The documents are signed both by Yemeni court officials as well as relatives of the victims. The payouts all deal with one particular drone strike that hit vehicles in a convoy of vehicles that was part of a wedding party. Fifteen people were killed in the attack with five more reported injured. The attack had been carried out under the auspices of the Joint Special Operations Command(JSOC). The New York Times reported:
" ... the Yemen government banned military drone operations after a series of botched drone strikes by JSOC, the last of which was a December 2013 drone strike that killed numerous civilians at a wedding ceremony. Despite a ban on military drone operations the Yemen government allowed CIA drone operations to continue."
The documents include many details including the identities of those killed. Among the victims were a father and son who belonged to a Yemeni organization devoted to curbing Islamist militants. While the father survived, the son was killed in the attack. The amounts paid out are many times larger than Yemeni officials earlier reported. The total is more than the US military paid out over an entire year in Afghanistan. US officials have declined to comment either on the strike or any possible role the US might have in the payments.
Caitlin Hayden, a spokesperson for the National Security Council at the White House, said: “Although we will not comment on specific cases, were non-combatants killed or injured in a U.S. strike, condolence or other ex gratia payments, such as solatia, may be available,” A Yemen expert Gregory Johnsen claimed that it was unlikely that the Yemen government, which is quite short of cash, would make the payments to the families on its own. The payments in this case are far greater than is usual:
The U.S. military has in recent years made hundreds of “solatia” payments to compensate victims for errant strikes in war zones, but the payments rarely exceed $5,000 per recipient.
A 2013 report by ProPublica cited information from the Pentagon indicating that U.S. forces made 219 payments totaling $891,000 in 2012 in Afghanistan.In a speech in May 2013 Obama set out strict guidelines for drone strikes that required that no strikes should be made unless there was “near certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured."