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U.S. Service Member Killed in Yemen Raid -- 2nd Update

29 Jan 2017 6:27 pm
By Gordon Lubold 

A U.S. service member was killed and several were wounded in a raid Saturday against al Qaeda militants in Yemen that marked the first commando operation authorized by President Donald Trump.

Three U.S. special operations forces were wounded in the raid, which took place in a remote location in south-central Yemen, according to U.S. military officials. Two other American service members were injured when an American V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft in another location that was assisting in the operation sustained what aviators termed a hard landing.

The Osprey, which had been serving as a medevac aircraft to transport casualties, was destroyed in place by U.S. forces because it was damaged to the extent that it couldn't be flown again, military officials said.

The operation resulted in the deaths of as many as 14 members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, the principal al Qaeda franchise in Yemen, military officials said.

U.S. military officials said that intelligence collected at the site of the operation "will likely provide insight into the planning of future terror plots," according to a Pentagon statement.

"The goal of this was site exploitation, not any high-value targets, but we knew that there would probably be some people on the objective so we prepared for that," said one senior U.S. military official. The official said the U.S. had been conducting intelligence and surveillance of the area in advance of the operation.

The ground operation over the weekend represented the first combat casualty under the Trump administration.

"We are deeply saddened by the loss of one of our elite service members, " said Gen. Joseph Votel, the commander of Tampa-based U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. military forces in the region. "The sacrifices are very profound in our fight against terrorists who threaten innocent peoples across the globe."

The White House said Sunday in a statement, "Americans are saddened this morning with news that a life of a heroic service member has been taken in our fight against the evil of radical Islamic terrorism."

Yemen has been the focus of U.S. counterterrorism operations for years. Earlier this month, U.S. forces conducted a strike in a remote area of Bayda province, resulting in the death of Abd al-Ghani al-Rasas, an individual the Pentagon identified as being an al Qaeda "senior leader and facilitator."

Ground raids such as the one in Yemen over the weekend had been conducted rarely under the Obama administration and only after lengthy deliberations that could take weeks or months to get approved. Some senior officers had expressed frustration that it was difficult to get the "green light" for such ground operations under Mr. Obama.

Mr. Trump, on the other hand, has signaled that he would like to accelerate the fight against Islamic State, al Qaeda and other militant groups. This weekend's operation, coming soon after Mr. Trump assumed the role of commander-in-chief, appears to reflect that sense of urgency.

"This is one in a series of aggressive moves against terrorist planners in Yemen and worldwide," the Pentagon statement said. "Similar operations have produced intelligence on al Qaeda logistics, recruiting and financing efforts."

According to the independent SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors militant websites and social media, AQAP reported over the weekend that nearly 30 people were killed in an operation in Bayda province. The operation, according to the statement by AQAP, resulted in the deaths of women and children.

The AQAP report, which couldn't be verified, said that no al Qaeda members were killed.

U.S. military officials didn't confirm the account and said they were not immediately aware of any civilian casualties in the U.S. operations.

Mohammed al-Kibsi in San'a, Yemen and Asa FItch in Dubai contributed to this article.

Write to Gordon Lubold at Gordon.Lubold@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 29, 2017 13:27 ET (18:27 GMT)
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