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
Planned for months, it was decided over dinner.
The raid on a village in rural Yemen reportedly aimed to capture or kill one of the world’s most dangerous terrorists and deliver a stinging blow to al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP), a militant network the US had been trying to dismantle for more than a decade. The collection of small brick houses in Yemen’s dusty central region was home to civilian families as well as militants and was heavily-guarded, meaning a precise, well-practiced operation was paramount. Intense surveillance was carried out for weeks, rehearsals took place in Djibouti, and Navy SEALS awaited the go-ahead from their commander-in-chief. It came just five days after President Donald Trump took office.
But as the elite team descended under the cover of darkness, what could have been the first major victory for the new administration in its renewed mission to defeat radical Islam quickly went dreadfully wrong.
As cover was blown, enemy fire returned and contingency plans failed, tragedy unfolded on all sides.
It is already known that 8-year-old Nawar al Awlaki, the daughter of al Qaeda propagandist Anwar al Awlaki was among those who died in the attack. But following a field investigation, the Bureau can today reveal that nine children under the age of 13 were killed and five were wounded in the raid in al Bayda province on January 29.
Details emerged piecemeal last week regarding civilian and military deaths, the disputed value of the targets and deficiencies in planning – some of the information coming from military sources in unprecedented briefings against its own administration. Insiders told CNN and NBC that the ultimate target was AQAP leader Qasim al Raymi. If the soldiers didn’t find him in the village they hoped they would find clues as to his location.
But despite the growing reports of failure – and despite the death of Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer William Owens 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.”
Evidence gathered by the Bureau must surely challenge that assessment. A fierce gunfight turned into an intense aerial bombardment, and the outcome “turned out to be as bad as one can imagine it being,” said former US ambassador to Yemen Stephen Seche.
Working with a journalist who visited the targeted village of al Yakla five days after the raid and talked to nine of the survivors, we have collected the names and ages of all 25 civilians killed as reported by those who live there. The Bureau also has photos of the families hit and the homes destroyed as helicopter gunship fire rained down.
AQAP say 14 “of its men” were killed in the clash, including six villagers. The youngest was 17, the oldest 80.
The villagers say 25 civilians died alongside a group of militants, including nine children under the age of 13. They deny that any of the dead villagers were AQAP members. Of the nine young children who died, the smallest was only three months old. Eight women were killed, including one who was heavily pregnant. Seven more women and children were injured.
There is fury at the US for what the villagers say was yet another example of disregard for civilian life in the pursuit of terror.
“It is true they were targeting al Qaeda but why did they have to kill children and women and elderly people?” said Zabnallah Saif al Ameri, who lost nine members of his extended family, five of whom were children. “If such slaughter happened in their country, there would be a lot of shouting about human rights. When our children are killed, they are quiet.”
Villagers described chaos, with people shot as they attempted to flee the gun battle before helicopters opened fire.
“They killed men, children and women and destroyed houses,” said Mohsina Mabkhout al Ameri, who lost her brother, nephew and three of her nephew’s children. “We are normal people and have nothing to do with al Qaeda or [Yemeni rebel movement] the Houthis or anyone. The men came from America, got off the planes and the planes bombed us.”
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