The Obama administration has launched an estimated 28 drone strikes and 13 air strikes in Yemen, according to data compiled by the New America Foundation from reliable news reports. By contrast, the administration of George W. Bush only launched one drone attack in Yemen. In addition, the Yemeni government has initiated 17 strikes, and another 5 have been reported where the initiator is unclear. (The data was gathered from media outlets that include the Associated Press, Reuters, CNN and the Yemen Post.)
As of June 6, 2012, drone strikes and airstrikes had killed an estimated 531 to 779 people in Yemen, 509 to 713 of whom were identified in media reports as militants, according to the New America Foundation's data. Of these deaths, 99% occurred during Obama's presidency.
The civilian casualty rate from these strikes is estimated to be between 4% and 8.5%, roughly comparable with the civilian casualty rate from the U.S. drone program in Pakistan, which averaged 5.5% in 2011, according to New America Foundation data. The CIA inaugurated the lethal drone program in Yemen on November 3, 2002, with a Hellfire missile launched from a Predator drone at a vehicle in the province of Maarib, about 100 miles east of the capital city of Sanaa. The attack killed al Qaeda's top operative in Yemen, Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, who was also a suspect in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole off the Yemeni coast. With al-Harethi in that car were five other militants, all of whom were killed, including U.S. citizen Kamal Derwish. His was the first reported American death to result from the CIA's drone campaign.
Counting drone attacks and airstrikes in Yemen is complicated because it has often been unclear whether attacks were launched from drones or from fighter jets, and villagers regularly provide conflicting accounts of the kinds of aircraft used in these attacks. To make data collection on these strikes even more difficult, diplomatic cables released by the transparency watchdog site WikiLeaks revealed that the Yemeni government has sometimes taken credit for airstrikes that were in fact being carried out by the United States. According to one cable, then-Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh told then-Gen. David Petraeus in January 2010, "We'll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours," after which Deputy Prime Minister Rashad al-Alimi joked that he had just "lied" to the Yemeni Parliament about the American role in such strikes.
During the Obama administration, U.S. drones have killed at least 16 key al Qaeda militants in Yemen, including the Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki on September 30, 2011, and Fahd al-Quso who was suspected of involvement in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole. Since the longtime Yemeni strongman Saleh stepped down in February, the American drone strikes and airstrikes have increased. In just three months, the United States launched an estimated 20 strikes. By comparison, there were just 18 attacks in the previous two years.
About the National Security Studies Program
This data was collected by the New America Foundation's National Security Studies Program, which aims to examine America's most pressing strategic challenges using an innovative blend of open-source research and cross-cutting analysis, in order to give policy makers and the public the insight, foresight and alternatives necessary to secure the national interest. To achieve these aims, we also maintain a database of all U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, regularly publish in-depth policy papers on issues concerning U.S. national security, and host frequent events with national security and counter-terrorism experts.