In its report about strikes in Yemen, Human Rights Watch charged that each of six cases examined through interviews with Yemeni officials, witnesses and survivors, drone or other aerial strikes were carried out despite the presence of civilians, in contravention of the laws of war.
The strikes are part of a joint U.S.-Yemeni campaign against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, called the most dangerous al-Qaida branch. It's blamed for a number of unsuccessful bomb plots aimed at Americans, including a failed plan to down a U.S.-bound airliner with explosive hidden in the bomber's underwear and a second plot to send mail bombs on planes to the U.S. hidden in the toner cartridges of computer printers.
The Yemeni Embassy in Washington said in a statement to The Associated Press that Yemen has adopted strict measures to avoid targeting militants in civilian areas, and only uses drones "in remote areas to target militants that are out of the reach of security personnel" who present an immediate danger because they "are planning to carry out terror attacks inside the capitals of governorates."
Among the six strikes detailed by Human Rights Watch is an attack in Sarar, in central Yemen on Sept. 2, 2012, in which two warplanes or drones attacked a minibus, killing a pregnant woman, three children and eight other people. The report said the apparent target, tribal leader Abd al-Raouf al-Dahab, was not in the vehicle. The Yemeni families were only compensated for the deaths after Human Rights Watch brought the case to the Yemeni government's attention, the report said.
The researchers also examined the U.S. cruise missile strike in al-Majalah in southern Abyan province on Dec. 17, 2009. The report said the Yemeni government described the attack as a Yemeni airstrike that killed 34 at a training camp, but a later Yemeni government inquiry found the strike actually killed 14 suspected AQAP fighters, but also at least 41 local civilians living in a Bedouin camp, including nine women and 21 children.