WASHINGTON DC -- On 23 May, 2017, United States special operations forces conducted a counterterrorism raid in the Governorate of Marib. It was the first publicly acknowledged US raid in Yemen since a similar operation in January, an attack that resulted in the deaths of 25 Yemeni civilians and one Navy SEAL.
While US Central Command has thus far denied that there were any civilian deaths in Tuesday’s operation—stating instead that all seven Yemeni casualties were combatants—the United Kingdom-based human rights organization Reprieve reported that five of those killed were non-combatant tribesmen. Among the dead is a partially blind 70-year-old man. Eyewitnesses told Reprieve that the firefight with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) did not begin until after the tribesmen were shot by US forces. In addition to Reprieve’s report, The Intercept news agency reported that the raid killed 10 civilians, including a child, and injured another five non-combatants. An undisclosed number of the SEAL team's members were injured in the ensuing firefight. The Intercept's report was compiled through a series of phone interviews with eyewitnesses on the ground.
These reckless raids and CENTCOM’s disingenuous attempts to evade accountability for civilian casualties are yet more examples of the US’ misguided counterterrorism strategy in Yemen. These incidents, coupled with the lack of accountability for civilian deaths, injuries, and property damage, inflame current anti-American sentiments in Yemen and the region, validate AQAP’s propaganda, and create a larger, more receptive recruitment pool for AQAP and other extremist groups. Far from “bringing stability” to Yemen as the Pentagon has claimed, actions like these exacerbate the local grievances driving conflict and radicalization. Rather than increasing its military counterterrorism operations, the US must reevaluate the true impact of operations like these, and craft a new counterterrorism strategy that better serves the interests of Yemenis and Americans alike.