A US commando was killed and three other troops were wounded in the first counterterrorism raid approved by President Donald Trump, the US military said on Sunday.
A fourth troop was injured during a hard landing of an MV-22 Osprey at a separate staging area, the military said. The Osprey was destroyed on site because it was no longer operable.
The hour-long raid, which began at 2 a.m. local time on Sunday (5 p.m. EDT Saturday), targeted al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen’s Shabwah province, the military said. A defense official told BuzzFeed News the US military had planned the operation for weeks, deciding to use members of Seal Team 6 because “the goal of the mission was site exploitation.”
“We wanted to preserve what we could get,” the defense official said.
The defense official said the raid led to US forces obtaining “information.” In addition, at least 14 suspected members of AQAP were killed. Provincial officials said that eight women and eight children were also killed and six homes were destroyed. They put the death toll closer to 30. But defense officials said they had no indications as of yet that civilians had been killed.
There also were reports that Abdul Raouf al-Dhahab, a top AQAP operative, was the target of the raid and that he was among those killed. According to Reuters, AQAP mourned the death of Dhahab on its official Telegram account, calling him a “holy warrior.”
The US military would not provide any details behind the death of its service member, whose name will be released pending family notification. Local witnesses said the raid happened in Bayda province and a gunman opened fire on the troops after they destroyed the homes.
The commando is the first service member to die under the nine-day Trump administration.
"Americans are saddened this morning with news that a life of a heroic service member has been taken in our fight against the evil of radical Islamic terrorism," Trump said in a statement.
"My deepest thoughts and humblest prayers are with the family of this fallen service member. I also pray for a quick and complete recovery for the brave service members who sustained injuries," he added.
So far, the Trump administration has been particularly aggressive on the al-Qaeda threat in Yemen. Within hours of the start of the Trump presidency, the US launched three airstrikes, also in Bayda province. At least two of those strikes targeted a top AQAP commander, Abu Anis al-Abi, who was killed in the strikes, the US military has said.
As the raid was being conducted, the White House released a directive that appeared to downgrade the role of the military on the National Security Council while giving a political operative, chief strategist Steve Bannon, a regular seat on the council. It is unclear if Bannon was consulted about the raid beforehand.
Regardless, there was no change in the consultation process between the White House and the US military leading up to the attacks, a second defense official said. Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was consulted on the raid.
The nearly two-year civil war between the Shiite Houthis, loyal to former Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and the Saudi-backed forces who supported the internationally recognized government, has created the kind of chaos ripe for AQAP and ISIS to exploit. Both groups have conducted attacks within Yemen. AQAP functioned there before the latest cycle of violence.
The US, which once enjoyed close ties with the Yemeni government in its war with AQAP, has since depended on airstrikes to target terror groups, drawing criticism from some because of the civilians killed in those strikes. The US has also supported the Saudi-led campaign in the civil war.
But conducting raids in Yemen has been particularly challenging for the US military. The last time the US conducted a ground raid in Yemen was in December 2014, in a failed bid to capture two AQAP hostages, including American photojournalist Luke Somers. The kidnappers killed the hostages as the raid unfolded.
The war in Yemen has left the country’s cities divided between Houthi and government control, with the capital falling under Houthis. More importantly, there is an epidemic of starvation with the United Nations estimating that 2.2. million children suffer from malnutrition.
Nancy Youssef is a national security correspondent with BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Nancy A. Youssef at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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