WASHINGTON — U.S. Central Command said today that its review of the Saturday raid on an al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula target in Yemen determined that civilians were killed, possibly by gunfire from U.S. aerial support.
SEAL Team 6 conducted the operation against AQAP’s Yakla’ district compound on Saturday; the Pentagon and the White House said 14 enemy fighters were killed, including some women. One Navy SEAL was killed — Chief Special Warfare Operator William “Ryan” Owens, 36, of Peoria, Ill. — and three were wounded, and one MV-22 Osprey was destroyed by a U.S. strike after it crash-landed during evacuation.
Yemenis said there were multiple civilian casualties, including the 8-year-old daughter of late al-Qaeda recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen born in New Mexico.
In a statement, CENTCOM said a review team “concluded regrettably that civilian non-combatants were likely killed in the midst of a firefight” during the raid, and “casualties may include children.”
An ongoing credibility assessment “seeks to determine if there were any still-undetected civilian casualties” from the operation. “The known possible civilian casualties appear to have been potentially caught up in aerial gunfire that was called in to assist U.S. forces in contact against a determined enemy that included armed women firing from prepared fighting positions, and U.S. special operations members receiving fire from all sides to include houses and other buildings.”
“This complex situation included small arms fire, hand grenades and close air support fire. Analysts are carefully assessing whether additional non-combatant civilians that were not visible to the assault force at the time were mixed in with combatants.”
The raid was planned during the Obama administration but reportedly hadn’t been executed as planners were waiting for ideal conditions. President Trump gave the go-ahead for the raid, but an official told ABC News it appeared as if al-Qaeda knew SEAL Team 6 was coming as they immediately confronted the special forces approaching in the darkness with heavy weapons fire.
Reuters cited U.S. military officials saying Trump approved the raid without enough intelligence, ground support or sufficient backup preparations. “As a result, three officials said, the attacking SEAL team found itself dropping onto a reinforced al-Qaeda base defended by landmines, snipers, and a larger than expected contingent of heavily armed Islamist extremists,” said the report.
According to U.S. officials, the raid resulted in the seizure of electronic devices containing data useful to U.S. intelligence and partner nations.
“Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has a horrifying history of hiding women and children within militant operating areas and terrorist camps, and continuously shows a callous disregard for innocent lives,” said CENTCOM spokesman Col. John J. Thomas. “That’s what makes cases like these so especially tragic.”
In a statement issued Sunday, Trump called the raid “successful”; White House press secretary Sean Spicer said today, “You never want to call something a success 100 percent when someone’s hurt or killed.”
“And that was the case here but I think when you recognize that an individual like this loved this country so much and deployed over and over again because he knew that the mission that he was conducting was so important to our protection, our freedom, our safety,” Spicer added. “…And so you know, again, I don’t think call anything 100 percent success, but what he did for this nation and what he got out of that mission, I think, I truly believe and I know the president believes is going to save American lives.”
Trump and his daughter Ivanka, along with Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), flew to Dover today to meet the plane arriving home with Owens’ remains. The family asked for privacy surrounding the event.
AQAP claimed in a statement that they downed the helicopter and inflicted casualties on the SEALs, who then took revenge by killing women and children. Yemeni officials said 30 were killed in the operation, including 10 women and three children.
Pro-AQAP social media accounts tweeted photos of bodies of children and elderly that they say were killed in the operation, claiming that no al-Qaeda members were among the dead but “only women and children were killed in the raid together with some tribal leaders who have no connections to Al-Qaeda.”
“May Allah hasten his revenge,” the message added.
On an al-Qaeda Telegram account, though, members were mourning an unspecified number of militants killed in the raid.