Infrastructure critical to civilians in Yemen including bridges, have been systematically targeted by the Saudi-led coalition forces as a strategy of war and in clear contravention of international humanitarian law. Bridges, have been attacked with airstrikes, and civilians have been killed in the incidents. This is despite statements from the spokesperson of the Saudi-led coalition saying they are operating within the rules of international humanitarian law and the rules of engagement.
Summary of findings
- Saudi-led coalition forces appear to be responsible for all 131 airstrikes on bridges in this database, and all targeted bridges were within territory under the control of Houthis forces.
- All but one of the 131 documented incidents was a direct hit. Of those 130 direct hits, the Yemeni Archive was able to identify visible damage on satellite imagery for 117.
- Yemeni Archive identified 23 bridges that were targeted more than once. One bridge, Lahimah, which connects the Sana’a Governorate in the north with Al-Hudaydah governorate in the west, was targeted on four separate dates in 2016.
- Five incidents were documented in which bridges were double tapped: Al-Abarat bridge (Al-Afrah bridge), Al-Dalil bridge, Al-Sayani bridge, Bab Makhaleh (Bab Al-Shiq) bridge, and Khaifah bridge. Four of these airstrikes resulted in 160 casualties, including 57 deaths.
- Many of the airstrikes targeted bridges along several key road networks including: the N1 linking the south to the north, the N3 linking the southern city of Taiz to the western port city of Al-Hudaydah and linking from there to capital city Sana’a, and the N5, a main road linking Sana’a to the eastern coast.
Attacks on infrastructure in Yemen
Since 2015, Yemen has witnessed a civil war in which regional and global powers have intervened to prop up various local parties to the conflict. The war has resulted in thousands of civilian deaths and injuries and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians. Throughout the war, many civilian objects, including homes, schools, hospitals and vital infrastructure, were targeted by all parties of the conflict. Attacks on civilian objects are prohibited by international humanitarian law and constitute war crimes. The Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Additional Protocols of 1977 mandate the protection of civilians and civilian objects, and the prohibition of starvation of civilians as a method of combat. Ordinary bridges are presumed civilian unless they become military objectives, which in this context could be through their use by the Houthis. Even if a bridge has become a military objective, the attacker has to consider the effects of its destruction on the civilian population and cannot attack if the civilian harm disproportionately outweighs the military advantage. This includes not only the immediate effects (i.e. the killing of civilians on the bridge at the time) but also the secondary impact of the removal of the bridge for the transport of supplies necessary to prevent starvation and other civilian harm. Attacking objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population is prohibited.
On March 26, 2015, Saudi Arabia announced the start of the military operations of the Arab Coalition forces in Yemen under the name of “Operation Decisive Storm”, with the aim of restoring the legitimacy of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi. This attack was a response to the coup by the Houthi forces and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, which aimed to control the cities of Aden, Taiz and Marib. In May of the same year, the spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition announced the launch of a operation called Renewal of Hope. They said the goal was to deny militias operational movement, protect civilians, and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian support.
The following year, in January, the spokesman said the coalition forces were receiving training on rules of engagement, including airstrikes, from international experts. He said the forces also were trained on better communication between ground forces and pilots to ensure clear targeting for airstrikes. The training was conducted by U.S. and U.K. experts and included sessions on international law. The spokesman also said that an independent team had been formed to assess the actions of the Arab coalition and investigate concerns over attacks.
When questioned about attacks resulting in civilian casualties and targeting civilian locations, the spokesman said the coalition forces operate in cooperation with the UN and all military operations follow international law, citing resolution 2216. That resolution recalls “that arbitrary denial of humanitarian access and depriving civilians of objects indispensable to their survival, including wilfully impeding relief supply and access, may constitute a violation of international humanitarian law,” and reaffirmed “consistent with international humanitarian law, the need for all parties to ensure the safety of civilians, including those receiving assistance, as well as the need to ensure the security of humanitarian personnel and United Nations and its associated personnel, and urges all parties to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance, as well as rapid, safe and unhindered access for humanitarian actors to reach people in need of humanitarian assistance, including medical assistance.”
Not only has the Yemeni Archive documented 131 airstrikes against bridges, but there are also verified attacks on ports, airports, and medical facilities. In a report to the Human Rights Council in September 2020, the UN Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen said many countries are contributing to the problem through provision of weapons.
