Shortly before 10 p.m. on the night of May 14, more than a dozen members of the Maswadah family, including nine children, lay sleeping in tents in the shadow of a cliff in Yemen’s northern governorate of Saada. The nomadic family had been eking out a living raising sheep and doing farm work in the region most heavily targeted by the U.S.-supported, Saudi-led bombing campaign that began in 2015.
Unbeknown to the Maswadahs, Royal Saudi Air Force drones had been hovering for 45 minutes over their dwellings at the edge of the wide plain walled by mountains. Saudi duty officers more than 550 miles away watched the family’s tents on their screens, along with two “hot spots” likely created by the body heat of people and animals inside.
What happened next in the Saudi war room is described in a U.S. intelligence report seen by The Intercept. The minute-by-minute account of a single airstrike provides a small yet detailed window into the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen, showing how officers in charge of daily air raids are ignoring their own procedures aimed at minimizing civilian casualties. Specialists in international humanitarian law say the incident described in the document shows “clear violations” of the laws of war.
The duty officers monitoring drone feeds in the Joint Forces Command National Defense Operations Center in the Saudi capital of Riyadh on the night of May 14 saw the Maswadahs’ tents, but observed “no personnel or vehicles visible, nor any other intelligence information about the location,” according to the report.