World

US admits civilians were 'likely killed'

Navy Seal raid on Al-Qaeda in Yemen

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE: The US military said on Wednesday it was looking into whether more civilians were killed in a raid on Al-Qaeda in Yemen on the weekend, in the first operation authorised by President Donald Trump as commander-in-chief.

US Navy Seal William "Ryan" Owens was killed in the raid on a branch of Al-Qaeda, also known as AQAP, in al Bayda province. The Pentagon said 14 militants were also killed in the raid. But medics at the scene said about 30 people, including 10 women and children, were killed.

US Central Command (Centcom) said in a statement that an investigating team had "concluded regrettably that civilian non-combatants were likely killed" during Sunday's raid. It said children may have been among the casualties.

Centcom said its assessment "seeks to determine if there were any still-undetected civilian casualties in the ferocious firefight".

US military officials told Reuters that Mr Trump approved his first covert counterterrorism operation without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate back-up 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.

Any operation where you are going to put operators on the ground has inherent risks. US Central Command spokesman, Colonel John Thomas

The Pentagon directed queries about the officials' characterisation of the raid to Centcom, which pointed only to its statement on Wednesday.

"Centcom asks for operations we believe have a good chance for success and when we ask for authorisation, we certainly believe there is a chance of successful operations based on our planning," Centcom spokesman, Colonel John Thomas, said.

"Any operation where you are going to put operators on the ground has inherent risks."

The US officials said the extremists' base had been identified as a target before the Obama administration left office on Jan 20, but then-President Barack Obama held off approving a raid ahead of his departure.

A White House official said the operation was thoroughly vetted by the previous administration and that the previous defence secretary had signed off on it in January. The raid was delayed for operational reasons, the White House official said.

The military officials, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said "a brutal firefight" killed Owens and at least 15 Yemeni women and children. One of the dead was the 8-year-old daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, a militant killed by a 2011 US drone strike.

Some of the women were firing at the US forces, Pentagon spokesman, Captain Jeff Davis, told reporters.

The American elite forces did not seize any militants or take any prisoners offsite, but White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Wednesday the raid yielded benefits.

"Knowing that we killed an estimated 14 AQAP members and that we gathered an unbelievable amount of intelligence that will prevent the potential deaths or attacks on American soil - is something that I think most service members understand, that that's why they joined the service," Mr Spicer said.

A senior leader in Yemen's Al-Qaeda branch, Abdulraoof al-Dhahab, and other militants were killed in the gunbattle, Al-Qaeda said.

One of the three US officials said on-the-ground surveillance of the compound was "minimal, at best".

"The decision was made... to leave it to the incoming administration, partly in the hope that more and better intelligence could be collected," that official said. - REUTERS

donald trumpWarterrorism