“Notwithstanding the strong recommendations by the Group of Eminent Experts in its previous reports, third States, including Canada, France, Iran (Islamic Republic of), the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America, continued their support of parties to the conflict, including through arms transfers, thereby helping to perpetuate the conflict.”
Over the last 30 years, the Saudi government has also received training and weapons from the U.S. government through a signed agreement between the countries. The most recent announcement in 2018 celebrated a contribution from the U.S. of $12.5 billion.
As of December 2019, the UN said 15.9 million people were severely food insecure - more than half of the country’s population. The report, produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, listed access as a key cause of the food insecurity: “Conflict continues to drive hunger in Yemen.” The report also said an additional 3 million people in the country were malnourished. “Yemen’s conflict remains the main driver of food insecurity in the analysed districts, curtailing food access for both the displaced and the vulnerable host communities.”
The destruction of key infrastructure such as bridges, as well as ports and airports, and the imposition of a sea, land and air blockade by the Saudi-led coalition has had a profound effect on the Yemeni people. Transport routes for food, humanitarian aid, and medical supplies have been blocked. Many of the identified food insecurity risk regions were within the territory under the control of Houthis forces, in which the Yemeni Archive has identified 130 direct hit airstrikes on bridges that link key cities and civilian populations and connect with infrastructure such as ports and airports through which supplies would arrive.
Yemeni Archive interviewed Abd al-Wahhab Al-Ansi, the owner of a stone crusher factory which was damaged by an attack on Al-Dalil Bridge, Ibb governorate, on April 21, 2015. Al-Ansi said his business had been damaged in the attack and that workers and customers were afraid to visit the factory. He was not present at the time of the attack, but assisted retrieving the bodies of those killed. Reports indicated that more than 40 people died and 110 were injured in the attack.
“The bombing had a direct impact on the people, where they were forced to stop their work and business. And the damage also affected several crops fields in neighboring farms. People were severely traumatized by the attack, as most of the victims were from the region. None of my family was lost or injured in the attack, but I feel the pain of all the people in the region as if one of my family members died or got injured, and I was sad and shocked by the loss of each family due to the attack.”
“We do not know why the bridge was hit. There was no presence of any Houthis forces, not even the army, and those who were living under the bridge are some of the marginalized families, who have used to live in this place as their residence for more than twenty years. There was no military presence from any side of the conflict whatsoever, neither by Al Houthi nor by any other forces.”
Trends and patterns
Since the Saudi-led Coalition began airstrikes, bridges have been targeted regularly, especially in the first three years documented. In 2015, there were 40 attacks on bridges, followed by 47 in 2016, and 33 in 2017. There were several months with particularly high numbers of airstrikes: 14 attacks in August 2016, 13 incidents in September 2015, 12 incidents in January 2017, and 9 attacks in October 2015. The frequency of attacks reduced by 2018, with between zero and two attacks a month from March 2018 until August 2019.
In April 2015, there were two incidents in both Ibb and Lahj regions in the south. In each region, the attacks were targeting two bridges within 10 kilometres of one another on the N1 road, which links the port city Aden to the capital Sana’a. Through the following months, the attacks expanded to more regions across territory under the control of Houthis forces, often targeting bridges along the N1 or N3. The month of September 2015 saw 13 attacks clustered in an area surrounding Sana’a and linking it to the port city of Al-Hudaydah. At this time Al-Hudaydah was a key location being targeted by coalition forces, and the conflict was impeding the provision of food and humanitarian aid to civilian populations, according to the WFP.
In October that year, the attacks spread out further, targeting the N3 road between Al-Hudaydah and Taiz, near Sana’a, and along the northern border with Saudi Arabia.
In August 2016, attacks targeted six regions of the country, with four bridges targeted along the N1 and three along the N3. Around this time there were also increasing attacks in Saada, especially along the N1 link to Saudi Arabia. In the following months attacks targeted bridges along the main road networks in numerous regions under the control of Houthis forces.
By January 2017, many of the attacks had moved further west. Four airstrikes targeted bridges along the N3 leading to Taiz, and several others were clustered around roads connecting to Al-Hudaydah. These areas continued to be targeted, and several bridges were struck on multiple occasions, rendering them nearly impassable. By 2019, most attacks were in Amran, and had declined to one or two every few months.
