SEAL Team Chopper Crashes During Midnight Raid in Yemen. More than 40 Civilians Killed, Including Women and Children
January 30, 2017
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & Associated Press & Eric Schmitt / The New York Times
In the first counterterrorism operation authorized by Donald Trump since he took office, one US soldier was killed and several others were injured when a V-22 Osprey crashed during a pre-dawn SEAL team raid inside Yemen. The US attach killed roughly 57 people – mostly civilians, including women and children. The Cairo AP office reported receiving photographs showing the bodies of several young children who were shot multiple times during the raid.
SEAL Team 6 Kills an 8-Year-Old Girl, Scores More in Yemen Attack
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(January 29, 2017) -- Pentagon officials confirmed that Navy SEAL Team 6 attacked what they described as an "al-Qaeda headquarters" in Yemen's central Bayda Province, bragging of killing "about 14" al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters and taking a cache of information. They reported a single soldier killed.
Absent from the Pentagon's account of what happened over the course of the raid, which supposedly lasted less than an hour, and left a large number of women and children riddled with bullets, including at least one eight-year-old girl named Nora, the daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, a US cleric who was assassinated by the Obama Administration.
The Cairo AP office reported receiving photographs showing the bodies of several young children who were shot multiple times during the raid. Roughly 57 people were killed overall, according to Yemeni officials, though they claimed a lot more AQAP fighters slain than the US reckoning of 14. Either way, a substantial number of civilians were among the slain.
Awlaki's 2011 assassination was hugely controversial, both because he was a US citizen killed on the orders of the Obama Administration and because the administration declined to charge him with any crimes beforehand, simply presenting his sermons as proof of terrorism. Awlaki's 16-year-old son was assassinated, again on Obama's order, two weeks later.
Officials say this raid had initially been proposed to President Obama but wasn't approved until after President Trump took office and signed off on the plan. Even with the Pentagon ignoring all the slain children, the narrative isn't exactly one of a super successful first ground raid into Yemen going off without a hitch.
Pentagon officials did not only confirmed the death of at least one US soldier in the fighting, saying they were "deeply saddened" by it, but also other casualties. Three other soldiers were wounded during the raid, and a fourth was wounded in the initial evacuation attempt, in which the V-22 Osprey crashed into the ground during a failed landing. The V-22 didn't make it out either, as it was apparently so damaged from the crash that the troops had to intentionally destroy it and wait for another evacuation.
1 US Service Member Killed, 3 Wounded in Yemen Raid
SAANA, (January 29, 2017) -- The US military said Sunday that one service member was killed and three others wounded in a raid in Yemen targeting its local al-Qaida branch, marking the first-known combat death of a member of the US military under President Donald Trump.
The raid left about 30 people dead, including women and children, according to an al-Qaida official and a news service linked to the terror group. One of the children killed was Nora, the 8-year-old daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Yemeni-American cleric killed in a US airstrike in Yemen in 2011, according to the girl's grandfather.
Nasser al-Awlaki told The Associated Press that Nora was visiting her mother when the surprise pre-dawn raid took place on Sunday.
US Central Command said in a statement that a fourth service member was injured in a "hard landing" in a nearby location. The aircraft was unable to fly afterward and was "intentionally destroyed."
It said militants from al-Qaida's branch in Yemen, formally known as "al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula," were killed in the assault and that US service members taking part in the raid captured "information that will likely provide insight into the planning of future terror plots."
A US defense official said the raid was approved by Trump. President Barack Obama had been briefed on it before he left office on Jan. 20, but for operational reasons it was not ready to be executed before he departed, according to the official, who was not authorized to discuss details beyond those announced by the Pentagon and so spoke on condition of anonymity.
Yemeni security and tribal officials said the raid in Yemen's central Bayda province killed three senior al-Qaida leaders: Abdul-Raouf al-Dhahab, Sultan al-Dhahab, and Seif al-Nims.
