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Nine young children killed: the full details of the botched US raid in Yemen

Despite the growing reports of failure – and despite the death of a Navy SEAL, and the destruction of a $70 million Osprey aircraft – Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer has continued to insist that the mission was a “successful operation by all standards.”

by Namir Shabibi and Nasser al Sane

Part 4 - An 11-year-old is the first hit

His son Ahmed was the first casualty. According to al Dahab the 11-year-old was woken by the commotion outside and went to see what was going on. “When my son Ahmed saw them, he couldn’t tell that they were soldiers because it was dark,” he said. “He asked them ‘Who are you?’ but the men shot him. He was the first killed. No one thought that marines would descend on our homes to kill us, kill our children and kill our women.

Tribal leaders Abdelraouf al Dahab and his brother came out to confront the soldiers and were shot dead, committee member Sadiq al Jawfi said. Local sources say they were AQAP members, and press reports released in the initial aftermath of the raid suggested that Abdelraouf and Sultan were among the primary targets of the operation. 80-year-old Saif al Jawfi, who also had al Qaeda connections according to AQAP, came out to see the commotion. He too was killed.

SEAL Team 6 attacked the home of 65-year-old Abdallah Mabkhout al Ameri, surrounding it and opened fire indiscriminately, Abdelilah al Dahab and other witnesses claimed. “When people heard the gunshots and missiles, local men rushed out of their homes to find out what was going on,” he said.

Three witnesses said the commandos shot at everyone who left their homes. In these lawless parts of Yemen every home has a Kalashnikov and the residents reached for their guns “to defend their homes and their honour,” Abdelilah al Dahab said.

The villagers say 38-year-old mother of seven, Fatim Saleh al Ameri was fatally shot by special operators while trying to flee with her two-year-old son Mohammed. “We pulled him out from his mother’s lap. He was covered in her blood,” said 11-year-old Basil Ahmed Abad al-Zouba, whose 17-year-old brother was killed.

As the firefight ensued, helicopter gunships appeared and “shot at everything”, including at homes and people fleeing, Sadiq al Jawfi and other witnesses said. Fahad Ali al Ameri woke up to the gunfire. “I was woken up after midnight by the bombing of the helicopters. There were soldiers on the ground shooting at us. They started shooting at us with machine gun fire.” He says a missile fired at his home, killing his three-month-old daughter as she lay asleep in her crib.

The al Ameri family was particularly badly hit. Abdallah, 65, who had survived the attack on his wedding party three years earlier, was killed alongside his 25-year-old daughter Fatima and 38-year-old son Mohammed. Three of Mohammed’s four children also died – Aisha, 4, Khadija, 7, and Hussein, 5. A further nine members of the extended family were killed.

At some stage, al Qaeda militants who had encamped in the nearby Masharif and Sharia mountains descended to engage the US commandos in a fight which would last over two hours. AQAP say 14 of its men died in total: six villagers and eight others.

The eight-year-old daughter of the late radical American preacher Anwar al Awlaqi, who was visiting her uncle Abdelilah al Dahab, was hiding in a room when it was attacked by the gunships, her uncle said. “Some of the gunfire went through the windows and Nawar was injured in her neck,” he said.

The girl would not survive. “We tried to save her but we couldn’t do anything for her,” said Abdelilah al Dahab. “She was injured around 2.30am and bled until she died at around dawn prayers.

US special operatives made an exit from the village at around the same time, say villagers, but some air attacks continued.

In the days that followed, conflicting narratives emerged. At first, the Department of Defense’s Central Command (Centcom) was bullish, describing the raid as “one in a series of aggressive moves against terrorist planners in Yemen.

Defense Secretary James Mattis gave a statement honouring the soldier who died. Chief Petty Officer Owens, 36, “gave his full measure for our nation, and in performing his duty, he upheld the noblest standard of military service,” he said.

As details about civilian casualties emerged – most notably that of eight-year-old Nawar al Awlaqi, whose photograph was circulated – the tone was softened. It was “concluded regrettably that civilian non-combatants were likely killed in the midst of a firefight during a raid in Yemen Jan. 29,” said a statement released on February 1. “Casualties may include children.

Two days later the Pentagon released a video showing a man building bombs which it said had been discovered in the raid. Within hours it was removed from the Pentagon’s website’s after people pointed out the same video had been published online in 2007.

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