The data indicates Saudi-led coalition forces are responsible for all 131 airstrikes on bridges in this database, and all targeted bridges were within territory under the control of Houthis forces.
In general, airstrikes were more common in the month of September, and were fairly evenly spread out through the days of the week. Attacks were most common on Saturdays, when 29 airstrikes took place, as well as Wednesdays (22 attacks) and Tuesdays (21 attacks). There were 18 attacks on Fridays and Mondays. Thursdays and Sundays were the least common days for attacks, with 13 and 10 respectively. Yemeni Archive identified 75 attacks that occurred during the day and 40 that occurred at night, while 16 were unknown.
The 131 attacks identified by Yemeni Archive include 130 attacks in which bridges were directly hit. Thirty three of the incidents in which bridges were allegedly directly hit by Saudi-led coalition forces resulted in casualties. For example, the first attack on Lahimah bridge on September 15, 2015 led to the death of a truck driver who was crossing the bridge. Attacks on the Al-Dalil bridge led to several casualties, including young people who rushed to assist those injured in the first attack and were killed by a second hit.
Yemeni Archive analysed the delivery method by which bridges were targeted. All 131 incidents were targeted in airstrikes. All but one of the 131 documented incidents was a direct hit. Yemeni Archive defines these as attacks that directly targeted and hit a bridge - not adjacent to it. Of those 130 direct hits, the Yemeni Archive was able to identify visible damage on satellite imagery for 117.
Akram Abdul Rahman Al-Jouma lost his brother in the April 21, 2015 double tap attack on Al-Dalil bridge in Ibb governorate. Bassam Al-Jouma was one of 40 people killed by the airstrikes on the bridge on the N1 road that links port city Aden with the north. The Al-Dalil bridge is located in a populated area, with housing and farms nearby and businesses just beside it.
“My brother Bassam and one of his friends rushed to help the injured who were hit by the missile that targeted the bridge, but the Saudi-led coalition warplanes fired a second missile when my brother and his friend were killed. He was 35 years old at that time. He was just a worker, not an employee, nor a merchant. His death was a huge tragedy to me and the whole family, even until today. I didn’t feel such sadness and pain in my life like I felt, when I lost him on that day. Another family member got injured in the same attack on the bridge while he was driving his motorbike.”
“All I wish is that the Saudi-led coalition will be held accountable for every crime that is committed against civilians and innocent people. When I saw the massacre after the bombing, I froze from the shock of what I saw of what happened in the place. At first, I couldn’t even recognize my brother. The body parts were all over the place, in a way that it was impossible for anyone to recognize anyone. We were contacted later to collect his body.”
The majority of attacks targeted bridges in Sa’ada and Sana’a, with about 20 airstrikes identified in each region between 26 March 2015 to 31 August 2019. In Taiz, there were 17 airstrikes on bridges in the same period. There were 16 attacks documented in Amran, 15 in Hajja and 17 in Al-Mahwit.
Many of the airstrikes targeted bridges along several key road networks: the N1 linking the south to the north, the N3 linking the southern city of Taiz to the western port city of Al-Hudaydah and linking from there to Sana’a, and the N5, a main road linking Sana’a to the eastern coast. Millions of people live along these major routes, including more than 2.5 million people in Sana’a, about half a million in Al-Hudaydah, and half a million in Taiz. Much of the food and humanitarian assistance currently travels through the port in the southern city of Aden, and as such blocking of road access along the N1 serves to block access to this assistance for large populations of civilians residing in these regions. Travel and transport of supplies is either interrupted completely or slowed greatly between these key cities and population groups.
Yemeni Archive identified five incidents in which bridges were double tapped: Al-Abarat bridge (Al-Afrah bridge), Al-Dalil bridge, Al-Sayani bridge, Bab Makhaleh (Bab Al-Shiq) bridge, and Khaifah bridge. In these cases, a bridge was hit with one airstrike followed by another within five hours. Four of these airstrikes resulted in casualties. In the case of Al-Dalil, airstrikes on April 21, 2015 resulted in more than 110 casualties, and 40 fatalities. The attack on Al-Abarat bridge (Al-Afrah bridge) led to 37 casualties, including 17 fatalities.