The al-Dhahab family, who are the late al-Awlaki's in-laws, is considered an ally of al-Qaida, which is now chiefly concentrated in Bayda province. A third family member, Tarek al-Dhahab, was killed in a US drone strike several years ago. It was not immediately clear whether the family members were actual members of al-Qaida.
An online news serviced linked to al-Qaida in Yemen likened the raid to a "massacre against Muslims" and said US warplanes were first seen in the sky above the area at 9 p.m. Saturday and that the raid began at 2 a.m. on Sunday, with 16 missiles hitting three houses near Yakla village in Radaa district.
A two-hour gunbattle ensued after American service members landed on the ground, it said. About 30 men, women and children were killed in the raid, it added.
The killed and wounded included some Saudis present at the site, according to the Yemeni officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief journalists.
An al-Qaida official sent to the AP Cairo photos purportedly showing the bloodied bodies of several children killed in the raid along with houses showing bullet holes. The official requested anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Just over a week ago, suspected US drone strikes killed three other alleged al-Qaida operatives in Bayda in what was the first-such killings reported in the country since Trump assumed the US presidency.
The tribal officials said the Americans captured and departed with at least two unidentified individuals on Sunday, but the US official in Washington said no detainees were taken in the raid. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, long seen by Washington as among the most dangerous branches of the global terror network, has exploited the chaos of Yemen's civil war, seizing territory in the south and east.
The war began in 2014, when Shiite Houthi rebels and their allies swept down from the north and captured the capital, Sanaa. A Saudi-led military coalition has been helping government forces battle the rebels for nearly two years.
Separately, Yemen's president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi a day earlier called for the remnants of his parliament, many of whom are in exile in Saudi Arabia or elsewhere, to convene in the country's southern port city of Aden, where he is struggling to establish government control.
Michael reported from Cairo. Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and AP National Security Writer Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.
US Commando Killed in Yemen in Trump's First Counterterrorism Operation
Eric Schmitt / The New York Times
WASHINGTON (January 29, 2017) -- One American commando was killed and three others were wounded in a fierce firefight early Sunday with Qaeda militants in central Yemen, the military said on Sunday. It was the first counterterrorism operation authorized by President Trump since he took office, and the commando was the first United States service member to die in the years-long shadow war against Al Qaeda's Yemen affiliate.
Members of the Navy's SEAL Team 6 carried out the surprise dawn attack, and the military said that about 14 Qaeda fighters were killed during a nearly hourlong battle. A Qaeda leader -- a brother-in-law of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born cleric and top Qaeda leader in Yemen, who died in a drone strike in 2011 -- was believed to have been killed.
After initially denying that there were any civilian casualties, American officials said they were assessing reports that women and children had died in the attack.
The military's Joint Special Operations Command had been planning the mission for months, according to three senior American officials.
Obama administration aides had deliberated extensively over the proposed operation, weighing the value of any information that might be recovered against the risk to the Special Operations forces plunging into hostile territory. But administration officials ultimately opted to hand the decision on the mission to their successors.
Mr. Trump, who has vowed to increase pressure on militant groups worldwide, was quickly persuaded that the rewards were worth the gamble, and he authorized the mission last week, military officials said. Commandos waited for a moonless evening on Saturday to exploit their advantage of fighting at night.
As helicopter gunships and armed Reaper drones provided cover, the commandos carried out the attack against the home of the Qaeda leader in the rugged mountainous region of Bayda Province, a part of Yemen that has been a focal point of United States military operations over the past month. The main target was computer materials inside the house that could contain clues about future terrorist plots.
In a statement on Sunday, Mr. Trump called the raid "successful," and said that it had captured "important intelligence that will assist the US in preventing terrorism against its citizens and people around the world." He also lamented the loss of the American service member "in our fight against the evil of radical Islamic terrorism."
