US soldier killed in Yemen raid on Al-Qaeda, local officials say women & children among casualties
"Americans are saddened this morning with the news that a life of a heroic service member has been taken in our fight against the evil of radical Islamic terrorism,” said Donald Trump in a statement, following the first foreign special operation ordered by the new administration. “The sacrifices made by the men and women of our armed forces, and the families they leave behind, are the backbone of the liberty we hold so dear."
A statement released by the US Central Command on Sunday said another service member was injured in a “hard landing” nearby. The aircraft was damaged as well, and was destroyed in place, the report said.
The US report said 14 Al-Qaeda fighters were killed in the assault. The raid is said to have provided “information that will likely provide insight into the planning of future terror plots.”
The raid in the rural Yakla district of al-Bayda province apparently targeted a local Al-Qaeda branch and its leader, Abdulraoof al-Dhahab, local witnesses and officials told journalists.
“The operation began at dawn when a drone bombed the home of Abdulraoof al-Dhahab and then helicopters flew up and unloaded paratroopers at his house and killed everyone inside,” one resident said, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.
“Next, the gunmen opened fire at the US soldiers, who left the area, and the helicopters bombed the gunmen and a number of homes and led to a large number of casualties,” he added.
The houses of three tribal chiefs were targeted in the attack, according to regional sources cited by AFP. The sources also said Apache helicopters had struck a school, a mosque, and a medical facility, all of which were being used by the Al-Qaeda militants.
Conflicting reports on the number of people killed have been coming in from local authorities.
The highest death toll – 57 people, including 16 civilians (eight women and eight children among them) was cited by officials who spoke with AFP. The news agency’s report said that three alleged senior militant leaders were among those killed in the raid.
Reuters reported that 30 people were killed, including 10 women and three children, citing medics at the scene.
Among the victims was reportedly the 8-year-old daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, an al-Qaeda preacher, who was killed in a drone attack in 2011.
"She was hit with a bullet in her neck and suffered for two hours. Why kill children? This is the new US administration - it's very sad, a big crime," Nasser al-Awlaki, the girl's grandfather, told Reuters.
Yemeni security and tribal officials told AP that the fighting had lasted around 45 minutes, with the US troops killing three alleged Al-Qaeda members. They also killed or wounded some two dozen men, including some Saudis at the site.
It was the first American ground operation in Yemen since the country descended into civil war two years ago, and the third overall. The US is already involved in Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen, providing targeting intelligence and air refueling for the Saudi-led coalition, which is backing one side in the conflict.
Earlier in December of 2014, US commandos tried to rescue two hostages, an American and a South African, in another part of the country, but the captives were killed in the firefight.
The US has also conducted dozens of airstrikes on suspected fighters in Yemen as part of its fight against AQAP, or Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a branch of the international terrorist organization.