for civilians killed by the US in Yemen. The US has only admitted to killing between four and 12 civilians in the Arab country from 2017 to 2020, who were all killed in a botched raid during the first days of Trump’s presidency.
President Trump signed off on a ground and air offensive against al-Qaeda in Yemen’s Bayda governorate that took place nine days into his administration. Airwars says the raid killed 20 civilians, including eight-year-old US citizen Nawar al-Awlaki, whose father and brother were killed by separate US drone strikes in 2011.
Like he did in Somalia and Afghanistan, President Trump loosened the rules of engagement in Yemen. Trump also removed transparency measures from covert drone operations, removing civilian harm reporting requirements for the CIA.
The Pentagon is still obligated to submit reports to Congress on civilian harm. In its 2018 and 2019 annual civilian casualty reports, the Pentagon said it found “no credible reports of civilian casualties resulting from US military actions in Yemen.” But Airwars found US actions likely caused at least 30 civilian deaths during 2018 and 2019.
The report noted that since 2017, Yemen has seen a sharp decline in US operations against al-Qaeda or the so-called Islamic State in Yemen, a group the US has also targeted. US Central Command last admitted to an airstrike in Yemen on June 24th 2019. Since then, Airwars said they tracked 30 incidents of alleged US strikes in Yemen, 15 of which were assessed as “likely US strikes based on local reporting.”
Since March 2015, the US has supported the Saudi-led coalition in its fight against the Houthis in Yemen. The Houthis were a partner of the US in the fight against al-Qaeda in Yemen as recently as January 2015, when reports said the US was sharing intelligence with the group. Investigations show US weapons sold to Saudi Arabia and the UAE end up in the hands of al-Qaeda in Yemen.
The US-backed war against the Houthis has been devastating for the civilian population of Yemen. In 2019, The UN estimated the conflict killed about 233,00 people, with 102,000 killed by direct violence. The rest of the deaths were attributed to starvation and disease directly caused by the coalition’s targeting of civilian infrastructure and the blockade on the country.