Multiple attacks on the same day
There were 13 dates on which multiple bridges in our database were targeted by airstrikes on the same day. September 15, 2015 had the most bridge airstrikes, with 7 on that date. The airstrikes that day targeted bridges in Amran and Hajja, and four in Al-Mahwit. In Amran, two bridges, Alsharwah bridge and Al-Afrah bridge, were targeted about 10 kilometres apart on the same main road. In Al-Mahwit, the two bridges Bab Rishah bridge and Zaham bridge were targeted. The bridges are located about 5 kilometres apart on a main road, the 313, that runs from the N2 through Al-Mahwit toward Sana’a.
On October 14, 2015, three separate bridges in Taiz were targeted. Two bridges - Tanah bridge and Rasyan bridge - were located about 10 kilometres from one another on the N3 main road, while a third - Sharirah bridge - was on a smaller road leading further south.
On January 28, 2017, three separate bridges on the road linking Taiz and port city Al-Hudaydah were targeted, along with two other bridges: one in Sana’a and one in Hajja. The three bridges targeted along the road to Taiz, Irfan bridge, Al-Hamili bridge, and Al-Zioud bridge, were within 15 to 20 kilometres of each other.
Yemeni Archive identified 23 bridges that were targeted multiple times. One bridge, Lahimah, which connects the Sana’a Governorate in the north with Al-Hudaydah governorate in the west, was targeted once in 2015 and again on four separate dates in 2016. That bridge is located in the Al-Qeta’a area, Al-Mahwit District, Al-Mahwit Governorate. The series of attacks between August 29 and September 18, 2016 resulted in the destruction of the bridge, cutting off the Al-Mahwit road.
Several other bridges were targeted on two or three occasions. Many of those bridges were rendered impassable as a result of the repeated attacks. For example, Al-Barah bridge, Al-Hamili bridge, Al-Haqouf bridge, Al-Namsah bridge, Al-Qasabah bridge, Fardhah bridge, and Wadi Mour bridge were all targeted on three or more occasions.
Impact on civilians
The 131 airstrikes on bridges have made many key routes, including the N1 road running north-south, the N3 road connecting Al-Hudaydah with Sana’a and Taiz, the N2 in Sa’ada, and the N5 travelling east from the capital, impassable or much more difficult to travel. This has blocked access to neighbouring communities, to healthcare, and also impeded the delivery of food and humanitarian aid.
Several human rights organizations have reported that attacks on infrastructure by the Saudi-led coalition have directly impeded access for humanitarian goods meant to assist the civilian populations within territory under the control of Houthis forces.
An OXFAM briefing note from December 2017 identified infrastructure damage, along with active conflict and checkpoints, as reasons for rising food costs and limited access to vulnerable civilian populations.
“Not only have the costs of transport skyrocketed, but transportation times over land have also increased dramatically. The severely damaged infrastructure due to the conflict is further hampering an effective distribution of food throughout the country. Coalition airstrikes have destroyed roads and bridges, and the authorities in Sana’a and Aden have proven unable to maintain and repair the road network.”
“Hence, truckers have to resort to networks of rural roads that are not built for heavy transport, and to use alternative routes for destroyed bridges. The journey from Hodeidah to Sana’a now takes 12–18 hours, depending on the season, checkpoints and the intensity of conflict along the road, compared with 8–10 hours before the conflict. These restrictions are crucial factors increasing humanitarian need over the past year, and restrictions by all parties to the conflict mean that food is being used as a weapon of war in Yemen.”
Yemen has been at threat for famine, even as aid agencies and the United Nations saying the food insecurity is directly linked with conflict. The World Food Program says its emergency response program is the largest in the world, aiming to feed 13 million people a month.
“The current level of hunger in Yemen is unprecedented and is causing severe hardship for millions of people. Despite ongoing humanitarian assistance, over 20 million Yemenis are food insecure, of which nearly 10 million are acutely food insecure.”
“Malnutrition rates among women and children in Yemen remain among the highest in the world, with more than a million women and 2 million children requiring treatment for acute malnutrition.”
Yemeni Archive has also identified 33 incidents that resulted in civilian casualties. For those attacks, we documented 119 fatalities, and 187 people who were injured. Those include women and children, as well as people responding to an initial attack who were later killed or injured in a second strike. It can be difficult to confirm reports of casualties due to conflicting information from sources on the ground and lack of visual documentation in some cases.
