An eight-year old American girl in Yemen’s Bayda province was killed along with 14 other civilians on Sunday during the Trump administration’s first counter-insurgency operation. An American soldier was also killed during the fighting, which was ordered by the president without being fully briefed, according to critics from within the armed forces who–in an unusual move–leaked to the press.
The strike was supposed to be a blitz, a surprise nighttime attack into an area where U.S. forces had not stepped foot in more than a year. It ended in casualties that were higher than originally reported by the U.S. military. Major damage was caused to the town in Yemen where the al Qaeda compound was located, destroying most of the village of Yakla.
The American girl killed, Nawar al-Awlaki, 8, was the first U.S. civilian casualty in a Trump special operation. Her grandfather, Nasser al-Awlaki, described a brutal scene to Reuters, “She was hit with a bullet in her neck and suffered for two hours.” He asked, “Why kill children?”
Trump announced U.S. Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens was killed by an al Qaeda-linked group in a statement that identified the U.S. mission’s target as “important intelligence that will assist the U.S. in preventing terrorism against its citizens and people around the world.”
The New York Times reported that he meant computers.
Prior to the strike President Barack Obama approved a similar raid, but held off on scheduling it due to poor visibility and intelligence, according to the Times.
But Trump decided to advance where Obama had not, finalizing his decision the previous Wednesday over dinner with Jared Kushner, Stephen Bannon, Vice President Mike Pence, National Security Advisor Michael T. Flynn, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr.
Initially, the civilian casualties were not disclosed by U.S. Central Command, although reports from journalists in Yemen exposed the encounter as deadly. Wednesday, Central Command acknowledged that “regrettably…civilian non-combatants were likely killed in the midst of a firefight during a raid in Yemen Jan. 29. Casualties may include children.”
The military agency also said it will investigate further to determine if there are additional casualties.
Indeed, children were killed. Medics told reporters a total of 30 were dead when they arrived, of whom 10 were women and children.
The Pentagon said U.S. forces killed 15 combatants, including female snipers, and the uncle of Nawar al-Awlaki, the American child killed in the assault.
Nawar’s father Anwar-al-Awlaki was also killed by U.S. forces back in 2011. He was the first American targeted by a drone strike under orders from President Obama. Two weeks later his 16-year old son and Nawar’s brother, Abdulrahman, who also was an American citizen, was killed in a similar strike.
Reuters also spoke to three unnamed U.S. military officials who implied that Trump was ill-prepared and sent soldiers into a scene where intelligence briefings warned, had he read them in full, serious risks to the lives of U.S forces.
The sources added al Qaeda members surprised U.S. forces with booby-traps, using land mines and sniper fire. The militants were waiting for the U.S. soldiers to arrive before the rush into the compound began, as a lower than usual flying drone had apparently exposed the position of the Navy SEALs.
NYT filled in the details, describing a “chain of mishaps and misjudgments that plunged the elite commandos into a ferocious 50-minute firefight that also left three others wounded and a $75 million aircraft deliberately destroyed.” The three Navy SEALs were injured when their MV-22 Osprey was damaged beyond repair during a hard-landing. Unable to fly it out, they exploded it before the mission concluded, per protocol.
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) December 2, 2015
Back in Washington earlier this week, White House spokesperson Sean Spicer was asked if Trump supports the killing of civilian family members of persons on the Pentagon target list, like Nawar. He rebuffed the question, although the reporter was quick to remind Spicer, Trump had called for the killing of the civilian family members of terrorists during the campaign.
In December 2015, Trump told “Fox and Friends,” “the other thing is, with the terrorist, you have to take out their families,” adding, “when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families—they, they care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families.”