What the DOD Says About Its Operations in Yemen


January 22, 2019

The Department of Defense provided a statement in response to written questions from FRONTLINE about U.S. military operations in Yemen, and its efforts to avoid civilian casualties.

On Civilian Casualties

The DOD said it “maintains a firm commitment” to protecting civilians and takes “numerous steps to mitigate harm” to them, including by applying policies and practices that are “more protective of civilians than is required as a matter of law, including the law of war.”

For all forces, pre-deployment training “includes instruction on the law of war, the rules of engagement, and policies related to the mitigation of civilian casualties,” the DOD said. In the conduct of operations, U.S. forces “employ a variety of measures to reduce civilian casualties —from operational design to account for where civilians are located on the battlefield to steps taken to mitigate weapon effects on civilians who find themselves near potential targets, such as enemy forces. Lessons we learn in the conduct of operations are used to improve our practices to reduce civilian casualties.”

On the Threat Posed by AQAP

The DOD also offered an overview of the threat Yemen’s Al Qaeda branch AQAP poses to the United States, nothing that the group has “taken advantage of ungoverned and under-governed areas” in Yemen to “plot, direct, and encourage terrorist attacks against America, its citizens and partners around the world.”

On the U.S. Role in Yemen

“The United States is committed to finding and striking AQAP’s terrorist network in Yemen,” it said. “U.S. forces conducted multiple ground operations and more than 120 strikes in 2017 to remove key leaders and disrupt the ability of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS-Yemen to use ungoverned spaces in Yemen as a hub for terrorist recruiting, training, and base of operations to export terrorism worldwide.”

U.S. forces, the DOD said, “are advising and assisting regional counterterrorism partners in the fight against AQAP and ISIS in Yemen. U.S. forces have provided our partners with intelligence support; airborne ISR; advice and assistance with operational planning; maritime interdiction and security operations; medical support; and aerial refueling in their efforts to degrade and destroy AQAP and ISIS-Y.”

“It is in our national security interests to pursue violent extremist organizations like AQAP and ISIS-Y that have attacked U.S. forces and interests in the region and abroad in order to degrade their ability to conduct further attacks. It is also in our interest to support our partners in the region as they pursue al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS in Yemen as well.”

How the War in Yemen Impacts U.S. Counterterrorism Operations

“We need a stable, inclusive government in Yemen to provide security to the Yemeni people and reduce, and ultimately eliminate, terrorist safe havens being used by AQAP and ISIS in Yemen. We continue to strongly support the efforts of the U.N. Special Envoy Martin Griffiths to bring all sides of the conflict to the negotiating table.”

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