Yemen Civilian Deaths by Drone Rise Under Trump, as Transparency Diminishes

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

When a US drone attack in Yemen decimated a car carrying at least six civilians, the United States insisted it was targeting Al-Qaida. But family members have pushed back, saying the victims were not militants. They want the US to acknowledge their kin were civilians and they want compensation.

It is often hard to identify the allegiances of those killed, but an independent database suggests that drones mistakenly hit more than 30 adults and children in the past year.

Yemen has been embroiled in conflict for the past several years as the Saudi-led coalition is fighting the Iranian-backed Shiite rebels in a civil war that by some estimates has killed more than 100,000 people.

The history of drone strikes in Yemen dates to the Obama Administration, but the number has increased under Trump.

U.S. officials claim that Yemen has the most active and deadliest of Al-Qaida organizations, but critics suggests that drones represent “a tool for killing outside the law” and may create sympathy for terrorists.  Some are critical of the U.S. support for the Saudi military operation and the U.S. role in supplying fuel, military intelligence and weapons to the Saudi Government. Transparency improved in the past year but tracking of causalities remains difficult.

President Trump signed an executive order revoking the requirement to report civilian casualties, which has raised concerns among human rights activists. The laws have become increasingly vague and protect our government from releasing sensitive information.

Only when Trump effectively rolled back Obama era requirements did the media catch on to reporting the atrocities in Yemen. This increasing lack of transparency and a focus on news stories with alluring details will keep the public from fully knowing the nature of what is occurring in the name of counterterrorism. With restrictions lifted, more civilian casualties are imminent, and accountability seems as far away as the countries we are attacking.


Mohammed Ghobari, “Six Suspected al Qaeda Militants Killed in Yemen Drone Strike,” Reuters, November 14, 2018,

David Sterman, “CENTCOM Improves Transparency of Yemen War Civilian Casualties, but Gaps Remain, ” Just Security, 28 Jan.2019,

Maggie Michael, et al, “The Hidden Toll of American Drones in Yemen: Civilian Deaths,” Associated Press, November 14, 2018,

Paul Street, “Shameless Hypocrisy: Lessons of the Great Khashoggi Kill Story,” CounterPunch, November 30, 2018,

Margaret Talev, “Trump Cancels U.S. Report on Civilian Deaths in Drone Strikes,” Bloomberg, March 6, 2019,

“Yemen: Reported US Covert Actions 2019,” January 8, 2019, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism,

Student Researcher: Austin Raichelson (University of Vermont)

Faculty Evaluator: Rob Williams (University of Vermont)