Yemeni Archive spoke to the mother of Sabri Qasim Al-Naqeb, a young man killed in the double tap attack on Al-Dalil bridge in 2015.
“I am 65 years old now, but the five years that have passed since my son’s death were the longest and most painful years in my life. I feel as if I haven’t woken up yet from the shock of that day. I got several diseases as a result of shock, including having high blood pressure and diabetes. I cannot live without my medication. Whenever I remember my son, I feel very sad, and I only hope that this unjust coalition will be held accountable for their crimes on the targeting and killing of innocent people.”
In this database, Yemeni Archive documented 131 attacks on bridges in Yemen 26 March 2015 to 31 August 2019. This database contains 9.3 GB of documentation. All 131 unique incidents (based on 3,431 observations) of attacks on bridges include violations committed against infrastructure or civilians, who are specifically offered protections under International Humanitarian Law. This process necessitated archiving and verifying 4,287 videos, articles, and other reports from 1,473 sources that documented attacks on bridges — 1,222 Facebook posts, 2,607 Twitter posts form 900 sources, 74 YouTube videos from 25 sources, and 384 websites and news articles from 72 sources. This database has been made available to support justice and accountability efforts for human rights violations in Yemen.
This database shows
- The impact of the attacks on infrastructure as a result of airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition.
- Civilian victims of the airstrikes.
- Witness testimony of attacks on bridges, in which witnesses and victims testify through video interviews.
- Rescue operations by civilians to assist the victims of alleged attacks against bridges.
The sheer amount of content being created, and the near constant removals of materials from public channels means that Yemeni Archive is in a race against time to preserve important documentation of crimes committed. Content preserved and verified by the Yemeni Archive might offer the only evidence to corroborate witness testimonies of attacks on infrastructure, and to implicate potential perpetrators.
It should be noted that this database may under represent the extent to which bridges and other infrastructure have been targeted - Yemeni Archive has included only incidents for which documentation has been able to be identified and independently verified. While we have sought to be detailed and transparent in the presentation process, we have taken into account the need to protect those presenting these relevant documents. Taking these interests seriously, some of the content deemed sensitive has withheld to protect the security of our sources.
The added value of this database is that documentation is independently verified and structured into a standardised and searchable data ontology. Additional descriptive information is provided to support the research of journalists, lawyers, human rights monitors and investigators for reporting, advocacy and accountability.
Using the database
Yemeni Archive has created the database for use by human rights workers, Yemeni observers, NGOs and INGOs and lawyers for advocacy purposes and in their quest to hold perpetrators of attacks accountable.
Please note that much of the database’s content contains graphic images, and users are advised to take precautions when reviewing materials.
However, while all efforts have been made to provide a thorough understanding of incidents and attacks, some information has been withheld to protect the security of our sources.
To provide Yemeni Archive with new evidence or information, flag a mistake or share any questions or concerns, please contact email@example.com
About Yemeni Archive
Yemeni Archive is a civil society initiative that has been documenting the conflict in Yemen since 2018. To date, over 830,195 videos and posts to social media have been located and preserved. Like many monitoring organisations, Yemeni Archive is unable to travel extensively within Yemen to investigate each and every attack. Relying on a network of journalists and video makers is essential to monitor, document and report on crimes committed in Yemen and preserve these pieces of evidence for justice and accountability initiatives.
Errors, corrections and feedback
Yemeni Archive strives for accuracy and transparency of process in our reporting and presentation. That said, it is recognised that the information publicly available for particular events can, at times, be limited. Our video datasets are therefore organically maintained, and represent our best present understanding of alleged incidents. If you have new information about a particular event; if you find an error in our work - or if you have concerns about the way we are reporting our data - please do engage with us. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The videos in this database have been collected by groups and individuals in Yemen. This database currently includes 3434 different incidents. This collection would not be possible without those documenting and reporting on war crimes and crimes against humanity. Currently, in this database, there are 116 different sources, our thanks to each of them. Special thanks to everyone who helped in verifying, annotating, and analyzing videos. In particular,Sana’a university student we would like to thank: Lilas Al Boni, Obayda Fallaha, Fuad Rajha , Mohammad Beruity. We would also like to thank our partners in Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ) and the Yemen Data Project (YDP) and NAWA-IF for all the contributions made by them to accomplish this research.