Washington- Dozens of armed al-Qaeda members in addition to civilians and a U.S. soldier were killed during an attack launched by the U.S. elite forces in Yemen on Saturday night, in the first military operation authorized by President Donald Trump after assuming power last Jan. 20.
The U.S. military said it killed 14 militants from “al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula” (AQAP), the organization’s branch in Yemen, in an attack launched on the rural Yakla district of al-Baida province.
However, local sources spoke about a higher toll of 41 al-Qaeda members and 16 civilians including 8 women and 8 children killed by the attack.
A U.S. source told Asharq Al-Awsat that the main target of the raid was leader of AQAP Qassem al-Rimi, who goes by the nom de guerre of Abu Hrira al-Sanaani.
The sources said that had the U.S. forces not received information about the probable presence of al-Rimi in the area, no decision would have been taken to launch the raid, which needed the authorization of the highest commander of the U.S. armed forces. However, the fate of al-Rimi is still unknown with no information on whether he was killed during the raid.
The sources added that the Pentagon had previously asked for the authorization of former U.S. president Barack Obama to launch a similar raid in Yemen, but he had refused to take the risk.
A statement by the Central Command said Sunday an aircraft assisting in the operation faced a hard landing, leading to an additional U.S. injury. The aircraft was unable to fly after the landing and was then intentionally destroyed in place.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of one of our elite service members,” Commander of U.S. Central Command Gen. Joseph Votel said. “The sacrifices are very profound in our fight against terrorists who threaten innocent peoples across the globe.”
U.S. sources predicted that Ansar Al-Sharia leader Abdul Raouf al-Dhahab and his two brothers were among those killed in the raid, in addition to Saif Alawai al-Jawfi, all linked to al-Qaeda.
A U.S. defense official said the operation was directly authorized by Trump.
A Yemeni provincial official told Agence France Presse that Apache helicopters also hit a school, a mosque and a medical facility, which were all used by al-Qaeda militants.
Eight-year-old Noura al-Awlaki, the daughter of U.S.-born Yemeni preacher and al-Qaeda ideologue Anwar al-Awlaki, killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2011, was also among those who died in the raid.