Survivors of the recent US military raid in a remote Yemeni village provided more details concerning the civilian deaths that resulted from the attack in a report published by The Intercept on Thursday.
“She was hit by the plane. The American plane,” Sinan al Ameri, a 5-year-old survivor said of his mother, 30-year-old Fatim Saleh Mohsen, who was shot in the head while fleeing her home carrying her 18-month-old child. “She’s in heaven now.”
The US military has acknowledged that civilians “were likely killed” during the January 29 attack – President Donald Trump’s first counterterrorism operation. But The Intercept reported that at least 11 children and six women, including one pregnant woman, died during the raid in al Ghayil.
Sinan was asleep in a one-room stone hut with his mother, aunt, and twelve other children when they awoke to gunfire and military helicopters bombarding the village from above.
About 30 members of Navy Seal Team 6 killed 14 Al-Qaeda fighters during a nearly hourlong firefight that also took the life of Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens – the first US military death under Trump’s watch.
The attack was the fourth ever US ground operation in Yemen and by far the most destructive and deadly, marking a possible shift from the Obama administration’s presidential policy guidelines, which required “near certainty” that civilians will not be injured or killed in American operations.
“It is true they were targeting Al-Qaeda but why did they have to kill children and women and elderly people?” Zabnallah Saif al Ameri, a villager who lost nine family members, five of whom were children, told the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in February. “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.”
Following news of the attack, White House press secretary Sean Spicer called the raid “very, very well thought out and executed” and “a successful operation by all standards.”
Spicer told reporters that the goal of the raid had been to gather intelligence, and that it was successful in doing so. But military and intelligence officials told NBC News that the operation was instead intended to capture or kill Qassim al-Rimi, the head of Al-Qaeda’s Yemeni arm.
There is also doubt about the significance of the intelligence the military collected during the operation. On February 3, U.S. Central Command posted an Al-Qaeda training video on its website that it said was captured during the raid and evidence of “the volumes of sensitive Al-Qaeda terror-planning information recovered during the operation,” according to a CENTCOM spokesman.
But the video was taken down just hours later, after CENTCOM realized the clip was in fact a decade old and had long been in wide circulation online.
The American Civil Liberties Union has called for a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the raid, and the intelligence and legal basis upon which it was authorized. The White House announced the Pentagon would review the circumstances of Owens’ death, the loss of a US helicopter during the attack, and the civilian casualties.
Notably, survivors of the attack in al Ghayil say they are not seeking compensation from the US government for their family members’ deaths. Instead, they hope only for revenge. Talking to The Intercept, villagers called the president “dog Trump.”
In the weeks following the January attack, the US military has conducted dozens more airstrikes on targets in Yemen, including several consecutive days of new attacks on al Ghayil. Civilians, including children, were reported killed in these attacks. The Trump administration has now conducted more strikes in Yemen than the Obama administration officially carried out in all of 2016.