The military's Central Command said in an earlier statement on Sunday that "similar operations have produced intelligence on Al Qaeda logistics, recruiting and financing efforts." In previous raids in Iraq, Syria and Somalia, commandos have recovered laptop computers, thumb drives and cellphones that yielded important information about militant leaders' locations, activities and associates.
A United States military aircraft helping with the operation experienced a "hard landing" near the site of the raid, resulting in injuries to two other service members, military officials said. That aircraft, identified by a senior American official as an Osprey that was evacuating the troops wounded in the firefight, was unable to fly after the landing and was deliberately destroyed by American airstrikes. The wounded troops and the Osprey's crew were lifted to safety by another American aircraft.
American officials and analysts said the Qaeda leader who was believed to have been killed was Abdulrauf al Dhahab.
The raid took place in Yemen around the time that Mr. Trump was signing a directive in Washington on Saturday afternoon ordering Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to devise within 30 days a more aggressive plan to defeat the Islamic State.
The Islamic State was born from Al Qaeda's branch in Iraq, but the two terrorist organizations are now sworn rivals not only in Iraq and Syria, but also in other hot spots like Yemen and Afghanistan, where both groups have affiliates.
Because Mr. Trump had been explicit about his intention to ask for the review to accelerate the fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, American military planners had begun drafting classified options to present to the new commander in chief.
Some of those options, like pushing more authority to conduct strikes to commanders in the field or to loosen restrictions designed to limit the risk to civilians, could also be applied to attacks against Qaeda fighters, as well as Islamic State insurgents.
There were no immediate indications that the rules of engagement had been loosened for the mission in Yemen, military officials said. The Central Command's statement did not elaborate on details of the raid or identify the commando who was killed.
A local resident who witnessed the raid, speaking by phone, said he saw warplanes bombing several houses in the village around 2 a.m. Sunday. The man said he saw at least three buildings being struck before he fled. The witness did not want to be identified because he feared that speaking out would endanger his life.
A Yemeni government official in Bayda Province said the targeted buildings belonged to the Dhahab family, which is known for its ties to Al Qaeda. Two male members of the family have been killed in drone strikes over the past two years.
The Yemeni official said that at least eight women and seven children, ages 3 to 13, had been killed in the raid. Qaeda supporters said that Mr. Awlaki's young daughter was among the dead and denied that any senior Qaeda leaders had been killed, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist communications.
Faisal Mohamed, a Bayda official whose two sons witnessed the attack, said it severely damaged a school, a health facility and a mosque.
"I was on the way back to town when they called and said that there were Americans everywhere, so I knew I should not go," Mr. Mohamed said by phone from nearby Marib Province. "My kids told me that the sky was crowded with helicopters and that they saw people jumping out of planes."
"The last thing they said to me was that the whole town is devastated now," Mr. Mohamed said.
Just over a week ago, United States drone strikes killed three other men suspected of being Qaeda operatives in Bayda Province in what were the first such killings reported in the country since Mr. Trump assumed the presidency.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group's branch in Yemen, has long been seen by American intelligence and counterterrorism officials as among the most dangerous branches of the global terrorist network, and the one posing the most immediate threat to United States territory.
The group's leaders have sought in at least three cases to detonate bombs hidden aboard American commercial jetliners. All of those plots were thwarted.
The raid on Saturday night was the latest in a series of Special Operations drone strikes and ground attacks in Yemen in recent years.
In November 2014, helicopter-borne Special Operations commandos and Yemeni troops rescued eight hostages being held in a remote part of eastern Yemen by Al Qaeda's affiliate there. After landing, the commandos hiked some distance in the dark to a mountainside cave, where they surprised the militants holding the captives.
A month later, in December 2014, United States commandos stormed a village in southern Yemen in an effort to free an American photojournalist held hostage by Al Qaeda. But the raid ended in tragedy, with the kidnappers killing the journalist and a South African held with him.
Nour Youssef contributed reporting from Cairo; Saeed Al-Batati from Al Mukalla, Yemen; and Shuaib Almosawa from Sana, Yemen.
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